by Robin LaFevers
Book 2 of His Fair Assassin
Audio book narrated by Angela Goethals
**See Also: Collective Updates for Dark Triumph
To start off, I probably should warn people about the presence of the fairly incestuous relationship that takes place between Sybella and her brother Julian; just in case anyone might have difficulty accepting this in their reading diets. It's not entirely a heavy focus, though, since we see a lot more of the obsessive love on Julian's side. While Sybella is merely playing a part as part of her assignment, and has no desire to encourage this relationship, Julian is very much in love with her.
If we compare Dark Triumph to Grave Mercy, there was a lot more focus on the political and war strategies significant to the Duchess Anne and her Duchy of Brittany in Grave Mercy. Sure, you still see a lot of personal growth and development on Ismae's side of things, but her growth really DID also follow along with how she aided her young Duchess.
Dark Triumph's focus, on the other hand, was more heavily centered on Sybella: her vengeance, her mental and emotional stability, her revelations, and how she would figure out how to survive her own fatalism. And it was definitely an emotional ride with everything that this girl had to go through. Because if ever there was someone who attracted trouble and death, it definitely would be Sybella.
Many other readers were stating that Dark Triumph was much darker than Grave Mercy--this is definitely true. But I can't help feeling like the execution of the story felt almost too deliberately created to be dark, so much so that it felt outrageous at times... or maybe it was just that Sybella's first person narration was heavily influenced by her own mental and emotional instabilities that it felt that way.
Whatever the reason is, it was definitely an emotional journey, and you definitely find it hard not to feel for Sybella throughout it all.
Sybella had run away from the life that was slowly driving her mad, coming upon the Convent of St. Mortain, and learning that there might be hope in her life after all. For she has been told that she is really the daughter of Death, himself, and can finally split her ties with the evilness of the father she's known her entire life, the terrible Count d'Albret, who serves no one but his own malicious desires. But then the convent decides that the best way for her to serve their saint is to return to the darkness that is her family, to the brutal father who wouldn't hesitate to use her or kill her, to the brother who loves her to the point of unsettling obsession, and to a court full of people who would more likely betray you for any number of reasons.
The Reverend Mother has promised that Sybella would be the one to mete out final justice to the Count d'Albret, to rid the world of his vile existence, to avenge her lost innocent childhood and all those who have suffered thanks to this man. But she has yet to find the mark of death on him, and this continued service to Death, as directed by the convent, is again, slowly driving her mad.
Then the convent sends a new order: she is to find and help free the captured knight known as Benebic de Waroch, and aid in his delivery to the Duchess in Rennes.
This creates a whole new dilemma for Sybella, as it could jeopardize her chances of remaining at Nantes in her father's presence--it would definitely put a kink in her carefully laid plans to kill d'Albret as she'd been promised she could do.
And even as she follows the convent's orders, she begins to question the existence of Mortain and her role as his handmaiden. Because if she isn't really Mortain's daughter, then that would mean that she is truly the daughter of the evil d'Albret; and that is absolutely unacceptable to Sybella as it would mean that all her hopes have come to nothing.
What I Liked:
- This book was an emotional roller coaster ride. To be honest, I'm listing it as one of the things that I liked, but I'm not entirely sure if it is. It was refreshing to follow such a flawed and emotionally unstable main character, but at the same time, it wasn't like Sybella turned out much different from a typical main heroine, really, as she is also kind and giving and all sorts of goodness, hidden beneath that cynical and fatalistic exterior.
- The relationship between Sybella and Beast was subtle, yet also sweet and emotionally charged. As I'd stated in a previous update, I was very much looking forward to the potential of their slowly budding relationship after they finally meet. They are certainly not shy around each other in terms of words exchanged and verbal sparring.
- Sybella is not shy at all. Casting aside the blushing virgin roles, Sybella is definitely a step away from typical YA heroines. She does not hesitate to utilize her feminine advantages in seduction in order to accomplish what needs to be done. And she also rolls her eyes at the way that everyone tries to treat her like a delicate flower.
- This is further along in the book, but I love how Sybella so readily slides into a role of leadership when the situations demand it of her. She has that demeanor and firmness that allows her to command soldiers without hesitating, a demeanor that doesn't even give them a chance to argue or question her authority, even though she was never really given that authority.
- The relationship between Sybella and Ismae is sweet and loving. While we don't get to see a lot of their interactions--in fact this book is actually quite scarce in character interaction--I still loved that these girls love each other unconditionally, developing on their shared youthful tragedies that lead them both to the Convent of St. Mortain and into each other's lives many years prior to the book's timeline.
- As usual, the writing is beautiful, the telling smooth, and the story very easy to dive into.
What I Didn't Like:
- As much as I have enjoyed following along Sybella's journey, the book itself felt altogether too one-tracked in that aspect. At some points, I felt like the story focused too heavily inside Sybella's head, and all the thoughts and ideas bouncing around in there. It wasn't altogether a bad experience, far from it. I just felt like the book could have given us a little bit more. If that makes any sense.
- The romance between Sybella and Beast was a bit too instantaneous, and maybe a little abrupt. Much like in Grave Mercy between Ismae and Dival, I felt like I rather enjoyed the partnership between Sybella and Beast as comrades in a war. They had great chemistry as friends, taking care of each other, and fighting beside one another. But the love story felt a little awkward, actually, and I felt a little taken aback as to when the love story even actually started, since I hadn't seen it coming, even as I knew it was inevitable.
- The events that continued to follow Sybella's dysfunctional family life, the secret reveals she gave us a piece at a time, started getting almost too outstanding to be believable. Don't get me wrong--I understand that Sybella has gone through hell on earth during her childhood spent with the d'Albrets. Between her brutally evil father and her much too obsessively in love older brother, as well as no allies or friends on her side, I don't blame her for her eagerness to runaway and hide her past from everyone. But each new reveal just seemed like a never ending stumble down a hill. Because just as you thought there was nothing else for Sybella to tell us, she uncovers a whole other layer to her family's secrets that make you question all those times you claimed that your family was crazy. (At least my father didn't have six wives who died of "mysterious" circumstances or "accidents.")
I ended up listening to the audio book of Dark Triumph for the remainder of the book. While I'm not entirely in love with Angela Goethal's narration, it actually grew on me and I found myself wanting to listen to the audio instead of just stopping and reading from the print. Of course, there were times where I DID have to stop and look to the Kindle book for spellings of names, as well as certain quotes that I wanted to highlight.
I don't know if it was the narration or the book itself, but Dark Triumph became easily devoured in a matter of hours, and I finished the entire book much earlier than I had anticipated.
But even as I write this review, I'm still a little conflicted. Dark Triumph has a lot more emotional depth than Grave Mercy did. Sybella is truly the NUN ASSASSIN I'd been looking forward to since the first time I'd heard the words "nun assassin" and learned about the His Fair Assassin series. The death count in this book, by Sybella's hand, might even make up for the lack thereof by Ismae's hand. If I thought Grave Mercy was quiet and tame, in comparison, Dark Triumph could be its opposite.
But honest, it's not. Dark Triumph is certainly darker than its predecessor, as it details events that are bound to make a lot of people uncomfortable. Just the list of all the secrets Sybella has been keeping is enough to last me for some time, though not all her secrets are dark ones. But Dark Triumph isn't any more exciting or intriguing that Grave Mercy was. Just the fact that we focus so much on Sybella's journey of self-revelation and her state of mind, and less on the events surrounding Anne's Duchy of Brittany, made the action in this second His Fair Assassin book quietly thought-provoking, even if not tamer.
It's hard for me to decide whether I liked one book more than the other. It's like comparing apples to oranges. Because even while both books follow a different girl, set in the same time-frame, with a lot of the same events surrounding them, they are definitely two very different stories.
2016 Reading Challenges:
• Goodreads Reading Challenge
• BookLikes Reading Challenge
• Reading Assignment Challenge
• Mount TBR Challenge