Monday, July 15, 2019

Courting Darkness - Review

Courting Darkness (Courting Darkness Duology, # 1)

By: Robin LaFevers

Publication: February 5th 2019 by HMH Books for Young Readers

512 pages

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Source: Amazon Vine

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Goodreads description--Death wasn’t the end, it was only the beginning…

Sybella has always been the darkest of Death’s daughters, trained at the convent of Saint Mortain to serve as his justice. But she has a new mission now. In a desperate bid to keep her two youngest sisters safe from the family that nearly destroyed them all, she agrees to accompany the duchess to France, where they quickly find themselves surrounded by enemies. Their one ray of hope is Sybella’s fellow novitiates, disguised and hidden deep in the French court years ago by the convent—provided Sybella can find them.

Genevieve has been undercover for so many years, she struggles to remember who she is or what she’s supposed to be fighting for. Her only solace is a hidden prisoner who appears all but forgotten by his guards. When tragedy strikes, she has no choice but to take matters into her own hands—even if it means ignoring the long awaited orders from the convent.

As Sybella and Gen’s paths draw ever closer, the fate of everything they hold sacred rests on a knife’s edge. Will they find each other in time, or will their worlds collide, destroying everything they care about?

I'm not quite sure why Courting Darkness has been listed as a spin off series and part of a duology instead of just extending the original His Fair Assassins series. The events basically pick up right where Mortal Heart left off. Unlike the previous series, Courting Darkness has two narrators: Sybella and Genevieve. Sybella we've read from before in Dark Triumph, but Genevieve is a new narrator.

Sybella's story is necessary in the largest part because she's one of the Duchess's ladies so she's close and involved with all of the political moves which leads the story in this case. Sybella offers strength to the Duchess when no one else can. I loved the continuation of Sybella's story. She still has much to work through emotionally. After the events of Mortal Heart, being a follower of Mortain isn't as clear as it once was. There are no more marques, but that doesn't mean that the gifts he's given to his children are all gone. However, Sybella has always struggled with her desire to cross the line and kill those who might not have been marqued in the first place. She's battling her fear of being like the man who raised her. We also experience more of her relationship with Beast which I adored.

Genevieve was back and forth for me. I liked her easily enough in the beginning. I sympathized with her over several things. She was placed in an undercover situation 5 years ago. Initially when she and Margot (a fellow initiate) were sent out they were told that there would be no contact for at least a year, maybe even two. But now FIVE years have passed without contact at all. No instructions. No updates. Nothing. It's quite easy to feel forgotten after 5 years. Not to mention she was barely trained in many areas and not at all in others. And none of this is helped by the fact that Margot has increasingly embraced being forgotten and being back into the world she was familiar with from her time before the convent. Genevieve has lost her closest and really only friend and ally. When she's given information that the convent has been disbanded, she steps up to take matters into her own hands. Like all of the previous books and relationships, I easily found myself rooting for Genevieve and Anton. Until Genevieve gets this ridiculous plan in her head which I feel like I need to discuss separately. I want to say so much more about this but don't want to spoil anything. I assume the 2nd book in the duology will also follow Genevieve and Sybella and will give me more closure.

I've mentioned in all of my past reviews from Robin LaFevers how impressed I always am with her phrasing and that was yet again the case. I even told Husband that I want to bring back the word "mayhap" into modern-day conversation. Her sentences flow, yet there's no way you'd forget that you're reading historical fiction.

Favorite quotes:

-But Sweet Jesu, this loving someone is hard. Might as well rip a piece of one's heart from one's chest and feed it to wild pigs.

-"No. You are not a piece of fruit. You are a blade that has been brutally forged, painfully hammered, and wickedly honed. You are steel, not poison. You are deadly, not depraved. They are very different things, Sybella."

Another thing I've mentioned in each of my previous reviews for the His Fair Assassins series is symbolism. It felt to me that Robin LaFevers was using the assassins relationship with Mortain (the god of Death) as symbolic to the Christian's relationship with God. I'll continue to read the symbolism into those books, but Courting Darkness kind of made it clear that this was not her intent. She brings in Christianity and God with the French and makes it clear that they do not support the nine gods that Brittany served. The author's note at the end tells us that the gods of Brittany are based off some Celtic gods from actual history. Bringing Christianity in made this feel much less like a fantasy and much more like a historical retelling--which it is that too. Robin LaFevers takes some major historical moments from 1489-1491 and brings them into her story. I don't fault her for this, but the addition of Christianity actually took away from this book and my enjoyment of it as backward as that may be.

I appreciated how actual events and reality weren't shied away from. It wasn't abnormal for men in high ranking positions to have wives and mistresses. And while this hurts my romantic heart, I appreciate the reality of it all. I did find it frustrating that Genevieve could so wholly abhor the idea of lowering herself to becoming one of Count Angouleme's mistresses, yet the thought of becoming a mistress for the king of France wasn't beyond her realm of possibility. I also struggled with how Genevieve had no thought of Anton at when it really should have mattered. I'm sure there could be an explanation for that, but it felt important to me that it was missing.

While I certainly didn't want to stop reading Courting Darkness anytime I needed to put it down, I also found it lacking in some ways when compared to the His Fair Assassins series. Some of the things I loved most from that series were either missing entirely or twisted in some ways with the start of this duology. I did continuously think about Courting Darkness when I had to put it down and finished it within two to three days. It was still a great read, and I can't wait to find out what happens next. Yet overall, I can't rate it as highly as the prior books. That being said, Courting Darkness still gets 4 Stars from me. Have you read Courting Darkness? What did you think? Let me know!

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