Dark Triumph picks up the overarching story of Duchess Anne begun in Grave Mercy, with her attempt to hold on to Brittany in the late 15th century. Anne is holed up in Rennes trying to figure out who’s trustworthy, while her main adversary (he doesn’t take rejection lightly) d’Albret is in Nantes, plotting against her. This tension between Anne and d’Albret underlies everything that goes on, tying it to Grave Mercy, even though it’s not really necessary to read it first.
The main story belongs to Sybella, who is a friend to Ismae, and another one of Death’s Handmaidens. She’s been sent to infiltrate d’Albret’s household, get information, and (hopefully) kill d’Albret, if she can get close enough. It’s not a comfortable assignment for any woman (all five of d’Albret’s previous wives died under mysterious circumstances and he encourages his soldiers to rape and pillage), but for Sybella it is madness: she is d’Albret’s daughter.
This is a much darker, harsher tale than Grave Mercy was (and that was no walk on the beach). D’Albret is one of the more despicable characters I’ve ever read, and Sybella’s brother isn’t far behind. His incestuous love is beyond creepy, and it was more than easy to see why Sybella went mad there.
However, she is sent on assignment to help one of d’Albret’s prisoners escape, one called the Beast of Waroch. And with that comes Sybella’s redemption: in the act of escaping, she gets carried along. Once out of d’Albret’s house, the book takes on a lighter feel, as Sybella and Beast make their way to Rennes, trying to get there in one piece, and learning to trust each other. I have to admit that I loved the romance; it came on slowly, and for once the romantic interest wasn’t Tall, Dark, and Handsome, but rather a force to reckon with.
Additionally, I loved how LaFevers played with the politics of men and women, and how Sybella used everything she had to work with in her favor. She is smart, yet she doubts herself and her mission, making her a wonderfully complex character.
It’s a terrific second installment in an excellent series.
Rated: High (for younger readers) for violence, off-screen sex, and some incredibly disturbing situations. It would be moderate if it were an adult book.