Books: Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

This sequel to Grave Mercy—or really, companion book, since it focuses on a different protagonist entirely—took much longer than the first in the series to really get moving. The first 100 pages were kind of a slog. And while I understand why the book is set up and written the way it is, the short answer here is the second book simply isn't as good as the first.

But of course, that's a subjective statement.

Sybella's situation is interesting: She is the nominal daughter of d'Albret, a ruthless man without a conscience. She has watched her "father" kill innocents, including six wives. And Sybella has also suffered at the hands of her brothers—incest is implied, but LaFevers dances around the subject quite a bit, which is part of the problem with the writing here. One can understand that perhaps this is too much for a YA novel, but the story is really impaired for lack of specificity. It's hard to feel for Sybella without knowing exactly what she's personally endured.

Also, Sybella's inner dialogue that argues she has no options is weak. She's a trained assassin, but she waffles about killing pretty much the worst person in the world. The fact that d'Albret isn't marked by Mortain—particularly after Sybella decides maybe she doesn't believe in Mortain anyway—shouldn't really stop her.

In fact, Sybella's whole belief system (or lack thereof) is nebulous and not fully explored. She doesn't believe, then she does. She doesn't trust, but she follows orders anyway. There were so many places in the book where it was clear if she'd just be decisive, she could have saved herself and others a lot of trouble.

But I guess there's not much of a story in that.

The series itself is a fun idea: Set in 1400s Brittany and with real historical context. Each central character is a young woman who has been fathered by Mortain (Death) and so trained at his convent as assassins. But the Abbess of the convent is not entirely trustworthy . . . Her orders appear to be political rather than spiritual. Ismae, protagonist of Grave Mercy, was a fun character to spend time with and I found myself sailing through the book. Sybella not so much. Her weight—psychological, emotional—made her out to be like one of those friends who drains you every time to spend any time with them. She was repetitive in going over and over how hopeless and terrible things were. I could only take her in very small amounts. And again, that's part of the character; she's had a really, really bad life. But I think there are ways to write that without sapping your readers. Here, for me at least, it didn't work.

Don't get me wrong. Dark Triumph isn't a bad book. It's average. I just expected more after the first one was so good. And I'll still read the third when it comes out.

No comments: