Book: Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin Trilogy, Book 2)
Author: Robin LaFevers
Age Range: 14 and up
Dark Triumph is the second book in Robin LaFevers' His Fair Assassin Trilogy (after Grave Mercy). Dark Triumph is set in Brittany in 1489, as Anne, Duchess of Brittany, flees to Rennes with her advisors, an impossibly young monarch besieged on all sides. The primary protagonist of Dark Triumph, however, is Sybella, handmaiden to Death (aka Mortain). Trained for three years at the convent of Saint Mer, Sybella is a secret assassin. Her secret mission is to live as a spy within the entourage of her father, Alain D'Albret. Her deepest hope is to be able to kill her father, a man who has caused untold suffering for Sybella and many others.
Dark Triumph has it all. High-stakes suspense, action, a complex protagonist, truly evil bad guys, and a gentle romance. It doesn't feel all that much like a second book of a trilogy, because it features a different main character (though Grave Mercy's Ismae does make an appearance). There is, as I think of the book in retrospect, perhaps a slight lack of forward movement on Anne's story. But Sybella's story is so fast-paced and utterly compelling that I didn't notice that at all when I was reading.
Sybella is an intriguing character. She is ruthless, quick-witted, and sharp-tongued. But she is also deeply wounded, vulnerable, and utterly loyal. She is not above using her feminine wiles to accomplish what she needs to accomplish, but she also hates herself for doing so. The family secrets that made Sybella who she is are revealed slowly throughout the book. This adds an additional layer of suspense on top of high-octane current events.
As you might gather from the title and the cover of the book, Dark Triumph is indeed dark. Terrible things happen to people, particularly Sybella. D'Albret is one of the most loathsome, irredeemable villains I have ever encountered in a novel. Truly evil. There is also quite a lot of fighting and killing (yes, by Sybella - that's what she's been trained to do).
Dark Triumph is also a complex book. There are many characters, and quite a bit of political intrigue. I had to refer back to the Dramatis Personae from time to time, just to make sure I had things straight.
And yet, I found Dark Triumph to be a fast read. Perhaps this was because I could scarcely bear to put it down. The stakes were always so high for Sybella that I had to keep reading. LaFevers does include some humor, too. And the love story between Sybella and a character who reappears from the first book is believable and lovely, that much more beautiful for being set against difficult times.
I think that having a different protagonist for this book (but one trained at the same convent) was brilliant. This avoids what I think is my biggest pet peeve in young adult trilogies - the need to artificially keep apart a couple who clearly belong together, just to keep things interesting. Oh, some people do it well. And I get why it's necessary. But it's still tiresome. Here, we get a glimpse at Ismae's happily ever after with her beau, and are simultaneously able to move on and become invested in Sybella's story. Brilliant.
Fans of Grave Mercy will not be disappointed. Dark Triumph is, as I've said, dark. It does require a certain degree of focus to follow everything that's happening. It also requires a tiny willingness to suspend belief regarding the protagonists' fighting abilities (there are mild supernatural elements in effect, after all). But for those who are ready to take on these challenges, Dark Triumph offers great rewards.
Dark Triumph is compelling, well-written, and unforgettable. While it's not strictly necessary to have read Grave Mercy to appreciate Dark Triumph, I do encourage you to read the books in order. Both are highly recommended for teen and adult readers.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (@hmhkids)
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
FTC Required Disclosure:
This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).