I lean forward, pushing my body out past the battlements. The wind plucks at my cloak, buffets against me, as if it would carry me off in flight, just like the birds or the knight’s soul. Let go, it cries, I will take you far, far away. I want to laugh at the exhilarating feeling, I will catch you, it whistles seductively.
The convent has returned Sybella to a life that nearly drove her mad. Her father’s rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother’s love is equally monstrous. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?
It seems as though many who came into this book regarded Grave Mercy as a disappointment, and I can understand that. Personally, while I had my complaints, I thought Grave Mercy was pretty good effort, but after reading Dark Triumph, I immediately wanted to change its 4-star rating to 2. It’s true! I was told Sybella’s story was compelling, but wow. WOW. I think this is the most visceral reaction I’ve had to a character/backstory coming from a fantasy book, and a historical fantasy book at that! I wanted so badly to give it 5 stars, but due to a few problems I’ve experienced in Grave Mercy as well, I reduced my rating a tad. Nevertheless, Dark Triumph is one of the most enjoyable and painful (in a good way) fantasy releases I’ve read in a while.
As Grave Mercy was told in the perspective of Ismae, Dark Triumph tells the story of Sybella, another handmaiden of Death, after the duchess of Brittany has successfully escaped and found refuge in the capital of Rennes. Sybella, however, still stays in the castle, where she was sent to from the convent a while back with a promise of killing D’Albret, her cruel father and villain of the story. As Sybella painfully adjusts to her old life and looks to gain information on D’Albret and his future plans to capture the duchess, she receives orders from the convent to release the Beast Of Waroch from his imprisonment, into Rennes, to help protect the duchess and fight in the inevitable battle. As Sybella unknowingly gets dragged into Beast’s journey, she discovers a plethora of secrets about the upcoming battle she will have to face, or battles rather. Battles involving politics and court intrigue, battles with the convent, battles with her past, and most importantly, battles with herself.
I adored the writing, as expected. It’s sophisticated and quite formal, very similar to the what the actual speech in the 1400s could have been, but it is constantly brimming with life and never boring. The conversations are never forced or feel fake to create drama (and in this book, there is a lot of drama but it’s not necessarily a bad thing), which explains the wonderful character writing, specifically pertaining to emotion. Unfortunately, Dark Triumph suffers the same problems that Grave Mercy did, and that is, the slow pacing and unnecessary amount of long, dragging paragraphs. While I think this book is much more cohesive and has better flow than its predecessor, I still believe that Sybella’s story and the turmoil of war and a broken nation could have been told without the amount of description overpowering the dialogue.
Sybella is such a force of nature. While I liked Ismae and her fresh curiosity in Grave Mercy, she is so completely stale compared to the emotional complexity that Sybella retains throughout this book. Unlike Ismae, Sybella is a skillful, experienced assassin who has committed, witnessed, and unwillingly absorbed a number of horrors and crimes throughout her life. She had been raised in a cruel household, experiencing her father’s wrath firsthand as well as her jaded brothers. Because of this, Sybella is in a constant struggle with giving into the darkness and cruelty she has been exposed to, or persevering through the name of Mortain, accepting him as her true father. Her personality is angry, cynical, raw, and just tormented. There’s not much of a filter to her character, as she openly displays her pain and hides it simultaneously, because there is still a part of her that has hope for her future and the people she loves, and this part of her she is constantly condemning until she learns that it’s unnecessary. Even with this much layering and planning to her character, Sybella’s narration is so realistic and effortlessly told. Her actions, her thoughts, and the kind of honest, raw writing that LaFevers does so well, brings out so much life in Sybella as we experience her heartache, regrets, and tragic backstory, up-front and so, so clearly. She is officially one of the best female characters to have ever been created/written about, if not the best.
The romance between Beast and Sybella is the most unlikely yet sweetest thing to ever happen. After Sybella is unwillingly dragged along with Beast and his loyal jailer (can’t remember his name, but he was actually the cutest thing ever), their relationship is initially trusting but cautious, as they both have a number of secrets that have to do with each other. But, as their partnership progresses, Beast transforms Sybella from an tortured and seemingly hopeless girl, consumed by darkness, to someone that forgives, and has faith in herself and the ones she trusts. Beast is such a funny, humble, and unusual character, as he’s described to be ugly as hell, something uncommon for the majority of male love interests in YA. But, I adored this aspect because it goes to show how genuine, unfiltered, and real Sybella and Beast’s relationship is. They both learned to acknowledge their darkness, accept their true nature, protect the ones they love, and retain the rare humanity they have as killers and freedom fighters.
And that ending? THAT ENDING HAD ME LIKE:
Actually, that gif could be applied to the entirety of the book, lolz.
Overall, if you are looking for a more personal and emotional side to the His Fair Assassin world, this would definitely be the book for you. As a character-driven reader, I am wholly happy (and in pain) with Dark Triumph, and I hope every other character-driven reader enjoys this book just as much as I did.