Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Book Review - Robin LaFevers' Dark Triumph

Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassins Book 2) by Robin LaFevers
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Publication Date: April 2nd, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Sybella escaped a horrible life to get to the convent of Saint Mortain. She was damaged and more then a little insane when she arrived, but they made her whole again. So what does Mortain and the Abbess ask of her? To go back to that horrible life because her rank and her position are perfectly placed to aid Anne, the Duchess of Brittany, in her fight against the French to maintain Brittany's independence. Yet when it is discovered that the great warrior Beast didn't die in the bloody skirmish outside Nantes, but instead is hidden in the depths of the dungeons, Sybella, being already in Nantes, is asked to aid in his release. Things seldom go to plan, and soon Sybella is on the road to Rennes treating Beast's grievous wounds, instead of being back in Nantes. It wasn't her idea, it was Beast's... and he didn't really give her a choice. But now with the Beast of Waroch free he can use his talents and inspire the countryside and peasantry to rise up for the Duchess and keep Brittany free! If the two of them start falling for each other through their mutual pain and respect, well, that might be just as Mortain had planned...

From the moment I finished Grave Mercy I was dying for the next book, which in my mind should have been called Grave Justice. I needed to know what happened to Beast and if he was still alive, I had quite an attachment to him, so I was assuming that he survived, I don't think Robin could traumatize me that much on purpose, and after all those tantalizing glimpses Ismae had of Sybella, like Ismae, I wanted, no, I NEEDED to know what the Abbess had Sybella doing. I waited, very impatiently I might add, till I finally got my hands on the ARC of Dark Triumph. I had spent a year thinking about how Robin would start with Sybella more then half mad on the day Ismae was brought to the convent. Then we would journey through all that had happened during the time Ismae was on her own mission. I spent much time daydreaming of what could come next.

Thankfully this is not how Robin decided to tell the story. Having just recently finished reading Sarah Waters' Fingersmith, I quickly realized how boring a book can be if after seeing a story from one characters point of view, we go back and repeat the entire story from the other characters. Do this a few times, and let's just say that Fingersmith started to alienate me pretty fast. Instead Dark Triumph started almost near the end of Ismae's volume, with Sybella on the ramparts warning Ismae of D'Albret's treachery. Choosing this moment to bring in the second volume first had me worried, because I wasn't sure all my questions would be answered. I need not have worried, not only where all my questions answered, but because of the story picking up where it did, that meant we had time to dive back into Ismae's story and weave the two together. Dark Triumph turned out to be the best of both worlds.

What Robin has done with Dark Triumph is create not only another compelling narrative in the series, but she has captured Sybella's voice. There is nothing that can be more annoying then having a writer attempt to write a story form multiple points of view and have them fail utterly at it. Each person has a distinct voice, I do, you do, Ismae does, Sybella does. Writing, I fully admit that I can only capture my own voice, which works for what I do. But if Sybella had come out sounding just like Ismae, then not only would this book fail, but then the uniqueness of Ismae and her distinct voice would be belittled and cheapened. Instead we have a far more educated voice. Less enthusiastic for carrying out Mortain's wishes. More circumspect, questioning and wary. Which Sybella would have to be growing up in the dark world she inhabits.

Besides the different voice we also have a very different relationship dynamic between Beast and Sybella. They do not have the zealous righteousness that drives Ismae and Gavriel. They are driven by their dark pasts. The fight for what is right after being stomped down by the oppressive evil in the world. Yet neither of them seem to know when to stop pushing so sometimes the other has to be the guide for when enough is enough. This is most obviously shown when Beast occasionally helps Sybella to a state of unconsciousness to get her out of harm's way or when Sybella forces Beast to rest due to his injuries, when the last thing Beast wants is rest. The endearing aspect is while they both have their secrets, neither one ever questions the loyalties of the other. One jumps, the other jumps. True love comes in many forms and Sybella would have been the first to question finding it in a giant of a man with a squashed face and blood lust on the battlefield.

The other thing that really struck me about this book is it is far darker. I mean, this is dark! The disregard the Abbess had for Sybella's sanity in the face of "Mortain's" wishes shows that at the end of the day people do what's best for themselves, and on a side note, if someone doesn't beat the shit out of the Abbess before this series is over I am going to be sad. I had ideas and suppositions about what Sybella's story was, and never once did I think of this. Robin surprised me and gave me another side to the world she has created, which I heartily embraced, even if I occasionally wanted to wash my hands afterwards.

But the magic of the book resides in the fact that Robin has created a historical fantasy that is so real I worry about what will happen to the characters. I have spent a fair amount of time on Wikipedia looking up what really happened during the fight for Brittany and how this plays out doesn't necessarily play out how I would wish. I worry about what Ismae and Gavriel will do when the wars are done and the fight is over. How will they handle when Isabeau dies? What will they think of Anne's life? She is only 26 when she dies. How can the characters I know and love have a happy ending if Anne doesn't have one too? I really should stop obsessing about this and trust in Robin, she is a hopeless romantic and all will work out... right?


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