Courting Darkness
Courting Darkness
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Annotation: When Sybella discovers there is another trained assassin from St. Mortain's convent deep undercover in the French court, she must use every skill in her arsenal to navigate the deadly royal politics and find her sister-in-arms before her time--and that of the newly crowned queen--runs out.
Catalog Number: #170811
Format: Publisher's Hardcover
No other formats available
Special Formats: Hot Title Hot Title
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Copyright Date: 2019
Edition Date: 2019
Pages: 501 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: 0-544-99119-2
ISBN 13: 978-0-544-99119-4
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2018021262
Dimensions: 25 cm.
Language: English
Reviews:
Publishers Weekly
First in a duology, this tempestuous YA fantasy opens in the wake of LaFevers-s His Fair Assassins trilogy. It-s 1489, and Sybella-convent-trained assassin and daughter of Saint Mortain, also known as Death-is desperate to shield her younger sisters from their barbaric older brother, Pierre d-Albret. Brittany-s Duchess Anne hopes to broker peace with France by marrying King Charles, so Sybella offers to accompany her, trusting that Anne will continue to foster the girls when she becomes queen. Sybella also seeks fellow assassin and Death-s daughter Genevieve, who is embedded within French nobility and gathering information for Brittany pending an assignment from Saint Mortain-s convent. When the lecherous Count Angoulême demands that Genevieve become his mistress, she stops waiting for instructions and-with the assistance of one of the Count-s prisoners-hatches her own plan to advance Saint Mortain-s agenda. Sybella and Genevieve trade chapters, their stories entwining as their paths converge. The book-s plot assumes some familiarity with its companion trilogy, which may confuse new readers; nevertheless, LaFevers-s blood-soaked, machination-riddled tale captivates as its fierce, passionate, intelligent female characters examine issues of agency and empowerment, freedom, and sisterhood. Ages 14-up. (Feb.)
School Library Journal Starred Review
Gr 8 Up{amp}mdash; Fans of the author's "His Fair Assassins" trilogy will welcome the first installment of this duology that continues the story of Sybella (daughter of Mortain, god of Death) and introduces the new assassin Genevieve. While Sybella, with the help of her beloved Beast, is trying to protect her younger sisters from becoming victims of their incestuous brother Pierre, Genevieve uses her skills to protect the newlywed Duchess of Brittany from the wiles of the French court. The alternating narratives converge in the final chapter, preparing readers for the sequel. As with the original series, LaFevers leads the audience on a lightning-paced chase through a story of adventure, romance, and ever-deepening medieval intrigue. As stated in the author's preface, both thoroughly developed female protagonists are models for young women{amp}ndash;individuals of strength and power who may struggle with their choices but manage to maintain a sense of self. Both must sort their way through false and genuine relationships, navigating the alliances and betrayals of the deadly royal politics that threaten to destroy them. Using a compressed time line, but with historical details and personages true to the era of the final conflict of the French-Breton War, the author creates a believable backdrop for her invented tale. VERDICT A first-purchase gem of historical fantasy for high school and public libraries that will delight fans and engage newcomers.{amp}mdash; Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, formerly at LaSalle Academy, Providence
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews
History, intrigue, and peril in 15th-century Brittany and France.It's 1489. Sybella, a trained assassin, escorts Brittany's duchess to France to marry King Charles. The duchess promises, when queen, to protect Sybella's young sisters from their brother's house, where the men molested Sybella (Dark Triumph, 2013). Having changed the nature of death (incomprehensibly) in Mortal Heart (2014), LaFevers ignores that and focuses on Sybella's doubt about how to serve her father, Mortain—the god of Death—without the black marques that previously showed her whom to kill. Meanwhile, Genevieve, another assassin/daughter of Mortain, languishes in an undercover placement in France, instruction-less—so she builds herself a plan. Sybella and Genevieve have brilliant skills—killing, scheming, spying, protecting, and sometimes finding Mortain's grace—but everyone who holds power abuses it terribly. Danger's everywhere—rape, murder—and love is a risk. Will Sybella and Genevieve find each other, or even learn each other's information, before things come crashing down? They alternate narrating in first-person present, with great immediacy. This rich tapestry of intrigue, betrayal, trauma, protection, old religion, and historically based politics resurrects the urgency and depth of the His Fair Assassin series—but must be read after the others ("new duology" label notwithstanding). Contrary to the reality of early modern Europe, all characters default to white.Sharp and breathless, full of anger and strength. May the sequel hurry. (character list, map, author's note) (Historical thriller. 14-adult)
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* The many fans of the His Fair Assassins series will be delighted with this book that continues the story of the brave, broken Sybella, who alternates her story with another assassin from the convent of St. Mortain, Genevieve. Although this is the first of a new duology, it does pick up where Mortal Heart? (2014) ended, with the Duchess of Brittany on the path to becoming Queen of France. Those new to the series (or who haven't read it in a while) may find all the names and events confusing at first. But LaFevers' sharply drawn characters, pointed storytelling, and intricate takes on political intrigue will once again have readers turning pages d there are a lot of pages to turn. One of the original series' delights was the young women's ties to the convent that worships the saint of death. But now that the saint is gone, some of those pages shift to battles, which don't hold the same intrigue as the more nuanced convent stories. That said, there are few writers as fine at their craft as LaFevers. The scenes between Genevieve and the prisoner she helps escape are both brittle and romantic, and Sybella's continuing efforts to save her little sisters from their degenerate family and aid the new queen raises the stakes for both the story and its multilayered heroines. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Readers flocked to Grave Mercy? (2012) and its sequels; this return to that world will have them lining up around the block.
Reading Level: 7.0
Interest Level: 9-12
Lexile: HL800L

Prologue

Sybella

Rennes, Brittany
November 1489

As I stand on the battlements of the besieged city, looking out at the disarray before me, it is clear the god of Death has taken to the field. While this could be said of any battle--death and war are old friends, after all--today He rides a black horse, a pale-haired rider hunkered down in front of Him.
     Annith. The most skilled of all of Death's handmaidens and the sister of my heart.
     She has done her part to avert this war--taken her shot using the last of the arrows forged by the gods, which flew as straight and true as if guided by their own hand. But now the French have seen her. Understand that it was she who shot at their king. And even though he is unharmed--harming him was never the intent--they are on her like jackals on a rotting carcass.
     "Reload!" calls out Aeva, one of the dozen followers of Saint Arduinna who stand beside me along the ramparts.
     Death and Annith ride hard for the gate, Mortain covering her with His body--a body from which four arrows protrude--protecting her life with His own. No, not His own, for He is the god of Death, I remind myself. But Father Effram's warning has taken root in my heart.
     "My lord, you do know what will happen if you choose to involve yourself in mortal affairs, do you not?"
     The French archers release a second volley of arrows. As one, the Arduinnites and I return fire. But our arrows are too late. Mortain is hit yet again, taking two more to His side. Annith twists in the saddle, trying to hold onto Him.
     It does not work, and they plummet to the ground. Annith begins crawling toward Mortain under yet another shower of French arrows. By Fate or chance, one of them buries itself in Death's chest, and I feel the pain of it as if it comes from my own. Ice-cold fingers of dread trail down my back before wrapping themselves around my heart.
     As a lone hound brays in the distance, I shove away from the battlements and race down the stairway to the gate. More hounds join the first, raising their voices in an unholy lamentation. For a moment, the world hangs suspended, like a drop of sap oozing from a tree, and in that moment I know. The god of Death--my father--is gone. He has passed from this world.
     By the time I reach the gate, the French have fallen back, as if even they sense the magnitude of this moment. Nuns from the convent of Saint Brigantia swarm toward the fallen Mortain as Annith throws herself on his body, weeping. As much as I am hurting, she will be even more so.
     Before I can reach them, a laugh rings out--an incongruous, joyful sound in the solemn stillness.
     Puzzled, Death reaches for his chest, his hand coming away red with blood. Although I am half a bowshot away, I hear him say, "I am alive."
     It feels as if the earth I am standing on gives a dizzying spin.
     He is alive. But even as far away as I am, I can see that he is no longer Death.
     A great chasm opens inside me, a dark yawning maw that threatens to swallow me whole. If Death no longer walks amongst us, then what purpose am I to serve? What use will there be for my dark talents and skills?
     I fear the answer was writ long ago, when I was born into the family that raised me. The family that nearly killed me and drove my mother into Death's arms.
     And that answer terrifies me far more than death ever has.

Chapter 1

Genevieve

Cognac, France
November 1489

I was born in the upstairs room of an ancient roadside tavern, a group of common whores acting as midwives. My mother, too, was a whore, although perhaps not so very common. Would an ordinary woman invite Death to her bed on a dare?
     I emerged covered in slime and blood, my face--​indeed, my entire body--​as blue as a wild hyacinth. Hushed whispers and murmurs of sympathy followed the horrified silence my arrival caused, until Solange, the oldest among them, grabbed me from my mother's slippery hands and swatted my backside.
     Nothing. I did not cry or whimper or even draw breath. But old whores are as wise as old cats, and Solange did not give up. She bent down to place her wrinkled lips on mine, and blew.
     According to my mother, my chin quivered, a fist curled.
     Solange blew again, her determined breath somehow shoving away the cold hands of my father as He reached for me.
     I drew a deep breath of my own after that, followed by a lusty cry. The women thought me a miracle, moved that one had been visited upon them just as if they were the Magdalena herself.
     All except my mother, who knew precisely who she'd invited into her bed nine months earlier. It wasn't until I was four years old and clutched at her hand as she headed up the stairs with her night's customer that my parentage was confirmed. "His heart," I whispered into her lowered ear as I rubbed my small chest. "It's beating strangely."
     Less than an hour later, he was dead.
     It is that same panicked beating that has brought me to the lowest levels of the castle today--​a heartbeat as close and intimate as if it is beating against my own ribs.
     I follow the deep ba-bump through the narrow, twisting corridors of the dungeons, stopping when a gaping black hole appears at my feet. The darkness that oozes up through the metal grate is as thick and solid as a coiled snake.
     At first, I think it a hatch to the river that runs nearby. Or perhaps--​wrinkling my nose--​the sewer. Until the next heartbeat reverberates through me, one long, deep ba-bump. I never feel the heartbeats of others unless they are close to dying. That is when I finally understand the nature of this pit.
     It is an oubliette.
     A dungeon designed specifically for those who do not even warrant the mercy of a clean death.
     Nameless dread that cannot be explained by the presence of death thrums through me. My hand clenches. I should turn and walk away. Return to the sumptuous, brightly lit rooms of the castle proper.
     I am getting ready to do just that when the heartbeat stops. The pressure in my chest grows, stretching against my ribs, seeping into the very marrow of my bones. Trepidation and despair sweep through me, as if the world itself has just been torn in two.
     And then the pressure stops. Is simply gone, like the passing of the wind.
     "Who's there?"
   



Excerpted from Courting Darkness by Robin LaFevers
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

First in a duology, this darkly thrilling page-turner set in the world of the best-selling His Fair Assassin series is perfect for fans of THRONE OF GLASS, RED QUEEN, and GAME OF THRONES. Told in alternating perspectives, when Sybella discovers there is another trained assassin from St. Mortain's convent deep undercover in the French court, she must use every skill in her arsenal to navigate the deadly royal politics and find her sister in arms before her time--and that of the newly crowned queen--runs out. When Sybella accompanies the Duchess to France, she expects trouble, but she isn't expecting a deadly trap. Surrounded by enemies both known and unknown, Sybella searches for the undercover assassins from the convent of St. Mortain who were placed in the French court years ago. Genevieve has been undercover for so many years, she no longer knows who she is or what she's supposed to be fighting for. When she discovers a hidden prisoner who may be of importance, she takes matters into her own hands. As these two worlds collide, the fate of the Duchess, Brittany, and everything Sybella and Genevieve have come to love hangs in the balance.


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