Last year, I saw Grave Mercy at work, and thought “OMG pretty cover what’s it about? *reads blurb* Okay, let’s check it out.” And about fifty pages in, I fell completely and utterly in love with it. It gave a somewhat ridiculous premise, but LaFevers’s focus on the political intrigue at the time and giving a lot of time and thought into the world-building and the tweaking of actual history made me love it. And when I got to the end, and saw that book 2 was going to focus on Sybella, I was excited. If Ismae’s story was completely fantastic, omg could you imagine what Sybella’s story was going to be like? Here is the one issue that I’m split on going into Dark Triumph—and I both love it and bothered with it: Dark Triumph starts right in the middle of Grave Mercy, during the battle of Nantes. And if, like me, your TBR list is too long to go back and go refresh your memory on what happened previously, it is a little confusing to match up with what’s going on with Ismae as Sybella’s trying to stop d’Albret. (I had to go pick up the first book several times to refresh my memory.) Now, the plus side is, while Dark Triumph begins in media res with Sybella, there’s no four or five chapters of doing the refresher backstory dance of Sybella’s years at the covenant. We find out her backstory through the story, and the reveals are fantastic because of that. Sybella’s been so entrenched in this world of courtly back-stabbing and intrigue, that it makes more sense to have it unfold slowly rather than the big info-dump that Ismae had. (Not that I didn’t mind that for Ismae; it just makes more sense for her to have a introductory info-dump.)And honestly, Sybella was one of the most beguiling characters in Book 1. You got some clues to her identity—you knew that she was of noble birth, but her big reveal? She’s d’Albret’s DAUGHTER (or considered to be). And that reveal, especially how early it comes in Dark Triumph, perfectly setting up the internal conflict. And I love the conflict in this. Sybella is pissed and angry at Mortain that the one mission she’s been promised is right in front of her and she can’t fulfill because d’Albret isn’t marqued yet. And then Sybella even doubts if she’s even a daughter of Mortain because she enjoys killing, and doesn’t know if that’s because of her training at the covenant or her upbringing in the d’Albret household. The scene where she confronts Mortain near the end was so tense precisely because Sybella is so angry and frustrated and she desperately needs to know. And even though the resolution of that scene is again, a literal deus ex machina, I liked that Sybella gets her absolution and salvation and now knows what she must do. But for all of her anger, I liked that we do get to see Sybella’s softer side, which, again, was shaped by her upbringing by d’Albret. Her love of killing isn’t just driven by the bloodlust, but her desire to protect her sisters and the innocents who stand in d’Albret’s way. I really liked Sybella’s growing friendship with Tephanie, and I even liked the fact that she manages to reconcile with Jamette, despite Jamette’s backstabbing and social climbing. And yet, Sybella’s never forced to give up either one of her strong qualities—there’s some scenes where she’s knocked out or Beast attempts to pull her out of physical conflict, but Sybella is allowed to do her duty as Death’s handmaiden.Sybella’s dual nature and love of killing makes her relationship with Beast note-perfect. If there’s anything that I love about LaFevers’s romances in both books is that she takes the time to develop her relationships. Here, Sybella goes out of her way to save Beast to fulfill her mission, but as they both slowly reveal their pasts, you can see their growing feelings for one another. Beast never makes Sybella apologize for what or who she is—he’s angry that she’s d’Albret’s daughter, but it’s not because of Sybella and he’s never angry at Sybella for being that involved. And I just love Beast in general. (I know I made the comparison to the movie-verse Thor in Beast’s characterization, because aside from looks, it’s a spot-on comparison.) And what makes these two work is that they do complement one another—both enjoy killing, but they have different reasons for doing so, and I like that their respective gods they serve represent to different sides to killing—St. Camulos’s battle lust and St. Mortain’s justice.And let’s talk about the whole plot with d’Albret. While d’Albret was the big bad of Grave Mercy, he was just one of many, many backstabbers and plotters in Duchess Anne’s court that he did come off as a fat lout who just wants to drink and rape. Here? We find out exactly why he’s so dangerous. Starting with learning what happened to Beast’s sister Alyse and then the reason why Sybella ended up at the covenant. Oh my god. I won’t give away what all happens, but when the reveal comes, it’s such a gut-punch. And then we add in the fact that most of his children, specifically Pierre, are just as dangerous. Oh and can we talk about Julian? I actually like him, despite my brain going into squick factor whenever he hits on Sybella. Yeah, they’re not true siblings, but they were still raised together…and Sybella calls him out on how so wrong he is. It’s actually good at the end that Julian’s still willing to protect Sybella just because that’ how much he loves her. Not even that he’s in romantic love, but he’s the only one who was ever kind to her. It should be noted that d’Albret’s plotlines are the biggest historical liberties taken here—and LaFevers notes what actually happens—but it makes for a much better story and payoff that I don’t mind.(Tangent: LaFevers notes that Sybella’s sister Charlotte ended marrying Cesar Borgia in the historical record. If there’s anything that screams for a spin-off series THIS IS IT. HOLY HELL a Borgia series in this ‘verse would be amazing.) There’s also a lot added into this book, too—I liked the introduction of the charbonnerie, and how their discrimination adds to the fight against d’Albret and the French. I liked the expansion and exploration of the Nine Gods, specifically the expanded look at Dea Matrona and the charbonnerie’s worship of her. (Another spin-off I want? The covenant of St. Mer—despite obvious name is obvious, dark mermaid goddess. Yes.) I liked that we really get to see what the abbess is really like—I think that Annith’s story will really set her up as a Big Bad, but my God. I hate the abbess. The scene where she reveals Sybella’s parentage, I wanted to slap her. And again, the stronger aspect of this book is taking a look at what’s been happening in the background without resorting to “Previously on…” moments. And while that’s frustrating for someone who hasn’t read the first book in a while because reasons, I liked that LaFevers is able to give some reminders of what’s going on without regurgitating exactly what’s happening with Ismae at the moment. (I think Grave Mercy ends about a third of the way into Dark Triumph?) LaFevers gave me everything I want in a historical fantasy novel in Grave Mercy, and as a sequel, Dark Triumph gives me so much more. Sybella is such a fantastic character in her own right, and the unraveling of her backstory made this so engaging for me. Absolutely loved it, and I cannot wait to read Annith’s story (which sounds amazing from the clues we get in this book and the preview blurb) next year.