I was worried that my liking for the first book, Grave Mercy, was a fluke. After all, other bloggers I know were unenthusiastic about this series, the romance element is not my favourite thing, etc. But I continue to really enjoy the books. This one focuses on Sybella, the girl who went to the convent escaping something clearly so horrible that it traumatised her to breaking point. And we find out exactly what that was, not all at once but piece by piece, as she comes to trust the main male character of the book and begins to reveal herself to him.
And I seriously, seriously love that the main male character is Beast from the first book, and Robin LaFevers doesn’t make some big song and dance about how he’s actually physically attractive somehow, having said he wasn’t before. He still isn’t. He just has a lust for and a love of life, a core of decency, that means that doesn’t matter — and which makes him exactly what Sybella needs.
I really enjoy the historical fantasy setting here. I don’t know how close it is to the actual history, because French history of that period is really not my thing, but I like the way it’s woven together with historical alliances and rivalries, the political motivations behind the characters’ movements. This is a more personal book than Ismae’s, really dealing with Sybella’s trauma and bringing her some peace, but it does continue the political storyline as well, and brings out other aspects of serving their dark god, Mortain. It’s an interesting, though not entirely surprising, portrayal of a god of death — a multi-faceted one which takes in mercy, justice, love.
That multi-faceted treatment also comes in when talking about Sybella’s family. While at times both she and others treat simply being a member of that family as proof that they’re somehow terrible people, that clearly isn’t 100% the case, even when a character has done things they shouldn’t. There is a possibility of redemption, of a person who has done bad things also doing good things.
We do see characters recurring from the first book, but only Beast and Sybella are really dealt with in detail. We do see Ismae interacting with Sybella, though, sharing what she’s learned and how she’s changed. Those scenes are also very sweet, giving Sybella forgiveness — so that she’s not magically healed just by falling in love, but by revealing herself and then having that self be accepted, not just by Beast but by Ismae as well, by the people who matter to her.
I can’t wait to read Mortal Heart, now. When I looked at the page counts on these books I was a bit daunted, but it genuinely flies by!