I did not arrive at the convent of Saint Mortain some green stripling. By the time I was sent there, my death count numbered three and I had had two lovers besides.
The second book in the “His Fair Assassin” trilogy, Dark Triumph was a, well, a triumphant success! I found I actually liked it better than the first, which is often very rare for me. I actually ripped one page a little from flipping it so quickly.
Moving away from Ismae and Duval, Dark Triumph focuses on Sybella who is very different from her poison-wielding friend. The opening lines tell us right away that Sybella is kind of a badass.
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…
Sybella has had her share of life experiences, and it’s completely knocked off her rose-coloured glasses. Sybella isn’t your typical heroine, and I loved that. I think that’s why I preferred this book to the first. For me, Sybella is an interesting mix of unwilling compassion which she fights off with her darker, more cynical side: “It is a good thing that I no longer have a heart, because if I did, it would surely break”. I found myself thinking that she definitely didn’t believe in her own goodness and that maybe she shrouded herself in darkness.
Beast is a gigantic teddy bear of a man, but the scars tearing through his face and along his body serve as a constant reminder that he still has the deadly claws of a fiersome bear. In terms of our male lead, I’m not sure whether I also prefer him to Duval. He had a loveable, charming side to him, but not the smouldering appeal of Duval.
We also see a new side to the abbess. Although she was far from saintly in the first book, her relationship with Sybella is drastically different from the one the abbess has with Ismae, and that changes your view of her. Her personality and motives are indiscernible at times, even to the characters in our book, and she leaves most with a niggling feeling in the back of their mind. With Sybella, the abbess is in a way her antagonist, challenging her faith and loyalty to her cause.
The story itself has a good momentum. There never seemed to be moments where nothing was really happening, and there were no unnecessary ramblings and monologues in the mind of Sybella. The balance between action, dialogue, and the reader learning about Sybella was perfect. Dark Triumph begins at the mid-end of Grave Mercy, which I thought was clever. Where we last saw Sybella from Ismae’s point of view, is where we pick up Sybella’s tale.
The plot, as the author herself points out, is less focused on the politics and historical aspects of their context than Grave Mercy, which in all honesty, was a relief. No doubt LaFevers did a good job of not overdoing the politics in both; however, when it did spring up, as it inevitably must, for those who are less familiar with the workings of politics, it was a little tough to wade through. You might have to read over a passage a few times, but it is understandable, to be sure.
Robin LaFevers did an excellent job in this tale of historical fiction, romance, and action. One part in particular stood out to me, near the end:
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.
I think I liked this passage so much because it’s Sybella’s coming-of-age, it’s her point of realization. Moreover, it meshes together the two stories so far, and makes us question how the third, Annith’s story, will figure in – Ismae is the mercy of Death, and Sybella His justice. Who is Annith?
Perhaps the reason why the story seems unfinished and unfulfilled is because it’s not over yet. It’s Annith’s turn to take up the gauntlet.
All we can do is wait for Mortal Heart, the third and final book in this trilogy, set to be released November 2014.