As I am WOEFULLY behind on this blog, I’m going to be doing some creative and some not-so-creative grouped reviews to try and catch-up with my backlog. Since this is a trilogy, it seemed natural to review it as a whole. I shall endeavor to avoid spoilers! It’s also been a month since I read these and my Goodreads reviews are more about rating my book boyfriends than any sort of serious critique of the story. For that, I apologize.
Why I picked it: Spend any time on bookstagram and you’re going to see/hear readers talking about the Darkling and how he makes them FEEL ALL THE FEELS. Intrigued, I ordered the first book off Audible and a new obsession was born. For real, this is the series that got me over my ACOMAF hangover like nothing else did. Also, Lauren Fortgang’s narration is MAGIC.
Book 1: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Blurb in brief: “Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.”
What I thought: At it’s most basic level, this follows your average YA fantasy/dystopyish plot line: first person narrative, female protagonist who thinks she’s the definition of average, hot childhood friend, female protagonist discovers she’s actually FAR from average, a training montage commences, the battle begins, and chaos ensues.
However, this story had a villain who is as complex as he is magnetic. And there are overt (and, based on some other reviews I’ve read, not super culturally accurate) Russian overtones. Call me a philistine, but I didn’t mind it so much—I actually quite liked the Ruski flavor.
But the Darkling. Oooooh, the Darkling. I have a weird soft spot in my heart for characters who are kind of evil, but also mysterious and tortured and unhealthily obsessed with the heroine.
See: the Phantom, Littlefinger, Loki, Hannibal (from the TV show, in which he’s obsessed with our hero. Murder husbands forever!)
Yes, they are rather murdery. Yes, basically everything they do is manipulative. Yes, I understand that that the enduring fondness I feel for them despite all that probably does not speak well of me.
“Fine…Make me your villain.”
I can’t help it. The Darkling is INTERESTING. What’s his whole backstory? What event or series of events turned him into the tyrant he is today? How much was he faking it with Alina? Could Alina just drop Mal and become Dark!Alina and rule together with the Darkling for all eternity? I’m sure there’s fanfiction about this that I will probably read later and love.
Update: There is and I did.
After this first installment, I was really excited to see where Bardugo took the story and what she would reveal about her Dark Prince and his backstory.
My ratings: 5/5; Goodreads ratings: 4.07/5
Book 2: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Blurb in brief: “Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.
The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her—or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.”
What I thought: SaS suffered a bit from middle-child syndrome for me. There was some good action at the start, but then things kind of slowed down a bit.
For some reason, this was the book during which my mind started making dubious connections to the Gilmore Guys (Rory’s love interests, not the podcast). I liked Mal well enough in the first book, but he began to veer into dangerous Season 2 Dean territory for me in SaS. Sturmhond was bae and his delicious chemistry and witty banter with Alina was giving me hella Logan vibes. He was definitely a delight for all the senses after Mal started being such a snit.
This will probably be the most worthless of this trilogy of reviews.
My ratings: 4/5; Goodreads ratings: 4.11/5
Book 3: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
Blurb in brief: “Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.
Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.
Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.”
What I thought: So Siege and Storm was a little slow at times, and this book did have some places where the plot meandered a bit (it felt a little LotR/Hobbit-esque in that sense with all the questing and the planning and the side jaunts that invariably result from the questing).
Bardugo did some really great things with character development. At the end of SaS, I was definitely not Mal’s biggest fan. However, I felt that he grew up a lot in this book and I was able to appreciate him much more. Sturmhond is still bae, and the Darkling has my heart forever.
I found this last installment to be a very satisfying ending to an excellent series!
My ratings: 5/5; Goodreads ratings: 4.19/5