Title: Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers
Published: April 2nd, 3013 by Houghton Mifflin Books
Group age: Young adult
Genre: Historical fiction / Romance / Paranormal
Grade rate: A+
Sybella's duty as Death's assassin in 15th-century France forces her return home to the personal hell that she had finally escaped. Love and romance, history and magic, vengeance and salvation converge in this thrilling sequel to Grave Mercy. 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. The convent views Sybella, naturally skilled in the arts of both death and seduction, 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. 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?
I’ve always loved historical romances, in fact, I read it for years before discovering YA. It was with great pleasure that I read Grave Mercy, book one of the series (see my review here), which I loved. Dark Triumph was, as the title alludes, darker still, but even better than the first one.
Dark Triumph starts about a few weeks before the ending of Grave Mercy and finds poor Sybella in the D’Albret’s household. We don’t know much about Sybella from the previous book, only that when she arrived to the convent, she was kind of crazy and tried to kill herself, and that she excelled at her classes and was a close friend to Ismae and Anith. That’s all we knew. A lot is explained in this book, but most of it is disturbingly heartbreaking and so sad. Sybella is a mess. She’s had a really hard and horrific life and somehow came out of it with her sanity (almost) in place. I can honestly say that I’m not sure I could have done the same. She so scared, but at the same time, she is so brave; she is fiercely loyal to those she cares about, she’s smart, and an expert assassin. She tries to do the best for her god, the convent, her friends, and those she loves, but it’s really hard to do.
What can I say about Beast? As you can imagine by the name, the man not only is of gigantic proportions, but he’s as stubborn as a mule and quite ugly. In fact, Sybella takes every opportunity to tell us just how ugly he is. But she also realizes that he is good to the core. Beast has a protective instinct that is a mile long and he cannot avoid wanting to help those weaker than him. Beast also had a painful past and understands Sybella better because of it. I am extremely happy that they found each other, that they managed to find a ray of light in all the darkness.
We get to see some of the characters we came to love in the first book. Ismae and Duval are still with the Duchess and trying very hard to hold on to the kingdom. The Abbess is also in this book and I have to say that I don’t like the lady one bit (and no one else seems to like her either). D’Albret is a devil; he is one of the worst ‘bad guys’ ever! Seriously, he is so nasty and scary!
The plot is a little less political, but more dangerous and deadly. The facts in which the story is based on are true, but some things are altered to accommodate the story line. The religious undertones are also a crucial part of the story and Saint Mortain is never too far, but unlike Ismae, Sybella takes more liberty with her victims and more pleasure in the act of killing. Darkest Triumph is fast paced, full of intrigue, twists and turns; it’s a thrill to read and it kept me on the edge of my seat. The writing is flawless, deeply descriptive, and at times lyrical. The characterization is outstanding, LaFevers manages to create a host of flawed, imperfect characters that are in different end of the scales, either so endearing to the reader that he or she overlooks everything else; or so evil that they are very easy to dislike.
Even if you are not a fan of historical fiction, I urge you to give this series a chance. It is so incredibly good, that you will not regret it! I cannot wait for Mortal Heart, book three of the series, due to be published next year.
Some quotes for you:
“Hate cannot be fought with hate. Evil cannot be conquered by darkness. Only love has the power to conquer them both.”
“And just as love has two sides, so too does Death. While Ismae will serve as His mercy, I will not, for that is not how He fashioned me.
Every death I have witnessed, every horror I have endured, has forged me to be who I am -- Death's justice.”
“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.”
“For all that I have kissed before, I have never felt anything like this. It is as if I have swallowed a tiny piece of the sun, its warmth and light reaching into every corner of my soul and chasing away the shadows.
I surrender to that kiss - surrender to the strength and the courage and the sheer goodness of the man.”
About the cover: I liked the cover of Grave Mercy a lot more, but I understand why this cover is so much darker and mysterious; it matches Sybella and the story better.