By R.L. LaFevers
Publication date: April 2, 2013
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 400 pages
Sybella arrives at the convent’s doorstep half mad with grief and despair. Those that serve Death are only too happy to offer her refuge—but at a price. Naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, the convent views Sybella as one of their most dangerous weapons.
But those assassin’s skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to a life that nearly drove her mad. Her father’s rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother’s love is equally monstrous. And while Sybella is a weapon of justice wrought by the god of Death himself, He must give her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?
This heart-pounding sequel to Grave Mercy serves betrayal, treachery, and danger in equal measure, bringing readers back to fifteenth century Brittany and will keep them on the edge of their seats.
— Goodreads.com description
I LOVE BOOOOOOOOKS!!!!!!!!
Sorry, nerding out over Dark Triumph by R.L. LaFevers. *Composes self*
I loved Grave Mercy, the first book in this series, and the moment I picked up Dark Triumph, I was gleefully transported back to LaFevers’ world. I sometimes get disappointed when I fall in love with characters, but later hear they aren’t going to be front-and-center in the sequel. But like with Marissa Meyer’s Cinder and Scarlet, for example, my worries about this series were so so so unfounded. Because there is so very much to love about Sybella.
For me, the highlight of this story was slowly uncovering the truth about her traumatic childhood. Oh, Sybella, I want to reach through the book and hug you, girl. The fighting is great (escape through the woods!), the setting fascinating (castles!) and the inner turmoil Sybella is dealing with is extremely compelling (revenge!).
But — one thing — I didn’t find it as swoony as Grave Mercy. It made no difference to my enjoyment of the book whatsoever, but definitely worth noting (sorry, Beast!).
And, as an extra bonus…an outtake from the books that made me go “WHOA!” Thanks so much to the author for sharing!
We find Annith on the stony beach. She has stripped out of her habit and stands in her shift, scrubbing herself over and over with handfuls of salt water and sand. I decide it is an excellent idea and join her, only too glad to wash the taint of the day from me.
None of us go to dinner that night. Instead, Sybella sneaks back into the convent, “For supplies,” she says mysteriously. She also thinks to grab our cloaks, and I am heartily grateful for a chill wind is blowing off the ocean.
When Sybella returns, Annith does not even look up. “I’m not hungry.”
“Good, because I did not bring food.”
“Then what did you bring?”
A sly triumphant smile appears on Sybella’s face as she pulls a jug from the sack. “Unwatered wine.” Annith’s eyes grow wide in surprise and begrudging admiration. Sybella hands the jug to Annith. “Drink.”
Annith drinks. “It will not cheer me up,” she says as she sullenly hands the jug back to Sybella.
Sybella pushes it back. “Drink again.”
Annith sighs and does as she is told.
At last Sybella takes the jug from Annith, wipes it with her sleeve, then passes it to me.
The jug is awkward and heavy and it takes two hands to hold it up to my mouth. When I tip it back, I get a mouthful of the sweet, strong stuff and another mouthful dribbles down my chin.
Sybella laughs and takes the jug from me as I wipe my chin. She raises it gracefully to her mouth, takes a swig without spilling a drop, then passes it to Annith. Clearly she has had much practice at this.
“I know you are trying to make me feel better, but it will not work. It will not make me forget that my paltry experiences here in the convent will always pale when compared to your lives outside these walls.”
Sybella considers Annith for a long moment. “How long have you been here?”
“Since birth. I was brought over mere hours after my birth, by an herb witch.”
My brows shoot up in surprise. I knew she had been here a long time, but since birth? “So you have never known anyplace but the convent?” I ask, trying to hide the envy that comes over me.
“No,” Annith shakes her head.
I do not understand the look of sadness on her face. “But that is a good thing! To never have known hardship or cruelty. To never have been hungry or taunted for what you are.”
She looks up at me then, her eyes filled with some deep pain, so that my mockery of her dies on my lips. “What is it, Annith?” How can she not see this small miracle she’s been given?
She shrugs and fiddles with the small pile of flowers in front of her. For a moment, it looks as if she will share some dire truth, but she shrugs, and whatever it was passes. “I have not lived, not truly.”
I gape at her and wonder if this is some secret of Mortain she is talking about. “What do you mean? You are as alive as we are.”
“She means,” Sybella cuts a sidelong look at Annith, “that our dark, mysterious pasts are more . . . interesting . . . than her bright shiny life.”
“You are mad,” I say, looking at her clear untroubled brow and untouched beauty. “There is no joy in what I’ve been through. Nor Sybella either, I imagine.”
“Of course not,” Annith says, “but even so, you two have worldly skills that will aid you in your service to the saint. Experience I lack.”
“From what I know of gods and saints, the more innocent and virginal the better,” Sybella mutters.
Annith shakes her head firmly. “Not Mortain. All that we suffer in this world, we suffer for Him, so that we may better serve His needs.” It sounds like a lesson the nuns have drilled into her. “Don’t you see? As horrible as it was, it will also help you serve Mortain better. It is a test, one that you have passed. One that proves your worth to Him. Whereas I . . .” her voice drops and she looks down at her hands. “I fear I have not proved my right to serve Him.”
I think about her growing up here, all shiny and pure while other girls come, damaged and broken but more tempered by life. I think about how much it pained me to see Sybella in worse shape than I, and think maybe I understand a tiny piece of what Annith means. “And yet you are here,” I point out. “Surely no one comes to this place except through His will.”
Annith is quiet a long moment. “That is true. But the sisters protect me overmuch. Sometimes I doubt they will ever send me out on a true assignment. And today, I gave them the perfect excuse.”
“Sister Thomine said you’d passed,” I tell her. “After you left.”
Annith brightens. “She did?”
“She did,” Sybella confirms.
Annith looks out at the sea where the moonlight sparkles on the waves. “Still, neither of you have failed at anything.”
Sybella snorts, a surprisingly delicate sound. “Have you seen Ismae at her dancing lessons?”
“Be quiet.” I snatch the jug from her hands and take a deep draught of the wine, my cheeks flaming at the memory of my clumsy abundance of left feet during Sister Beatriz’s dance lessons.
“And I,” Sybella continues. “Have failed at many of the lessons your nuns set before me. Obedience, humility, cooperation.”
Annith waves her hand, dismissing those particular sins. “But those are exciting failures, failures due to an excess of spirit, not lack of courage.”
Fortified by the wine and wanting to make Annith feel better, I confess, “I failed at marriage,” surprising myself as well as the others.
Annith pauses with the jug half way to her mouth. “You were married? See? This is exactly the worldly experience I lack.”
“Not worldly, no,” I say. My memories rush back to those few short hours with Guillo. “Sordid and foul. And humiliating.” I snatch the forgotten jug from Annith’s limp hands and drink deeply.
I brace myself for one of Sybella’s outbursts, instead she tilts her head to the side and studies Annith, an amused look on her face. “And what would you choose to know?”
“The ways of the world,” Annith says. “What goes on between a man and a woman, because I know Sister Beatriz leaves much out of her lessons. What happens when one lies with a man? How to kiss a man? Something. I am fair choking on my own innocence!”
A sly, cunning look appears in Sybella’s eye, the one that always bespeaks trouble. “I can show you how to kiss a man.”
“You can?” Annith looks around the beach, as if she expects a man to appear out of the waves.
“But of course. You don’t need a man to learn that,” she scoffs. “Come here.” She pats the sandy patch next to her. Ever obedient, even in her rebellion, Annith scoots closer, her eyes rapt upon Sybella’s face as if expecting her to perform magic.
Sybella reaches out one slim hand, places it behind Annith’s head, and pulls her face closer. “This then, is how you kiss.” She tips her head slightly and places her lips upon Annith’s. Annith’s eyes widen with shock, as do my own. After a moment, Annith closes her eyes and gets down to the business of learning to kiss. Their lips do not linger long, but it is long enough that I grow somewhat unsettled watching them. I want to look away, but the truth is, I am as hungry for this knowledge as Annith.
At last Sybella pulls away, smoothing Annith’s hair as she does so. “Well and so,” she says. “That is your first lesson.”
Annith’s cheeks flush and she giggles a bit.
“And now you have done something that Ismae has not,” Sybella adds for good measure.
“Truly?” Annith says.
“What?” I scowl at being pulled into the middle of this.
“But I was married!” I protest, damning Sybella’s eyes for always seeing far more than she should.
“Ah, but being married does not mean you kissed.”
And of course, she is right. I never kissed Guillo, nor any of the village boys. I shrug and grab for the wine. She snatches it from my hand and gives it to Annith. “Not until you’ve had your lesson.”
Before I know what she plans, she reaches out and places her hand on my head, bringing my face closer to hers.
“You know you are curious,” she whispers, and then her lips are on mine, cool from the night air, yet warm, too, from the blood singing under her skin. She tastes faintly of wine, and something sharp and spicy, and then she is pulling away and the cold salt air is upon my lips, not the warmth of Sybella’s skin.
She thrusts the wine jug at me. “Now you have earned your drink.”
I take a hefty swallow and wait for the heat in my cheeks to die down.
Much later, soaked in salt air and wine, we creep back to the dormitory and slip into our beds. Annith is asleep within seconds, the wine causing her to snore ever so slightly.
It takes Sybella and I a little longer.
By A.G. Howard
Publication date: Jan. 1, 2013
Amulet Books, 371 pages
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.
— Goodreads.com description
Splintered by A.G. Howard was trippy, dark and weird…everything you’d expect from an Alice in Wonderland spin-off, really. Fans of those type of stories will likely find this fresh, modern and darkly fun. It actually reminded me of Nevermore by Kelly Creagh in that it was a little punk, a lot emo, very dark and twisty.
Was it a win for me? No, but that’s just because, well, I’m not really into this type of novel. I like bright stories! But I’m glad I tried something different and I’m sharing it with you all because I think it would appeal to many of you. Just not my thing!
The first in a rousing, funny, genre-busting trilogy from bestseller Jaclyn Moriarty!
This is a tale of missing persons. Madeleine and her mother have run away from their former life, under mysterious circumstances, and settled in a rainy corner of Cambridge (in our world).
Elliot, on the other hand, is in search of his father, who disappeared on the night his uncle was found dead. The talk in the town of Bonfire (in the Kingdom of Cello) is that Elliot’s dad may have killed his brother and run away with the Physics teacher. But Elliot refuses to believe it. And he is determined to find both his dad and the truth.
As Madeleine and Elliot move closer to unraveling their mysteries, they begin to exchange messages across worlds — through an accidental gap that hasn’t appeared in centuries. But even greater mysteries are unfolding on both sides of the gap: dangerous weather phenomena called “color storms;” a strange fascination with Isaac Newton; the myth of the “Butterfly Child,” whose appearance could end the droughts of Cello; and some unexpected kisses…
— Goodreads.com description
What a strange, nonsensical book A Corner of White is! I was already a fan of Jaclyn Moriarty’s contemporary writing — A Year of Secret Assignments was such a fun book — but this one is a definite departure.
The story is a genre-bender, following both Madeleine’s modern life in Cambridge and Elliot’s fantastical life in the Kingdom of Cello. It’s part fairy tale, part fantasy with bits of contemporary and sci-fi thrown in. Ambitious! Sure, it comes off as confusing in parts, but you have to applaud an author for trying something new.
A Corner of White is for slower readers — the type who appreciate a unique turn of phrase, a fresh point of view and plenty of oddities. And quirkiness! Fans of large, quirky casts of characters will find this to be a clever and charming read.
As someone who values whimsy and all things nonsensical, I can appreciate what Moriarty’s done here. But, overall, it was a bit of a trudge to get through the slow pacing, to be honest. Anyhow, depends on the type of reader you are. In the end, I had mixed feelings about the book but was overall delighted to see Moriarty try something different.
PS: Love this quote on it from Markus Zusak: “Perfectly strange, and absolutely comical and heartfelt.”
Touch of Power
By Maria V. Snyder
Publication date: Dec. 20, 2011
Mira, 390 pages
Source: Purchased for my Kindle
Laying hands upon the injured and dying, Avry of Kazan assumes their wounds and diseases into herself. But rather than being honored for her skills, she is hunted. Healers like Avry are accused of spreading the plague that has decimated the Territories, leaving the survivors in a state of chaos.
Stressed and tired from hiding, Avry is abducted by a band of rogues who, shockingly, value her gift above the golden bounty offered for her capture. Their leader, an enigmatic captor-protector with powers of his own, is unequivocal in his demands: Avry must heal a plague-stricken prince—leader of a campaign against her people. As they traverse the daunting Nine Mountains, beset by mercenaries and magical dangers, Avry must decide who is worth healing and what is worth dying for. Because the price of peace may well be her life…
— Goodreads.com description
Scent of Magic
By Maria V. Snyder
Publication date: Dec. 18, 2012
Harlequin MIRA, 414 pages
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
As the last Healer in the Fifteen Realms, Avry of Kazan is in a unique position: in the minds of her friends and foes alike, she no longer exists. Despite her need to prevent the megalomanical King Tohon from winning control of the Realms, Avry is also determined to find her sister and repair their estrangement. And she must do it alone, as Kerrick, her partner and sole confident, returns to Alga to summon his country into battle.
Though she should be in hiding, Avry will do whatever she can to support Tohon’s opponents. Including infiltrating a holy army, evading magic sniffers, teaching forest skills to soldiers and figuring out how to stop Tohon’s most horrible creations yet; an army of the walking dead—human and animal alike and nearly impossible to defeat.
War is coming and Avry is alone. Unless she figures out how to do the impossible … again.
— Goodreads.com description
I absolutely adored Maria V. Snyder’s Healer (Poison Study) series, so I had high hopes for the Healer series. And wooooo it lived up to my expectations.
Snyder’s writing style is very simple and reserved, which isn’t my usual preference. But her fantasy stories are so well realized in terms of plot and setting and adventure that I, frankly, don’t really care that it’s not as flowery or emotional as the books I typically go for.
Respecting that, I’ll keep this short and simple, too: Anyone who loves fantasy, adventure and kick-ass female leads in their book should check this one out. War! Magic! What’s not to love?
Ana has always been the only one. Asunder. Apart. But after Templedark, when many residents of Heart were lost forever, some hold Ana responsible for the darksouls–and the newsouls who may be born in their place.
Many are afraid of Ana’s presence, a constant reminder of unstoppable changes and the unknown. When sylph begin behaving differently toward her and people turn violent, Ana must learn to stand up not only for herself but for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
Ana was told that nosouls can’t love. But newsouls? More than anything, she wants to live and love as an equal among the citizens of Heart, but even when Sam professes his deepest feelings, it seems impossible to overcome a lifetime of rejection.
In this second book in the Incarnate trilogy, Ana discovers the truth about reincarnation and will have to find a way to embrace love and make her young life meaningful. Once again, Jodi Meadows explores the extraordinary beauty and shadowed depths of the soul in a story equal parts epic romance and captivating fantasy.
— Goodreads.com description
Incarnate by Jodi Meadows is, hands down, one of my favorite reads of the past year or two. I was swept away by Sam and Ana and their world — I hadn’t read anything like their story before. So when my friend Jen asked if I wanted to borrow Incarnate I pretty much died.
All other books were ignored the second I got it, and I read it within 24 hours. And the excitement was well-deserved: It was such a good sequel.
We all know book two in a series is basically when authors torture their readers. I usually end up throwing books twos across the room or stomping away angry at the end. And I was worried coming into this one. Sure, Asunder has it’s fair share of despair…but I was so pleased with how the characters evolved and battled through obstacles both small and large. I loved it.
Sigh…Sam and Ana. They are by no means perfect together, but their romance swept me away in Incarnate and I loved to see them struggle and, ultimately, continue to grow stronger together. Swoon. Now…is it time for book three yet???