Series: His Fair Assassin #2
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 2, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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When Sybella arrived at the doorstep of St Mortain half mad with grief and despair the convent were only too happy to offer her refuge - but at a price. The sisters of this convent serve Death, and with Sybella naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, she could become one of their most dangerous weapons.
But her assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to the life that nearly drove her mad. Her father's rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother's love is equally monstrous. But when Sybella discovers an unexpected ally she discovers that a daughter of Death may find something other than vengeance to live for...
If you read my review of Grave Mercy then you know I LOVED the first installment in this series. I requested Dark Triumph from the library at the same time as Grave Mercy, and I didn’t bother reading the synopsis – I just assumed I would want to read book two right away. I did… until I realized Dark Triumph is NOT about Ismae, but her “sister”, Sybella. I was completely disappointed and actually held off starting Dark Triumph for a few days. I loved Ismae and wanted more of her and Duval!
However. I seriously underestimated Robin LaFevers’ skill as a writer. I loved the kick-ass heroine, slow-burn romance, court intrigue, intense and mysterious politics, weapons and fighting, and superb supporting cast in book one, and these same components were delivered once again in Dark Triumph. Also, I just love how LaFevers told Sybella’s story. It was not overshadowing or overtaking Ismae; instead, it is really just a continuation in a way that makes sense and feels natural.
Also, I think I MAY love Sybella even more than Ismae. She is fierce but so vulnerable. She is kind but pretends she’s not. She is witty and funny – see: “You are not my nursemaid. Remember, I am rescuing you.” She has a good heart, despite being affiliated with the God of Death.
At the beginning, I couldn’t believe that Beast was the love interest in this book. How I had imagined him from Grave Mercy just seem irreconcilable with a romantic hero. But man, LaFevers did a fantastic job with him. I loved that he is so humble, quiet, and respectful – despite his accomplishments, his confidence, and his size, he isn’t a pain in the butt! (Which was kind of how I envisioned him at first.) His loyalty – and the loyalty he inspires in others – was something that really stuck with me throughout the novel. Sybella says, “In the distance a wolf howls. Let it come, I think. Beast will most likely simply howl back, and the creature will either turn tail and run or fall into line behind him, like the rest of us have.” That basically sums up Beast’s character – he is definitely the strong, silent type, and he inspires hordes of people to follow his cause in spite of – or because of? – those characteristics.
Not only did I love Sybella and Beast, but the supporting characters were amazing, too. Dark Triumph stands out to me as a book that excels in characterization. There is a prison guard who is just fantastic. He always kept me guessing. There are some “Robin Hood”-esque men who had struggles of their own that made me question how we perceive and discuss race, even in modern society. There is Ismae and Duval, returning in little glimpses, which was just the perfect treat for fans of the series. There is Annith, who is always in the background – from book one, too – and my heart aches for her and her struggles. (Can’t wait for book three!) There is Julian, Sybella’s brother, who was equally disturbing and fascinating… and really demonstrated the horribleness of the villain of this book. It is clear that LaFevers has put care and thought into every character in this book, and it certainly paid off.
One of my favourite aspects of Dark Triumph is the focus on faith. Sybella has so many questions and doubts regarding the God of Death – also her father – Mortain. Like Ismae, she doesn’t know how to perceive the abbey and who to believe anymore. She see things outside the abbey that make her question her unquestioning faith in the abbess. On top of that, she often compares herself to Beast, seeing him as goodness, and herself as darkness: “[Beast] feels as bright and golden as a lion who roars in the face of his enemies and stalks them in broad daylight. Whereas I – I am a dark panther, slinking unseen among the shadows, silent and deadly. But we are both great cats, are we not? And do not even bright things cast a shadow?” I really love when characters question their faith in religion, an institution, a person, whatever. It’s something that I think everyone goes through at some point in their lives, and often one must choose to take a certain path. I think that reveals a lot about a person, or a character. With Sybella, I loved her moment of reckoning, and it felt so realistic (despite the fantastical elements).
On that note, Sybella, as I mentioned above, compares herself to Beast unfavourably. At first it seems like she is the beauty and he is the beast (obviously… his name is Beast because he’s so ugly!). And it seems to be following that traditional fairy tale story. But in so many ways I think Sybella actually sees herself as the beast and Beast as the beauty, because he is good, and she is bad – or at least, she carries out the God of Death’s wishes, which isn’t exactly positive. I love this kind of contradictions in books, and I love how LaFevers sets up these concepts and oppositions. Deciding how to perceive both Sybella and Beast, as individuals and as a couple, was an enormous part of the fun for me with this book.
This series is amazing, and I think Dark Triumph topped the first book by far. I wish I had purchased these because I ALREADY want to reread them! I am so excited for book three, Mortal Heart, out in November… I simply can’t wait. I have a feeling Sybella may remain my favourite, but Annith’s story is one that really intrigues me. If you like fantasy of any form, strong-willed heroines, books about a loss of one’s self-identity, or slow-burn romances… Dark Triumph‘s for you. Without a doubt, it will be a favourite I return to again and again.
“Some days, like today, my aim and timing is so true that it takes my breath away and I feel certain Mortain’s hand guides my own.”
“Do I love killing? Of a certainty, I love the way my body and weapons move as one; I revel in the knowledge of where to strike for maximum impact. And of a certainty, I am good at it.”
“The dinner is as satisfying as any feast I have ever eaten. Not only is the goose cooked perfectly, crisp skin and juicy succulent meat, but there is a thick, hearty stew of mutton, leeks, and cabbage, dark brown bread and new cheese, thin red wine and pear cider, as well as baked apples with cream.”
“Mayhap my short time away [...] has reminded me that there are things worth living for. [...] There is the thrill of a fast horse, and the sun and wind in your face. The rare – and all the more precious for it – moments of laughter to be had. The excitement of seeing Mortain’s marque and knowing the hunt is about to begin. The look in someone’s eye when he truly sees you – not just your face and hair, but the very essence of your soul.”