Nantes, Brittany, 1489: Trained by the convent of St. Mortmain in the arts of death and seduction, Lady Sybella is no stranger to killing or spying. Even before learning she was a daughter of death and coming to the convent, Sybella had done much of both to stay alive.
Over the years Sybella learned to harden her heart until even she begins to believe she has none. She dreams of revenge and justice, the day she will become a divine instrument of vengeance when she can kill the traitorous Count d’Albret.
But instead of her desired mission of vengeance, Sybella finds herself acting as a spy in d’Albret’s household, a dangerous mission for anyone but even more so given Sybella’s past. Her formidable array of weapons and skills may not be enough to escape this living nightmare. Not alive anyway.
Mortmain has already rejected Sybella twice, though, so death is hardly an option either.
Sybella is trapped until new orders arrive from the convent.
A prisoner is locked in d’Albret’s dungeon. The prisoner is of extreme importance to the young Duchess of Brittany as she struggles to hold onto her kingdom and keep d’Albret and his ilk at bay.
Sybella is only meant to initiate the prisoner’s departure. Instead, she is swept into the escape as a reluctant nurse and travel companion. This one change thrusts Sybella into an entirely surprising direction–one where her life may not have to end in order for vengeance to be served. Stranger still, Sybella may learn there is more to live for than the promise of revenge, or even justice, in Dark Triumph (2013) by Robin LaFevers.
Dark Triumph is the second book in LaFever’s His Fair Assassin trilogy, preceded by Grave Mercy (with the conclusion, Mortal Heart, due out in 2014). (She is the author of several middle grade novels including my beloved Nathaniel Fludd books as R. L. LaFevers.)
There is a very satisfying overlap between the plots of Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph. It’s also becoming clear that the books are building together to an epic finish. That said, I really think Dark Triumph could work as a standalone. It doesn’t have to. And it’s certainly better to start at book one. But if you really wanted to, Sybella’s story stands on its own quite nicely.
I didn’t realize how much I loved this improbable series about assassin nuns until I finished Dark Triumph. As great as Ismae’s story and voice were, Sybella’s is better. Dark Triumph is a grittier read with sharper edges but also more satisfying outcome. As LaFevers points out in her author’s note, the story takes many more historical liberties. Happily, the atmosphere and language remain.
I also enjoyed the expanded view of Mortmain. Sometimes I have problems with books that deal with some kind of “faith” because they veer into the territory of conventional religious dogma. LaFevers artfully shifts the theology of His Fair Assassin into a different direction. Reading about Mortmain never feels like reading about a god or even religion. He really feels like a father. And I appreciated that nuance.
Sybella is an angry, broken narrator who is at pains to convince everyone that she has no heart–especially herself. Dark Triumph is the story of her own healing as much as it is a stunning historical fantasy filled with action and intrigue. I can’t talk about some other aspects without spoiling both books, but the way Dark Triumph comes together with Grave Mercy is impressive. I also adore these heroines and their male leads. These books, right here, these are what true partnerships look like.
Dark Triumph is a surprising, original read sure to appeal to anyone who likes historical fiction, journey-based fantasies, or a damsel who rescues herself (and maybe the prince while she’s at it).
Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Agency by Y. S. Lee, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner