Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

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The basics

Title: Dark Triumph

Author:

Series: His Fair Assassin #2

- Grave Mercy (April 2012)
- Dark Triumph (April 2013)
- Mortal Heart (November 2014)

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Goodreads Summary:

When Sybella arrived at the doorstep of St Mortain half mad with grief and despair the convent were only too happy to offer her refuge - but at a price. The sisters of this convent serve Death, and with Sybella naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, she could become one of their most dangerous weapons.
But her assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to the life that nearly drove her mad. Her father's rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother's love is equally monstrous. But when Sybella discovers an unexpected ally she discovers that a daughter of Death may find something other than vengeance to live for...
A million thanks to the incredible Ellis for this incredibly detailed recap!

In short

After repeatedly proving herself to be the best assassin-spy the convent has ever had (you can’t convince me otherwise), Sybella gets sent back to the d’Albret court. Yep. That’s the bastard who tried to rape duchess Anne when she didn’t want to marry him in Grave Mercy. He’s also Sybella’s father. While trying to get inside info on his plans so that she can help the Breton court be victorious, she also receives a message that she needs to help the Beast of Waroch, who turns out to be locked up in the dungeons, escape. Things don’t go entirely to plan and Sybella ends up tagging along on the great escape, for which I am eternally grateful because it was about that time she got out of that den of sexual and physical abuse. I will forever hate the abbess of Saint Mortain for this.

While making their way to Rennes, where the Breton court currently resides, they run into some trouble with either d’Albret’s men or the French. Unsurprisingly, they slay all. They help some peasants in the process and it turns out that Beast is somewhat of a hero of the people, and the farmers/millers/other peasants gladly pledge to join their cause. They also run into the charbonnerie, a people that live in the woods and serve the Dark Matrona. After some trust exercises, they join the SAVE BRITTANY AND ITS DUCHESS cause as well. They arrive in Rennes. Cue the heartwarming reunion of Sybella and Ismae, sisters in assassination and besties in badassitude. Sybella’s true identity gets revealed by that awful abbess. Sybella spots d’Albret men in the duchess’ guard. She gets tasked to weed them out. Beast objects. My heart shatters. Sybella is successful because of course she is.

The abbess is the absolute worst AGAIN. Sybella gets sent back to the d’Albret court AGAIN. Beast objects AGAIN. (With good reason.) He makes it that they go the same route, charbonnerie casually tagging along. First, they rally the people. Secondly, they beat the French troops. Lastly, they go to d’Albret’s court to save Sybella’s sisters and murder the rest. They are successful. HEA.

What went down

  • We open with Sybella getting a girl (Odette) that was wandering the halls of the despicable d’Albret court to safety because if there’s one thing you need to remember at all times, it’s that Sybella is the absolute best thing about this series, and I say that as someone who’s deeply in love with the His Fair Assassin books.
  • The ambush of Grave Mercy: Sybella warns Ismae with their psychic bond of sisterhood. Ismae and the duchess get away. Benedic de Waroch, a.k.a. the Beast of Waroch stays behind, slays some d’Albret men but then unfortunately gets captured.
  • Sybella is discovered by her sick pervert of a half brother (though technically they’re not related because she’s a daughter of Saint Mortain). This is Julian and he’s slightly less awful than her other, older sick and despicable pervert of a half brother, Pierre. Sybella puts her game face on. Julian makes clear that he’ll protect her but that this is a kindness she’ll have to repay later. I hate him.
  • Sybella spots her first two marques and IT’S ABOUT TIME. She was getting very annoyed that none of these horrible people were bearing marques because that means she can’t kill them.
  • She decides to investigate, going on the logic that maybe the marques are hidden. She enlists a maid (Tilde, sister of Odette) to let her in d’Albret’s room, then hides behind a curtain while d’Albret takes his bath. Being the scum of the earth that he is, he tries to rape Tilde. Sybella almost betrays her hiding spot because she WILL kill him, marque or not. Luckily, they get interrupted by madame Dinan, d’Albret’s sister and former governess of duchess Anne. It’s revealed that these two have been in an incestual relationship for a long time.
  • That night, Julian comes to Sybella’s room and uses a secret code to let her know it’s time to pay up in sexual favours. We hate him. Sybella pretends to be asleep and never answers. We love her.
  • We meet Sybella’s ladies in waiting, Jamette and Tephanie. Jamette is the kind of girl oldschool Kanye West would write songs about (she takes my moNEY when I’m in neeeeeed) and a spy for the patriarchal supremacy of the d’Albret court. More about Tephanie soon. Also, Jamette thinks there’s a ghost in the castle. Hmmmmm.
  • Sybella poisons the two marqued barons. This pleases her. The convents sends her a message that the Beast of Waroch is locked up in the dungeons. She is to free him.
  • D’Albret enlists Sybella to get information from one of his courtiers. While she’s doing so, using her powers of seduction, Julian jumps from behind one of the curtains and kills the courtier in a jealous rage. He asserts once and for all that Sybella is HIS. I’m not having it and neither is Sybella.
  • Sybella orders Tephanie to sleep in her bed so that when Julian come a-knocking, she’ll have an excuse to refuse, since Julian is one of those douchebag no means yes types. When they wake up the next morning, Sybella and Tephanie have a moment. We all take a moment to mourn the fact that LaFevers didn’t take this further. So does Tephanie, by the looks of it. Note: seriously missed opportunity for an epic hook-up.
  • Sybella goes to look for the ghost, who turns out to be the Beast of Waroch. Double win. He has one guard, who “looks like a small gnome from a hearth tale”. This is important. Being the strategical mastermind that she is, she doesn’t impulsively free him. Instead, she comes up with a plan that won’t trage back to her.
  • Tephanie has taken up permanent residence in Sybella’s bed. Such it, Julian.
  • Sybella frees the Beast of Waroch. The jailor helps her (!!) Logistical problem: even with the unexpected help, Beast is still gigantic. She decides to speak to his loyalty and battle lust because this is what OTPs are made of even when they’ve just met and one is barely conscious and the other terrified for her life. Ah, young love.
  • They run into some guards. Sybella foes all Celaena Sardothien on their ass. Apparently Beast has had enough of Sybella’s truth bombs and (accidentally?) knocks her out.
  • (Why do I ship this?)
  • Logistical problem: they loaded Sybella on the escape cart, even though she’d planned to stay behind so SHE COULD KILL D’ALBRET. YOU PROMISED YOU STUPID ABBESS.
  • They find a lodge. Sybella tends to Beast’s wounds. They become acquainted – verbally. Sybella discloses that she’s one of Ismae’s colleagues. Keep in mind that Beast was the one to say in Grave Mercy that they say that “to lie with a handmaiden of Death is the sweetest end imagineable”. They smile at each other like fools. (Confirmation of my previous statemen tbh.) Note: missed opportunity for an epic hook-up.
  • Beast discloses that his sister was d’Albret’s sixth (and currently, last) wife. Sybella is SHOCKED. (Check the first word of chapter 17 if you don’t believe me.) Through some internal memory disclosure it becomes obvious that Alyse de Waroch was Sybella’s favourite stepmom. Then, secrets. Beast thanks Sybella for saving him. He also knows she would have killed him mercifully to save him from d’Albret’s torture. Note: missed opportunity for an epic hook-up.
  • D’Albret’s men catch up to them. Beast faints. Sybella slay all. They argue about the logistics of getting Beast to Rennes when clearly he has a fainting issue. Unbearable sexual tension when she fixed him up before they ride out. Sadly not that kind of riding. Revelation that the gnome-gargoyle used to be Beast’s squire and Alyse’s personal protector once she became d’Albret’s wife. Just another victim of the horrendous d’Albret household.
  • They come upon some millers/peasants in trouble with d’Albret’s men. They recognise Sybella but she kills them before they can say a word. Then they bump into some Frencg harassing other peasants. Beast is like WE HAVE TO HELP HIM. Sybella is all MATE. WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS. (Considering that this takes place in France, it probably would have been mec instead of mate. I hereby close this impromptu lesson on anachronistic conversational French.) to which Beast says “Sybella, my raven-haired beauty” (he doesn’t say this but he’s thinking it. With his loins. I know this even though the entire book is written in Sybella’s POV.) “we don’t just fight to protect the rich, privileged elite. We fight FOR THE PEOPLE.”
  • Beast decides to rally the people and start a second army to protect Brittany against the combined enemy of d’Albret and the French. The battle lusty boys they saved a few pages ago are impressed and volunteer as tributes. Their mother says no. For now.
  • Sybella, Beast and Yannic (the gargoyle-gnome) run into the charbonnerie. After an initial ambush, they bow down to the infamous Beast of Waroch and his legendary hatred of the French, because they also feel this on a deep and spiritual level. They let them stay the night and quickly become besties. They join the cause and ride with them to Rennes.
  • Arrival in Rennes: Sybella takes it upon her to get them inside the castle. While waiting at the palace entrance, she overhears a couple arguing about the sketchy individuals that surround the duchess. The woman votes for them to be murdered. Instantly recognising Ismae, Sybella is overjoyed. Duval doesn’t trust Sybella when he sees her but who cares, and certainly not Ismae, who shoves him aside to go tackle-hug her sister in assassination and bestie in badassitude.
  • Beast and Uval, also long lost besties, meet again. Beast wonders how it is that Duval is alive, since last he heard of him, he was dying of severe poisoning. Hmmmmmmm, I wonder what happened there.
  • REPEATED CONFIRMATION THAT SYBELLA TAUGHT HER FELLOW NUNS IN TRAINING HOW TO KISS THIS MAKES THE UNREQUITED TEPHANIE SHIP THAT MUCH SADDER
  • Sybella sneaks into the convent of Saint Brigantia because she doesn’t trust those nuns to take proper care of Beast. She planned to sneak in undetected and to just check up on him real quick, but one of the nuns catches her. Apparently Beast calls for Alyse in his feverish dreams. Sybella is a little disappointed it’s not her he calls for but she understands. *thud* Turns out she’s the one he calls for when he’s awake *thud* *thud*
  • She goes to sit by him and takes his hand. He wakes up and tells her he knew she’d miss him. She denies this. He doesn’t believe her. I am in pain. Rude banter. SHE FALLS ASLEEP EVEN THOUGH SHE DIDN’T MEAN TO BECAUSE SHE FEELS SAFE WITH HIM AND I’M CRYING SO HARD YOU GUYS. Early morning wake-up and walk of something to the castle.
  • Sybella becomes instantly protective of the duchess. The duchess is instantly appreciative of Sybella’s service. Then that bitch of an abbess ruins everything by revealing Sybella’s true identity WITHOUT HER CONSENT AND ALSO THIS FUCKS UP MY SHIP TREMENDOUSLY BUT THE FIRST IS MORE IMPORTANT. Sybella needs some non-courtly air and runs into the city. A man tries to seduce her. He almost gets intimately acquainted with her knife instead. She hears screaming and finds two of d’Albret’s men assaulting some of the charbonnerie. She decides that the best way to mend a broken heart is to kill some disgusting products of the patriarchy.
  • Sybella and Ismae have a moment. Ismae reveals that she’s met Mortain and that he’s a pretty cool mec, and also that the marques are more of a warning of who’s to die than an order. Meaning that even assholes not bearing a marque – COUGH COUGH D’ALBRET – deserve to be killed
  • There is a meeting or a party and Sybella spots Yannic, whom she considers to be Beast’s spy so she decides to attach herself to the prettiest man in the room to make Beast jealous. Sybella proposes that she weed out the d’Albret men who’ve mixed themselves in the duchess’ guard. Beast doesn’t want her to. She challenges him, asking if he thinks she isn’t capable. He throws back that he damn well knows how capable she is, but that, and I quote “I do not know whether the costs would be worth the risks.” Terribly gross sobbing on the other side of the page.
  • ANNITH IS PLANNING TO ESCAPE THE CONVENT. YOU GO GLENN COCO.
  • That stupid abbess gives Sybella a new order. She is to return to d’Albret’s court and kill him. Sybella refuses. The abbess threatens to send Ismae instead. When Sybella reminds her they’d recognise Ismae, she threatens to finally send out Annith on her assignment. Sybella gives in to protect her sisters. I weep.
  • Duchess Anne marries the Holy Roman emperor by proxy. Beast is outraged that the abbess told Sybella to go back to the d’Albret court, so he decided to combine their missions, with the charbonnerie by their side. HE KNOCKS HER OUT AGAIN AND IS REALLY SORRY ABOUT IT BUT IT WAS THE ONLY WAY AND I SHOULD HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THIS, RIGHT? BUT THEN PUTS HER IN FRONT OF HIM ON HIS HORSE WHERE HE CAN PROTECT HER AT ALL TIMES SAVE ME BARRY
  • They go pick up the peasants that had pledged to join their cause. Sybella tries to escape to finish her assignment alone when no one is looking. Beast stops her. FINALLY WE GET A KISS. Sybella instructs the children. They give her lip first but soon enough they all – rightfully – worship her.
  • They go to battle against the French. Sybella spots a handful of marks on her companions. She tries to arrange it so that they escape death. Some of them die regardless.

How did it end?

The troops of the people have ended up in the neighbourhood of the castle where Sybella sent her sisters to keep them safe. Turns out Julian stopped by, took them with him to Nantes and plans to blackmail Sybella’s return this way. They decide to spend the night at the castle and ride out in the morning. Sybella tells Beast of the years of sexual abuse she’s endured at the hand of her father and brothers. They visit the grave of d’Albret’s six wives. There they discover a seventh grave.

Flashback time: right before she escaped to the convent of Saint Mortain, Sybella had a daughter. Realising that the baby wasn’t Julian’s – as he had hoped, that sick bastard – d’Albret breaks her neck. Alyse tried to take the baby from him, but he pushed her off and she hit her head on a chair, a blow that killed her. Disgusted with the wickedness running in her family, Sybella tried to hang herself. That’s when old Nonne told her she was sired by Mortain, which made her run off to the convent.

Sybella wakes in the middle of the night and has her meeting with Death. He confirms Ismae’s theory that the marques merely show who will die soon, not who has to die. If she really isn’t supposed to kill someone, the blade will miss, the choking session will be interrupted, the cup with poisoned will be knocked over, etc. Later, the opportunity for an epic hook-up is finally acted upon. Sadly, it’s fade to black. BUT I’LL TAKE IT.

Sybella visits the convent of Saint Brigantia to borrow a habit because apparently dressing like a nun will get you in anywhere. Alert the night clubs. The abbess shows her a secret passage that leads to the castle of Nantes. Sybella, Beast and Yannic enter the castle this way. It’s Tephanie, her old lover (please excuse the intrusion of headcanon), who kept her sisters safe and prayed for Sybella coming to save them. Hmmmmm. They try to escape. Jamette ruins everything just by being there, alerting the court and shit. Beast carries Charlotte and Louise off to safety. Then Julian comes to ruin things some more but Sybella tells him once and for all that NO MEANS NO and that he needs to keep his sick perversions to himself.

Marshal Rieux (he was relevant once upon a time) is no longer, probably murdered because let’s be real, this is the d’Albret court. Sybella gets locked in the dungeon until d’Albret returns from brokering an alliance with the French court. Just a general impression: everything is supremely terrible. Upon discovering that Sybella is not his bio daughter, d’Albret decides to make her his seventh wife because he thinks mixing his bloodline with Death’s will make him unstoppable and also he’s the most disgusting thing to walk this earth. Julian comes to her defence but oh look at that, a wild marque appears. Moment of being severely conflicted because you did good, for once, Julian, but you’re still a sick bastard. RIP, I guess. Jamette decides to be decent for once and slips Sybella a knife, but d’Albret decides to end this once and for all by killing Sybella. Julian jumps in front of her and gets stabbed through with a sword. Turns out Sybella is some sort of misericorde herself, since she releases his soul by kissing his brow?

Beast shows up. He has Sybella’s knives with him. Everybody dies. (Except for Madame Dinan and I think d’Albret was left with his guts spilling out and I’m not sure if his soul will ever be released because Mortain has promised that the underworld/afterlife will be a D’ALBRET FREE ZONE. And Pierre wasn’t there so he’ll probably be the one in cahoots with the French now. Pfff. The rest of them, they all dead.) The charbonnerie start bombing the castle. Sybella and Beast escape, jumping from the castle wall and continuing to be the wild, free, loving spirits that they are. HEAs all around.

anything else

handmaiden to death: the assassin nuns who have already assassinated and thus finished their training, eg. Sybella and Ismae
novitiate (of Mortain): the assassin nuns who have not yet had the chance/order to assassinate and are most likely very bitter about this, eg. Annith
marque: a black mark that appears on a person’s body when they are to die soon. Some handmaidens can see them since birth (Ismae). Others only after having drunk the Tears of Mortain (Sybella).
misericorde: a magic knife that takes just one nick for a soul to leave a dying person’s body
Tears of Mortain: a potion that enhances the novitiates’ supernatural abilities
charbonnerie: a people of charcoal-burners that serve the Dark Matrona and live in the woods between Nantes and Rennes
Guérande: former Breton court
Nantes: former Breton court, now the d’Albret court and number one portal to Hell.
Rennes: current Breton court

Gods and saints

General note that all these are all old gods and goddesses, but in order for the Breton people to continue practising their fate, they had to be reimagined as saints.

Dea Matrona: the Goddess
The Dark Mother/Dark Matrona: the fierce and loving goddess of the fallen, the scarred, the wounded and the castoffs. She rules over the places where life rises up out of darkness and decay. She is goddess of that last bit of hope when all hope is lost. Not accepted by the Church because they saw her as competition for Jesus Christ.
Saint Amourna: daughter of the Dea Matrona. The goddess/saint of gentle love.
Saint Arduinna: daughter of the Dea Matrona. Protector of virgins, goddess/saint of hunting and also love. From what I understand, her sister is the goddess of gentle, upbeat, perfectly fine love, while Arduinna has a bit of an edge to her. So maybe lust, wicked/intense/secret love?
Saint Brigantia: patron saint of healing and medicine
Saint Camulos: patron saint of war and battle lust
Saint Mortain: patron saint of death and badassitude
Saint Mer: patron saint of the sea. Ultrafemme and strictly matriarchal. (Think: black widows.)
Saint Salonius: patron saint of mistakes

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