Dark Triumph

By Robin LaFevers
Published on April 2nd 2013
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Source: Netgalley
Sybella arrives at the convent’s doorstep half mad with grief and despair. Those that serve Death are only too happy to offer her refuge—but at a price. Naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, the convent views Sybella as one of their most dangerous weapons.

But those assassin’s skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to a life that nearly drove her mad. Her father’s rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother’s love is equally monstrous. And while Sybella is a weapon of justice wrought by the god of Death himself, He must give her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?

This heart-pounding sequel to Grave Mercy serves betrayal, treachery, and danger in equal measure, bringing readers back to fifteenth century Brittany and will keep them on the edge of their seats.
So Dark Triumph was definitely one of my most anticipated books of 2013, and it didn't disappoint!  Dark Triumph is the follow-up to Grave Mercy, which was one of the first books that I read and blogged about here. While I had somewhat mixed feelings about that book, I still enjoyed it overall and wanted to read more set in that universe, particularly about Sybella and Annith, the other two girls who befriend Ismae when she arrives at the convent.  This second installment in the trilogy focuses on Sybella, though Ismae makes a few appearances.

First off, to anyone picking up this book, I'd highly recommend taking the time to re-read Grave Mercy first, or at least skim the last several chapters of it.  The beginning of Dark Triumph overlaps with the end of Grave Mercy, and while I remembered the gist of what happened, I'd forgotten many of the details, major players, etc., so I had to play a bit of catch-up at the beginning.  That said, since the story picks up in the middle of the plot action, we don't initially get much backstory on Sybella. So it was a little weird at first to be reading a story with a main character that we know, but still know little about.

Fortunately, Sybella's comes out in bits and pieces, as key parts of her past are actually major plot points that are revealed as appropriate.  I loved learning more about her.  She has a pretty tragic past, and while the whole trope of "very damaged young lady learns to be a stone cold bad-ass and also later finds love" is kind of annoying and repetitive in fiction, it's one we're still drawn to as readers, because who doesn't love a good triumph-over-adversity-and-evil story?  The more you learn about Sybella's past and the people who hurt her so badly when she was young, the more you're rooting for her to succeed and for justice to be served.

Dark Triumph felt much more action-packed than the previous book.  A lot of readers, myself included, felt that Grave Mercy dragged too much, with too little assassinating for these ninja assassin nuns.  While there's still not a whole ton of assassin action, Sybella instead finds herself having to apply her convent-learned skills on the battlefield, so never fear.  She proves herself to be incredibly competent in battle, a person who can fend for herself and who doesn't want to put anyone else in danger.

There is a romance plotline in this story, which isn't really disclosed in the summary but is probably kind of obvious anyway, especially if you consider that this book followed much of the same formula as Grave Mercy.  While there is an element of "I don't like you and I don't trust you oops now I love you", and there were some sort of clumsy attempts at causing discord between them which just about any reader can see through. I felt that Sybella and her love interest were pretty evenly matched.  They love each other for who they are, flaws and murderous tendencies and all.  I also really liked the fact that Sybella is drawn down the same path as Ismae, where she begins to question what the convent's true intentions are, rather than blindly following everything they say.  I can't wait to see how this plotline is resolved in the third book in the series, which will focus on Annith, who remains at the convent, training to be a seer.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  It does not stand on its own very well at all, so you really need to read Grave Mercy first.  It is very violent and includes some sexual references, including some content between Sybella and her half-brother (which is not portrayed as a positive thing, before anyone worries).  I am really looking forward to finishing the trilogy with Annith's story!

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