Dark Triumph — Very Dark YA Fantasy, Indeed

Posted by on June 29, 2017 in What Pooks is Reading | 12 comments

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers -- five stars at Amazon

I like this cover a lot and chose it over the current one, primarily because her youth really shows here. And do you notice her rapier sticking through the D in the title? Awesome.

I have grown to love dark YA fantasy, which I never would have guessed until The Fury Triad wormed its way into my brain. At the time I “knew” it couldn’t be YA because “too dark” and various other misconceptions about what YA books actually are. Now that I have realized that YA books, and in particular YA fantasy romance, are far more complex and sometimes dark than I ever dreamed, I am having to go back and relabel my seires wherever possible. That includes bringing out 2nd editions with a few extras and new BISAC labels. But on to the show!

I have to admit, I had to cheat to write this review. Okay, I don’t really consider it cheating. I just decided I didn’t trust my own reactions to the book. You see, I listened to it in audio as I do most of my books these days, and by the time it ended I had a sneaking suspicion that if I’d read it, I might have given it five stars instead of four.  And I really wondered about that, so I went to goodreads and read a handful of reviews there. And I asked trusted reader Gloriamarie what she thought about it, and that sealed the deal. She gave it five stars and her reasons were exactly as I suspected.

And yes, I am now convinced that had the book been read by a reader that fit my idea of how it should sound and be read, I would have given it five stars. Had I read it [but you see, I wouldn’t have, because these days I simply don’t take time to sit and read; if I’m sitting I’m writing and working] I would have given it five stars, and thus I am with confidence giving it five stars.

Grave Mercy by Robin La Fevers, Very Dark YA Fantasy IndeedGrave Mercy, the first book in the His Fair Assassin series, was dark in premise. This book took it much darker in action, in motivation, in back story for our main character. I felt it wasn’t handled with quite enough dramatic impact but also suspected it was because the reader’s American accent [which is totally all about me, since I know most people wouldn’t care] felt less believable for a story set in the dark ages. Also, I felt she didn’t have the gravitas and/or acting chops to pull off the truly emotionally hard-hitting reveals. Again, that was for me.

But there’s no doubt the story itself went places most people think YA fiction wouldn’t touch. And it is all part of such a richly drawn historical tapestry, yes, five stars.

The convent has returned Sybella to a life that nearly drove her mad. Her father’s rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother’s love is equally monstrous. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?

I especially liked that certain characters were given a chance for healing and redemption, and won’t go further than that because spoilers. I hate spoilers and certainly don’t want to be responsible for giving them myself.

If you like dark historical fantasies, this one is definitely for you, but start with My Fair Assassin. It’s a great series and worth reading in order.

Do you like dark YA fantasy? Have you read any? Leave me your suggestions in comments, please!










  1. love the review. can’t think of one to refer at the moment.

    • Totally understandable. It’s not your usual cuppa!

  2. Hiya, Pooks, so flattered that my opinion carries weight with you. Thank you, I am honored. Now that I have finished and reviewed the third volume of the series, I can prmise you tht you have a LOT to look foreward to.

    I do like YA. In many cases I feel like YA is better written than a lot of adult fiction. In addtion of mastery of the English language there is a wealth of plot and character development. Also research.

    I am not certain exactly which market Rick Riordan writes, but Ive read two of his series, one on the Greek gods and one on the Egyptian. I need to catch up with his work.

    R. L. LaFevers, who I suspect but haven’t checked is Robin La Fevers, has some books I checked out of the library by accident but once I saw what they were, I shrugged and thought I’d read them. I had searched the catalog for Robin LaFevers and these came up and without lookng too closely put them on hoild.

    One is a set for young readers, perhaps second or third grade, clearly what we called “chapter books” about a 10-year-old orphan with a fascinating family history as beastologists. They serve the magical beasts of the world. Granted it only took me about forty-five minutes to read one volume, but again, well-written, wonderfully eccentric people, great characters and well-thought out plots. Magical creatures well researched.

    LaFevers, R.L. Flight of the Phoenix
    LaFevers, R.L. Basilisk’s Lair
    LaFevers, R.L. Wyverns’ Treasure
    LaFevers, R.L. Unicorn’s Tale

    LaFevers also wrotes for a slightly older demographic, possibly middle school about a fifteen-year-old girl who was raised in an antiquities museum and is self-taught in Egyptian, Greek, hieroglyphics, and Latin, with an overbearing Victorian grandmother who feels Theodosia’s education is lacking. Theodosia has a special gift: she can remove curses. As her mother is an archaeologist who ships any old thing from Egypt, it’s a handy skill. Her father is a doting, albeit forgetful man, who runs the museum. Theodosia is very knowledgeable about all things Egyptian. Again, LaFevers researched, characters and plots well thought out.

    LaFevers, R.L. Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos
    LaFevers, R.L. Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris

    There are others in both series but I don’t think my library system has them, but I will have tocheck.

    At this moment I am reading a series of four volumes, so far, The series is called Osric’s Wand and it is definitely dark. These are also YA, I would guess. Perhaps not as well-written His Fair Assassins series, but well enough that after reading the first two, I purchased the other two because I just have to know how it all works out. These are set on an alien planet, Archana, where death is viewed as an opportunity to nourish others. Humans, elves, dwarfs, true, elementals, dragons (yay, dragons), unicorns (yay, unicorns). Every creature on this planets speaks and they all have some magical ability. They use wands towork their magic and the greatest of all wand-makers, is Gus, a curmudgeon and a prairie dog. The series begins a with a catastrophic explosiion and a devstating loss of life, so if you want dark… There is treachery, betrayal, loss, friendship, all sorts of good stuff.

    The Wand-Maker’s Debate (Osric’s Wand, Book One) by Jack D. Albrecht Jr. and Ashley Delay
    The High-Wizard’s Hunt (Osric’s Wand, Book Two) by Jack D. Albrecht Jr and Ashley Delay
    The Well of Strands (Osric’s Wand, Book Three) by Jack D. Albrecht Jr. and Ashley Delay
    The Weaving of Wells (Osric’s Wand, Book Four) by Jack D. Albrecht Jr. and Ashley Delay

    The first three volumes are in a boxed set and it is cheaper to buy those in the set
    Rise of the Aranthians (Osric’s Wand, Books 1-3) by Jack D. Albrecht Jr and Ashley Delay

    THank you, Pooks, for having the type size and color so immensely improved.

    • I’ve added Amazon links to the first book in each series you mentioned and you can assume it’s to make it easier for people to check out the recs, but honestly it’s to make it easier on me to return here and check them out myself! These are great comments and I really appreciate your suggestions. I actually wrote a response last night and it looks like it didn’t post. I guess instead of hitting ‘post’ I hit ‘cancel’ or the equivalent. Sigh.

  3. I just read the first two in this trilogy on your recommendation! (I have to read *something* while waiting for your next book, eh?) At first I wasn’t sure if it was for me, as in the beginning of Grave Mercy the political situation is presented in a very black-and-white simplistic way and I thought it was maybe too YA-ish for me, but it actually was just representing the MC’s simplistic understanding, I realized later as things got complicated in a hurry. My main complaint (maybe unfair for YA) is that I could see where the story was going most of the time, but it was still interesting. I liked the historical accuracy of the main plot points! That was cool and unexpected to read about at the end. As for the second book, I didn’t think it was quite as good as the first. I thought the main romance was kind of underdeveloped. I also thought that the big reveals (even reading it) weren’t given quite the impact they should have, so I would actually give the book 3.5 stars (no grade inflation — 3.5 means I thought it was pretty good overall). That said, I’m interested in any more recommendations along these lines! The setting and premise are unique and great.

    • I wouldn’t call it dark YA, but the world-building and alternate history presented in Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic series is fabulous. She writes about an earth in which the glaciers didn’t recede, and so what we know as the UK is still exceedingly cold. Also, there was exploration, exchange, and intermarriage between Africa and Ireland, bringing about a beautifully and unexpected [though perfectly possible] multicultural world. I may not have this exactly right from memory, but it’s generally how the world is. The story also goes to what we know as the Caribbean and has some fabulous characters who are creatures rather than human.

      I’m finishing her Court of Fives trilogy now–one book to go–which is another wonderful feat in world-building. Both of these series have their dark moments but neither are as dark as the His Fair Assassin series!

      • WOOOO WHOOOOO There is lot of Kate Elliott’s books in the public library. Thanks.

        • That’s why I have decided to mention or write about books more than once, because I did recommend that series a few years ago [Cold Magic]. But you know, there are a lot of books I find interesting today that I wouldn’t have paid attention to a couple of years ago. Timing is everything!

  4. I just thought of another trilogy I have loved for years and I think it c an be called Dark YA

    The Riddle-Master of Hed is a fantasy novel by American writer Patricia A. McKillip. It is the first book of the Riddle Master Trilogy, the following two books being Heir of Sea and Fire and Harpist in the Wind

    • Looks like the entire trilogy was put out as one ebook together. Thanks!

  5. I have a cherished hard copy which I think I obtained back in the day from the Science Fiction Book Club. Wonder if that still exists?

    For years whenever I moved from one apartment to the other, I’d do what I needed to do, run a bath with lavender, pour a glass of wine and soak in the tub reading the Riddle-Master of Hed.

    • That’s a heck of recommendation!

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