Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2013
YA Historical Fantasy
Source: Received an ARC through Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.
I liked Grave Mercy well enough last year but my experience was dampened by all the hype I read beforehand. Therefore I resolved to mostly avoid reviews before I read Dark Triumph, something I stuck to. And happily this was a better reading experience for me although there are several possibilities of why that is so. I highly recommend you do not read my thoughts until you have read Dark Triumph as there are definitely spoilers.
Initially I struggled as this book picks up near the end of Grave Mercy and depicts a scene from a different perspective. I could barely remember who anyone was and there are a lot of characters with French-ish names. Therefore I would suggest a rereading of Grave Mercy is in order before embarking on this book (if you have the time and inclination). Soon though this book stands on its own focusing on its beautiful broken heroine and I will share a few reminders here for you.
Sybella lives in the household of d'Albret, a traitor to Anne, duchess of Brittany, a vile and brutal man. His anger and cruelty have left a deep mark on her; the promise of being able to kill him is the only thing that brought her back to his household after earning an escape in the abbey serving St. Mortrain (where she met Ismae and Annith, who will be the subject of the third book in this series). Adding to her troubles is her half-brother Julian whose love for her is not exactly brotherly if you get my drift. But if Sybella can just kill d'Albret, it will all be worth it. That plan is complicated by instruction from the abbey to release the prisoner Beast (also introduced in Grave Mercy if you remember) whose battle lust cannot be tamed.
I'm fairly sure that part of my enjoyment was due to the presence of Beast, a favorite character from the first book who I didn't think got his due. He is a big man, bigger than everyone around him and simply described as ugly (and not ugly where sometimes a character is called ugly but is really attractive; ugly like his face and body bear multiple scars that mar any claim he might have originally had to attractiveness.) Despite his warlike appearance and love for battle, he is actually a pretty gentle soul and the peace he offers to Sybella's battered self was a welcome relief. As a woman, she has been viewed through the prism of her body, to be sold to satisfy her father's lust for power; she has craved love, comfort, and security only to have those hopes denied time after time. But with Beast, she finds them even if she tries to deny it. I've read some reviews where people didn't like this romance as much as Ismae and Duval's but I loved it so much more.
Another part of my enjoyment was that this felt like a more personal story (and this was confirmed by the author in her author's note). I do like political and historical turmoil, which Grave Mercy featured aplenty but I also like a story that isn't too tied to historical realities and I appreciated closely following Sybella's journey.
One element I haven't seen a lot of other people talk about is the religious aspect. This book is set at a time when the Catholic Church officially holds much sway but there are still people who worship the old gods like St. Mortrain, god of death, which is who Sybella serves. When she experiences her epiphany (similar to Ismae's experience), she spends several paragraphs musing on the character of Mortrain who sounded an awful lot like Jesus to me. Now perhaps it's not quite like the God preached by the medieval Catholic Church that was cruising toward a Reformation but a lot like the God I know. So my mind was pleased by this part.
Overall: I really loved this book and am grateful for it in continuing my streak of excellent second books. I'm very excited to read book three next year.
Jen Ryland/YA Romantics
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