Courting Darkness is the first book in a new duology from author Robin LaFevers. It’s a spin-off of her wildly popular His Fair Assassins series, and it features Sybella, whom readers of the previous series will recognize. It’s certainly possible to read and enjoy Courting Darkness without having read the original three books, since the author does a great job bringing new readers up to speed, but I think you’ll have a better understanding of the world and its characters if you start back at the beginning with Grave Mercy. Having said that, this review will contain some spoilers, especially for Dark Triumph which is the first book to feature Sybella.
Sybella is one of the darkest daughters of death, trained at the convent of St. Mortain to assassinate those the saint has earmarked as in need of killing. She’s quite good at her job, and has undertaken several extremely dangerous missions over the past few years. But her latest mission is personal since it involves her two younger sisters, the only members of her family with whom she has remained in contact. If she fails to successfully complete this most secret of assignments, her sisters will be killed, and Sybella will stop at nothing to keep that from happening. To this end, she accompanies Anne of Brittany to the French court where unspeakable danger awaits them.
Genevieve has been an undercover agent in the French court for what feels like forever. In fact, there are times she has trouble remembering her actual assignment. In some ways, she’s living the life of a privileged young Frenchwoman, but she knows she can’t get too wrapped up in her false identity. Instead, she must always be on the lookout for the arrival of one of her fellow assassins, for only when her unknown partner arrives at court can their mission actually begin.
My description of the book is purposely vague since the details of the assignment Sybella and Genevieve have been given aren’t revealed until about a third of the way through. A lot of time is spent setting the scene, familiarizing readers with the world and the people who dwell there, and allowing us to learn a bit about our heroines. Readers who are already familiar with the world in which this book is set might find all of this rehashing to be a bit redundant, but I found it helpful. I have read the original trilogy, but I had forgotten some key details, and would definitely have had trouble following the plot without a refresher.
I adored Sybella when I first met her at the beginning of Grave Mercy, and I’m pleased to report she’s every bit as likable here. She’s undergone quite a bit of growth over the years, helped in no small part by her romantic involvement with a mysterious man known as Beast. She’s lost some of the cynicism that defined her when she was younger and she’s grown into an extremely confident, level-headed young woman. She’s one of the most capable assassins I’ve read about in recent years, and I loved the way the author shows her evolution from the damaged girl who wanted nothing more than to avenge the wrongs done to her and those she loved to the mistress of death we encounter here.
Genevieve was a bit harder for me to warm up to. She’s very prickly and stand-offish, and I sometimes grew impatient with her constant inability to get out of her own way. She’s good at her job, despite the fact she wasn’t able to finish her basic training at the convent, but it’s obvious she doesn’t trust herself very much. She also has trouble trusting those around her, even those sent to help with the mission.
This is an extremely dark novel, and there are quite a few graphic scenes of violence that might be troubling for some readers. It’s categorized as a Young Adult novel, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it for those on the younger end of the YA spectrum.
It’s also worth pointing out that the book ends on a huge cliffhanger. I know a lot of people find this offputting, so be aware of this before deciding to pick this book up. I actually didn’t mind the way the author chose to end it since it makes me all the more anxious for the release of book two, but I know not everyone will feel the same way.
Courting Darkness isn’t a book that will appeal to everyone, but I’m happy to recommend it to those who enjoy dark fantasy with complex heroines. This is a fascinating world, and I’m eager to revisit it when the final installment is released.