Series: His Fair Assassin #2
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 385 (Paperback)
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...
This story is incredibly dark, especially compared to its predecessor, Grave Mercy. I would not recommend this for young children and readers who are made uncomfortable by incest, attempted rape, illusions to sex, graphic murder, and violence.
Book two begins at the climax of book one, but from the perspective of Sybella. While we encountered her a few times in book one, we're finally within her mind once more and learning of the secret mission that has completely closed off all contact with her dear and beloved friends, Ismae and Annith. Sybella's life is full of secrets, darkness, and treachery. After reading her story and understanding all that she has endured it is nearly impossible not to respect her will to survive. It also makes it easy to understand why she was so insane when she first went to the convent of Saint Mortain.
Whereas Ismae is defending the duchess herself, Sybella is charged with defending the duchess by spying on the household of the very man that wants to usurp her: D'Albret. And, to make matters worse, not only is she in the household of the most ruthless and insane man in Brittany, but she is back under the roof of her disgusting father that led her to the brink of madness and insanity to begin with. Sybella is ashamed to be a D'Albret and hides her upbringing from everyone, but in order to get away and survive, she must slowly reveal all her twisted secrets and hope that her loved ones will not look at her differently. But that requires admitting terrible truths even she has trouble coming to terms with. It will forever be an uphill battle for her.
Being inside Sybella's head was daunting. It's not an easy place to be, really. This girl has had many many bad things done to her and as a woman of the time, she can't simply say no. She has been taken advantage of by male family members and her father's men, just as she has been mistreated by nearly everyone she comes in contact with, even her spoiled stewardess Jamette. She questions who her father is, if Saint Mortain is even real, and why she takes such pleasure in killing. She comes alive with a blade in her hand while she melts into the walls begging to be left alone when unarmed. Her life is so complicated that you can't help but feel for the girl.
However, it takes a beastly yet respectable knight to turn her world upside down and the Sybella that descended into madness may never return. One of her most important tasks was to save the Beast of Waroch from certain death as her father's prisoner and to return him to the Duchess. This journey is powerful, guys. It's breathtaking and beautiful and paced just right and to see these two slowly learn to respect each other is wonderful. Beast learns to accept her for her and is not repulsed by her misdeeds and crimes whereas Sybella finds herself fascinated with this ugly man with fiery eyes, battle-lust, and the biggest heart she has ever come across. Though an unlikely couple, they are truly perfect for each other. I would not have wanted either of them to be with anyone but each other and I was rooting for them throughout this entire book.
This story has less political intrigue then Grave Mercy. While based on fact and featuring some real characters with ghastly character traits, LaFevers took more liberties here. As a historical fantasy writer, she is certainly allowed to do so. She accomplishes this by focusing on the dastardly deeds and inner workings of the enemy instead of the politics that surround the duchess's court. And while Sybella cannot avoid politics and does eventually find herself at court, it's not as much of a focus as it was in book one. I wouldn't go as far to say as the lack of politicking was refreshing since this book is so dark it's hard not to drown in betrayal and lies, but it was a change of scenery that was welcome and unique.
In the end, there was something lacking from Sybella's story. I can't quite place my finger on it, but I wasn't as satisfied with it the way I was Ismae's. I think the fact that this book is one hundred pages shorter than book one and the eventual book three really impacted it. For while I know the darkness Sybella has endured, I still feel somewhat disconnected to her at times compared to how I feel about Ismae. I have to say that Beast was the shining star of this story, though. As much as I love Duval, I have to say Beast's ruggeddness and happiness and ability to fight through anything for what he believes is right is admirable and his huge, beautiful heart is definitelly unparalled.
A solid sequel, I recommend this series to fans of historical fiction and fantasy novels with dark twists. There are twists and turns everywhere and your heart will never stop beating because the second you think the characters will finally catch a break, LaFevers takes the story in an entirely different direction. I'm definitely looking forward to book three!
This book was read as part of my summer of series.