by Robin LaFevers
Read: April 4-6, 2013
Published: April 2, 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Series: His Fair Assassin, book 2
Sybella arrives at the convent’s doorstep half mad with grief and despair. Those that serve Death are only too happy to offer her refuge—but at a price. Naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, the convent views Sybella as one of their most dangerous weapons.
But those assassin’s skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to a life that nearly drove her mad. Her father’s rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother’s love is equally monstrous. And while Sybella is a weapon of justice wrought by the god of Death himself, He must give her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?
This heart-pounding sequel to Grave Mercy serves betrayal, treachery, and danger in equal measure, bringing readers back to fifteenth century Brittany and will keep them on the edge of their seats. (From Goodreads)
One of my favorite aspects of reading series that feature companion books or multiple perspectives is the opportunity to love the second book more than the first, and as a result fully invest in a series. That has happened several times recently and I was very excited to discover it again with Dark Triumph the sequel to Grave Mercy. While I love the concept of assassin nuns and found the historical time period to be interesting, I wasn't blow away by Ismae's story, or all the court intrigue. However, when I found out that Sybella would be the focus of book 2, I was immediately intrigued. I convinced myself that I was going to fall in love with her story. Thankfully, this is one prediction that worked out perfectly for me.
Dark Triumph features a lot of characters, in fact there is a two page list of them at the start of the book. Three of them stood out to me the most, and I'm going to spend most of my time talking about them. Three people plus two general points, means another review where I say 5 (longwinded) things.
1.) Sybella. The brilliance of Dark Triumph lies in Sybella and her powerful journey out of darkness. This is a much more intimate, human tale than Grave Mercy, and it is all the better for it. Although the historical, political situation in Brittany is still very much a part of this story, Sybella is at its heart and soul. She has faced an overwhelming amount of physical, emotional and psychological trauma in her 17 years. Her fight to - not only - survive, but to thrive despite everything that has been done to her, is quite moving. Also, because this is much more of a personal book, I found it to be a lot more relatable. Within the historical fantasy setting is a very contemporary tale of survival and triumph.
2.) Beast. We first met Benebic de Waroch in Grave Mercy where he is described as being an ugly man and a fierce warrior knight, who is legendary for his battle lust. In Dark Triumph he has been injured fighting to get the Dutchess to safety and is now a prisoner of D'Albret. This is where he meets Sybella, who has been stationed in D'Albret's household by the Abbess. I wasn't sure about how I would feel about Beast being the love interest at first, but he quickly worked his way into my heart. I could not imagine anyone more suited to Sybella than him. What I love is that while Sybella is tasked with rescuing him, in many ways he helps to free her.
Beast is fierce and loyal, and by the nature of who he is, gives Sybella the freedom to be herself. One of Beast's greatest strengths is his ability to inspire others. Through Sybella's interactions with him, she finds her own strength and worth. Beast does not judge Sybella, objectify or try to control her like every other man she's ever encountered. She sees his honor, despite his exploits in battle, his desire to protect the innocent, and it inspires her. Beast brings out the best in Sybella, but he also understands her desire for vengeance and blood. Their relationship grows slowly, but is one of mutual respect and trust, and by the end of this story I found him to be incredibly sexy (Yes, I said it. A sexy Beast).
3.) Julian. The third character that stood out to me was one of the most frightening of Sybella's monsters in the beginning. I'm not talking about d'Albret, for whom all I felt was abject terror and loathing, but Julian was dangerous, because his behavior was justified by love for Sybella.
(This part is slightly spoilery. It doesn't give away the plot, just details about this character.) Julian is just as trapped in d'Albret's household as Sybella is, and has suffered from the same amount of trauma. But he has also contributed to Sybella's torment and fear. However what I love about his place in this story is that he slowly morphs into a sympathetic character. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say he changes in the end, but I grew to understand and ache for him, despite what he has done. Julian's role in Dark Triumph is uncomfortable, but he makes this a much more complex psychological tale.
4.) Mythology. Dark Triumph is historical fiction with fantasy elements, and the people of Robin LaFevers' Brittany worship a pantheon of 9 gods and goddesses. Their ability to worship the old gods is part of the way of life they are trying to protect from the French invasion. As handmaid of death (aka assassin nun), Sybella is a follower of St. Mortain, the god of death. Although the mythology was not something that I really connected to in the first book, it is one of the elements of Sybella's story that I came to love most. I think that is because this story is so much Sybella's personal journey, and her own faith was affected by her experience with the patron gods (also called saints) and their devoted followers. Beast's dedication to St. Camulos, the god of war, the charbonnerie's devotion to the Dark Mother, and Sybella's own meeting with Mortain, were all pieces of this story that I found to be incredibly moving, and important to Sybella's growth and understanding of herself.
5) History and Politics. Although Sybella's story is the focus of Dark Triumph, her book is still part of a series that is set within an intense historical and political climate. Although I enjoyed exploring the landscape and mythology of late fifteenth century Brittany, the political intrigue is the least interesting part of this book for me. This was partly due to the fact that I'd forgotten a lot of the set up of Grave Mercy and was slow to orient myself back into the action. Although there is a list of characters at the start of the book, I had a lot of trouble remembering who all the players were and what we knew about them already, especially the minor barons and advisors. Thankfully, enough was explained to follow this story, and re-reading was not necessary to enjoy Sybella's journey. However, I have a feeling the larger world will become even more important in final book of the series.
I am so glad that I stuck with this series. Sybella's tale is heartbreaking, gripping, dark and triumphant. Also you do not want to miss Beast. I cannot wait to follow Annith in Mortal Heart, and to find out exactly what the Abbess has been up to. I do not trust the Abbess at all.
Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Low
I have the opportunity to meet Robin LaFevers on Wednesday of this week.
If you could ask her one question, what would it be?