Grave Mercy. A lot. It was so fun and exciting and well-written and romantic and basically everything I wanted in a book at that moment. Its sequel, Dark Triumph, is no different. If anything, I enjoyed it more.
Where Grave Mercy focused on Ismae, Dark Triumph focuses on Sybella, another assassin nun who's been sent on an assignment to the home of D'Albret, the sinister noble who conspired to kill Anne, the Duchess of Brittany, after she refused his offer of marriage. At the end of Grave Mercy, it's Sybella's warning that saves Anne's life. But her mission at D'Albret's home is not over.
Being sent to infiltrate D'Albret's home as a spy is horrifying enough (D'Albret is a special kind of evil), but for Sybella, it's torture. You see, soon into the story we learn that she is, in fact, D'Albret's daughter, and she's been privy to his violent proclivities since childhood. He's had at least half a dozen wives, and they all met untimely ends when they ceased to please him. If D'Albret were to find out that she was fathered by Mortain, then she would no longer be off-limits to him.
Sybella has been biding her time, watching D'Albret constantly, hoping to see the marque on him that would give her permission to kill him. Before she is able to see anything, she's given her official assignment: rescue an ally of the duchess who's been imprisoned in D'Albret's dungeon. That her mission is a rescue one, not a killing one, doesn't sit well with Sybella, who truly enjoys killing (this is something I love about her character). But the man she rescues interests her, and he throws her off-kilter by liking her even more when he learns what she is.
Ever since I was introduced to Sybella in the convent in Grave Mercy, I wanted to know her story. She was presented as quite unhinged initially, but able to heal slowly thanks to the friendships she eventually developed with Ismae and Annith. Having D'Albret as a father explains much of her psyche, and LaFevers writes her so well that I really felt Sybella's horror at being forced to live once more with the man who killed her mother and made her life a living hell.
A little of the mythology behind Mortain and his marques was revealed in Grave Mercy, and it's built upon here - and if you've read Grave Mercy, you won't be surprised to learn that the convent doesn't have it exactly right. A lot of the story involves Sybella grappling with what it means to be sired by Mortain, what it means to be a killer and not only be good at it, but enjoy it. I mentioned in my review of Grave Mercy that I loved that LaFevers made Ismae do the "bad thing" - killing people on order with little thought to the reason behind it. Here, she takes it a step further - Sybella not only does the "bad thing," she relishes it.
While I loved Ismae as a character, I'm much more intrigued by Sybella. Her sanity is a bit fragile, and she's sad and angry and overwhelmingly depressed, betrayed over and over by the people who should have loved her. She's had it rough, but she's still fighting to find a way to be happy. She's fascinating and I loved reading about her.
The other things that distinguished Grave Mercy are here, too: political intrigue, action, murder, romance, secrets, bad people who turn out to be good, good people who turn out to be bad. It advances the overall storyline involving Duchess Anne and also creates some intriguing possibilities for the future of the convent and its assassin nuns. It's just completely well-done, a worthy sequel (or "companion book," if you like), and will more than satisfy fans of the first. I can't wait for the third.
Review copy received from the publisher (via Kelly). Dark Triumph will be available April 2.