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Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

Dark Triumph

By: Robin LaFevers

Release Date: April 2, 2013

Rating: 4 Stars

Summary: 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.


Now this is the book Grave Mercy was supposed to be. I was on the fence about Ismae’s story, basically when I discovered (along with everyone else) that the assassin nuns weren’t so much espionage, murder, and mayhem as much as forbidden romance and courtesan intrigue, but I ultimately came down on the ‘pro’ side because the backdrop of Anne of Brittany’s attempts to keep her duchy independent and out of French hands resonated with this admitted historical junkie. Still, I think it’s probably telling my favorite character in Grave Mercy wasn’t Ismae but Anne, and I really didn’t have any expectations about Sybella’s story or Dark Triumph.

Well, what a difference one book makes – Dark Triumph certainly surprised me by being a sequel that ultimately is not Grave Mercy. Not at first, I wasn’t too keen on the first few chapters because, frankly, nothing really happens as Sybella goes about her assignment in d’Albret’s household, though her interactions with d’Albret and her brother Julian do delve into her tragic past and answer many of Ismae’s questions about her character from the first book. But beyond a poisoned glove here and an eavesdropped conversation there, I was starting to get the distinct impression that, plotwise at least, Dark Triumph was going to be Grave Mercy all over again – except worse, because Anne’s role and the historical aspect is dramatically diminished while d’Albret looms large as this brutal, yet untouchable, villain. In fact, the low point comes as Sybella’s completing the assignment given to her by the Abbess to help the Beast of Waroch, who’s been taken prisoner, escape, and she poisons d’Albret’s entire garrison, and I don’t know, but rather than escaping with one prisoner, if the entire garrison’s unconscious, wouldn’t it be the perfect time to rally the townspeople and get them to rise up and kill d’Albret instead?

Ok, so you might be wondering, didn’t I just say Dark Triumph isn’t Grave Mercy? What’s going on? I did, that’s absolutely true, but I guess LaFevers takes her time until after Sybella escapes d’Albret with the Beast to show it. The seeds are already there, Sybella for one is a very different character from Ismae, a tortured character, and not only does she not have any hesitation towards killing, she actually revels in it. But although Sybella is wickedly good with throwing knives, crossbows, and a garrote, rather than mindless violence, Sybella going up against the French and d’Albret’s men serves two purposes, one showing just how, not just her, but her entire family, is damaged by d’Albret’s cruelty, and the other really a question of theology and faith, trying to get at the true purpose of Saint Mortain, his marks, and whether the Abbess is really serving him or her own agenda. Grave Mercy sort of explores these issues as well, but d’Albret as seen through Ismae’s eyes is nothing like the d’Albret in Dark Triumph, and Ismae’s realizations about Mortain seem almost trite in comparison to what Sybella discovers, and how that puts her and her relationship with her family in perspective.

It’s that perspective on Sybella and her family that really forms the bulk of my appreciation for Dark Triumph. Julian was always a hard character to pin down, particularly his unclear motives and of course the incest, but in the end I’m impressed LaFevers has made Julian really a tragic hero who shows just what the depths of d’Albret’s depravity did to that whole family. It’s telling that at the start of this book I really didn’t understand Julian at all, and by the end he’s pretty much my favorite character of the series by far. I’m a bit less impressed with Sybella bonding with Beast over his sister, Sybella’s stepmother – I tolerated Ismae and Duval in Grave Mercy because I was really reading for Anne and the political intrigue, but Sybella and Beast are harder to ignore here, mostly because Sybella’s character development (which is great) is the main point of this book. I suppose in a way Sybella and Beast are better than Ismae and Duval, heck they certainly fight better than Ismae and Duval, but despite how Beast is a different kind of love interest, the brutish, ugly kind, I guess the way he’s portrayed as protecting Sybella just came off as a different kind of romantic cliche, the protective tough guy kind.

Overall though, Dark Triumph is a book that, as its title suggests, is far darker than its predecessor, but in a way that uses that darkness to create some incredibly compelling characters. It’s not a book without flaws, and probably requires a degree of patience, but it certainly delivers, both in terms of action and character arcs, in the end. Sure, I’m left with questions about Mortain’s true purpose, but here’s hoping Mortal Heart provides the answers.

Go to Mitch’s review on Goodreads.

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