Why you gotta play me like this, COURTING DARKNESS? Why?
This is not going to be a typical review. In fact, I’m here to shake the contents of my broken heart onto the page so that perhaps I can step forward bravely into a world where my fave is actually a huge disappointment.
Courting Darkness is the first in a duology “sequel” to the His Fair Assassin trilogy by Robin LaFevers. Mandy and I raved constantly about book one in the trilogy, Grave Mercy. The heroine? Fire emoji personified. She thwarts her destiny as wife of an abusive drunkard and trains as an assassin. She navigates court intrigues to protect the life of the young duchess and trusts her mind before the urging of her betters.
Look, you get the point, I liked the book.
Book Two in the trilogy keeps pace with the same “thwart destiny / empower women” theme and yeah, I liked it too (just not as much). I skipped book three, not the point here though. (I mean sort of kind of not?)
I started Courting Darkness with mild trepidation but the conviction that I would land on four stars or even a four and a half. The book was written in the same style, so I wasn’t shocked into a whole new book universe. LaFevers seamlessly blends her world of fantasy (saints/Gods who interfere in the lives of humans, assassins who commune with their Godly patrons) into a true historic setting. But this time it didn’t work okay it didn’t.
One half of our duo-narrated book. Sybella returns from Book Two as if she’s been clunked on the head and wholly forgot every drop of character development she made in the past.
🔪 First of all, Sybella is arrogant. She looks at everyone who isn’t an assassin as though they’re idiots, or simple-headed, or “sweet things.” It’s condescending. She refers to the nursemaid caring for her younger sisters as “dear sweet Tephanie” and pats her cheek like she’s an infant because Tephanie doesn’t like violence.
🔪 Second of all, one of Sybella’s main conflicts in the book is questioning when it is right to kill a person. Is it okay to kill in self-defense? What is you believe the person will act wrong in the future? With this moral dilemma, you would think Sybella would learn from people who shy from violence. Well, no. She doesn’t. All she does is pity herself after she kills someone. And then kill someone else. If she’s not learning, what is even the point of the dilemma. It just becomes A LOT of page filler in a book that’s already 500 pages long.
🔪 Third, because I do have a third (I told you I was reduced to tears), Sybella cannot come to terms with her past. Alone, this isn’t a problem. In fact, it makes sense given her entire characterization. But this was her character arc in her solo book and now it’s been hashed out again. Also, many times Sybella list ways people will never care/help her, then in the next chapter they’re helping her. It’s redundant and yet another example of page filler.
Our other main character/narrator. I really, really, really didn’t like her. Let me say it straight out. She’s abusive, selfish, naive, and kind of dumb.
🔪 Genevieve was raised as an assassin, then sent to lay in wait in the French courts for “further instructions.” When the instructions still haven’t come after five years, it’s all she thinks about. Anything to her is related to the convent. Her best friend tells her what is obvious to everyone to be a lie about the convent, but Gen falls for it head over heels because, you got it, the word “convent” was used.
🔪 Her naivety is painful. Like girl, please please think things through for five seconds and you’ll see that what you’re thinking doesn’t make sense. But that was never as bad as her abusive side.
[ I wrote four paragraphs and then realized I was full on ranting. Those are now deleted. What I will say is this. Genevieve discovered a prisoner in the castle where she lives. She uses him to practice her sword-fighting, feeding him when she thinks about it. When he attempts to escape, promising to bring her with him, she stabs him with poison and shoves him into his cell. His cell is a hole in the ground, at least two body-lengths deep. Gen never cares for his well-fare and even has the gall to see him as a betrayer / bad person for attempting escape. ]
I want to laugh when I think about the plot, but my laugh is filled with bitter pain. The plot hinged on a few things.
🔪 Get the duchess to France and have her marry the King of France. This was the main plot. This was Sybella’s job. Um, it was as easy as it sounds?
🔪 Protect Sybella’s sisters. Sybella’s evil brother is trying to exert his rightful claim over his sisters but Sybella won’t let him. At times this plot line was annoying because, I mean, what does it even have to do with the duchess and huge matters of state. Sybella’s brother just kept popping up everywhere.
🔪 Some kind of plot. I got confused here because people would throw out theories for theories so I lost track. But there are people trying to kidnap the queen and also set up the king and his ex-fiancé.
🔪 Find the secret assassin hidden at court. Sybella knows there is an assassin hidden in the court (aka Gen). So she needs to find her to help the duchess. But I don’t even know what the duchess needs help with!!!
🔪 Gen. I’m not kidding here, Gen is her own thing. Every chapter she seemed to change her mind about what she was planning. And then finally, FINALLY, in the last chapter she makes literally the dumbest decision and undoes everything established by the His Fair Assassin trilogy.
I don’t know if this made me feel better or worse. All I know for sure is that now I’m doubting how well I know Grave Mercy. Was I fooling myself all along?
Thankfully the next review I get to write is a rave review.
I’m just sad rn. 😦