Publish Date: June 17th, 2014
Number of Pages: 420 Pages
Publisher: Henry Holt
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance
***Warning!!! This review contains spoilers for this title and the previous titles in this trilogy, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!!***
To see my review of book #1 – Shadow and Bone – Click HERE
To see my review of book #2 – Siege and Storm – Click HERE
To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the trilogy – Click HERE
Total Star Rating: 2.75 Stars
Well…. I’ve completed this trilogy finally, and I’ve gotta admit how how down in the dumps I am feeling now. Not because it’s over, but more so that for me it was such a drag through such a large chunk of the story, and how bittersweet that whole ending was! For the first 60% approx, it was once again such a drag much like most of the second book, and it’s not that the ending was horrible and should’ve been changed, but it just leaves you with such a feeling of depression and hopelessness.
I’d read the second book, Siege and Storm, back in late March/early April of 2020 when the Coronavirus Pandemic was in full effect and I’d been put on furlough on work until further notice. The unknown of what was going to happen along with all the craziness that this year alone had filled me with relentless anxiety and a vast array of emotions. I’d noticed my ability to sit down and read a book had become a major challenge. I just couldn’t sit down and concentrate! I was partially wondering if maybe it was a mix of that versus what I was reading at the time—I even couldn’t care enough to read on in V.E. Schwab’s Vengeful—either way, I’d noticed I was in a reading rut. If books by Leigh Bardugo and V.E. Schwab couldn’t hold my attention, certainly there’s something way out of whack going on there…
After reading this third and final installment to her Shadow and Bone Trilogy, I can with much less doubt say it wasn’t me. I struggled to keep my interest all through Siege and Storm and now Ruin and Rising, and part of it was because I’d read her Six of Crows books first, which were much more action-packed, there was many more memorable characters, they had a more original plot, and the author had much more experience under her belt by the time she wrote them. For me, I’ve noticed that it’s not a good idea for me as a reader to go backwards with any author’s books; I have to start with the beginning or I can’t enjoy the earlier work. It’s usually just not as strong of material, and you especially notice that with this trilogy. Compared to her more recent titles, these books just felt so much more “safe” and were with clichés and tropes many YA Fantasy fans are very familiar with because I’m sure Publishers want to play it safe as well by selecting stories filled with criteria that has worked so well in the past. I get it, doesn’t mean I’m entirely happy about it.
I can, however, say that despite this trilogies lack of keeping my interest, Leigh Bardugo did showcase some incredible character work with her main cast of characters, which in this case was Alina Starkov, Mal Oretsev, Nikolai Lantsov, and of course The Darkling. One of the biggest draws of these books was the love pyramid that pertained to these four characters. Each male was presented as a potential love interest to our protagonist, and it’s been one of the biggest debate topics of the whole Grishaverse fandom: which guy should Alina have ended up with?
For Mal, he’s the childhood friend whom Alina has\d been hopelessly in love with for as long as they’ve been together since their days at the orphanage. They both grew up together, and he became more handsome and popular with other cadets of the first army while she more or less stayed the same and felt like she was being pushed further and further into the background, but that all changes when she discovers that she has remarkable abilities and is the first Grisha “Sun Summoner” anyone has seen in a very long time; she may possibly even be the first one ever in existence. Anyways, as the plot thickens and both Nikolai and The Darkling makes their presence and interest known, Mal begins to feel inferior and left behind, which is so ironic how the tables turned there. He begins to be short-tempered with Alina, pushes her away and just wishes everything could go back to “normal” or the way it was before she become a holy saint-like figure to the people of Ravka….
…Well honey, maybe we’d feel sorry for you if you’d actually noticed her before! I personallu didn’t mind Mal throughout, but it’s funny how he’s the character in all the Grishaverse that gets the most criticism and hate from the fandom. Poor Mal… at least he got better in this book, in my opinion that is.
Next there’s Nikolai Lantsov: privateer, Sturmhond, and even Crown Prince to the royal throne. Charming, Daring, and even slightly obnoxious in his abundance of self-confidence; Nikolai is literally like a “golden boy” who any woman would kill to be with, right? WRONG! Alina didn’t fall for his charm, even when he admitted to having actual feelings for her, but she just couldn’t see past the fact that with him came a marriage proposal that may or may not have been purely just as a power-play to secure his spot on the throne and the adoration of his people as well.
The Darkling is a bit more of wild card compared to the other two, plus there’s the nice twist that he’s the villain of the trilogy. I still couldn’t ever really tell if his potential romantic feelings for Alina were 100% genuine, but one thing for certain was that they would’ve made an incredible power couple. Two of the most powerful Grisha to ever exist side by side, either as enemies or lovers or both, and I was definitely behind all the fellow fans shipping them to get together. It added so much to his character to see the scenes between just him and Alina and when he slipped some vulnerability into his demeanor that only she ever saw, those tiny moments said so much! Plus, it was obvious he still loved his mother despite everything, but unfortunately whatever his actual feelings were had to also be twisted and tainted by his dark greed for power, plus his need to control and manipulate everyone including Alina so it all worked out on his terms.
The Darkling and Alina for sure had the most depth to their characters out of everyone in these books. The Darkling is one of those villains that you feel are incredibly justified in his journey for power and all that he’s willing to do in order to get there. I only wish he was showcased even more in the books; it felt like he was hardly there in Siege and Storm and maybe that’s what made it such a slow read for me… I think Leigh Bardugo would’ve had this series be even more successful if she showcased The Darkling more and went even further with the darkness surrounding him. Alina had spectacular growth as the protagonist throughout; she started off as this timid orphan but really came into her own and gained a powerful voice as time went on. She second-guessed herself a lot, she focused on the boys when she maybe shouldn’t have been, she made mistakes; all of which made her such a realistic character in my eyes! She definitely held her own amongst all the other powerful male characters. She faced the constant battle of whether she needed to harden her heart in order to defeat the darkling, but is that the right idea? It was a wonderful theme and inner conflict she faced of whether she needed to lower herself to his level in order to defeat him, but maybe will ultimately discover that’s not the case.
What It’s About:
The Official Blurb:
The capital has fallen.
The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.
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 Liked:
- The Darkling! I’ve been saying this ever since I started this trilogy, but the Darkling is easily my favorite character besides Nikolai Lantsov taking second place. It’s funny because he’s the villain of the whole dang story, but I’m starting to enjoy those kinds of characters more, especially if they’re incredibly complex and you can actually see where they’re coming from in terms of malicious intentions; those are the best crafted villains in my humble opinion. He started off as just another carbon copy of the “park prince,” broody, bad-boy character trope that is basically another Prince Cardan Greenbriar, Kylo Ren, Jericho Barrons, Rhysand, etc… but as the story developed, even in the first book, The Darkling began to stand apart from them all as more and more was slowly revealed about his background along with his evil plans to take over his world. I only wish we saw more of him or even got to hear from his perspective in these books. I was incredibly heartbroken with the conclusion for how things ended with him, even though it had to be done, but man oh man… my heart aches for him!
- Alina’s Development! Alina was a phenomenal protagonist who really grew as this story developed over the three books. I wasn’t really behind her at first because she was simply another cliché orphan-turned-“chosen one” character trope who was demure, shy, timid, and pathetically, secretly in love with her golden boy BFF. As she came into her abilities and has had to make some tough decisions, she’s really become a big contender of the game with her constant inner struggle of how far will she go in order to gain power. Should she become cold and detached like the Darkling, or is it really weakness to show compassion and love for those she cares about? That, along with dealing with quite a few misogynistic older men AND three possible love interests (one of which is her enemy), the girl really becomes a memorable character that anyone can route for! Unfortunately, similar to the Darkling, I was not a fan of how her storyline turned out…
- Nikolai’s Transformation! So, anyone who’s a fan of Leigh Bardugo may know by now that Nikolai was originally supposed to die in earlier drafts of these books, but she ended up loving his character so much that she changed her mind, which was a smart decision since he’s one of her best characters of all in all her books, not that I’m biased or anything… anyways, this book was rough on him, and it was certainly an interesting development for him that leaves him with many scars, both external and beneath the surface… funny thing I say that considering he gets his own spin-off duology with the first book titled “King of Scars.” It makes perfect sense considering how things are left with him in this trilogy: totally bittersweet, but at least this character’s storyline was left more open-ended than others in order for there to be further explored!
- A Lot More Twists & Gruesome Deaths! Shadow and Bone was littered with cliché YA Fantasy tropes, Siege & Storm was just boring for me, but Ruin & Rising was filled with more plot twists and absolutely disturbing scenes of torture and death that actually made me happy to read, because it’s THIS stuff is what makes Leigh Bardugo stand out from other authors! She’s got a dark and twisty mind—I’m obsessed with it—and you get to see more of it in this book than the others. The deaths are absolutely brutalistic and somewhat disturbing, and it was great to start to see what I know the author excels at when the previous two books felt too “safe” to what I’m used to from her. Remember; I’ve read the Six of Crows books, and even Ninth House before I started reading this trilogy.
- Mal Gets Better In This Book! I will continue until the day I am no longer on this planet to say that I am a part of the fandom that actually likes Mal. He gets so much hate from the Grishaverse fandom, even more so than any villain she’s crafted, and I get where it comes from, I do… But I also see the growth he goes through and find it incredibly endearing about him too. He had to kind of hit his own sort of rock bottom in order to rise back up, and I believe his rock bottom was him in the later scenes of Siege and Storm. He was stuck in the past and wanted things to go back to the way they were with how the dynamic worked with him and Alina in his favor, and he somewhat had a temper tantrum at how that wouldn’t happen, plus I will admit that the pedestal Alina put him on absolutely crumbled when compared to The Darkling and Nikolai Lantsov becoming potential love interests and major competition. He couldn’t handle it, but I still think he redeemed himself a little bit in this book with how he handled everything, and you further see how all major decisions he makes is because of his devotion to Alina. There’s no denying he cared about her, whether you believe he really had romantic feelings since the beginning and just didn’t do anything about it until now.
What I Didn’t Like:
- I Was So Bored…Similar to what was the entirety of Siege and Storm, the first half of this book was so incredibly hard to get through because I just had such low interest in most of what was happening. There were too many characters by this point that I just didn’t really care about, the storyline was just too methodically slow for me, and it was just a huge drag. Once more plot twists occured and there were some brutal deaths that made the book feel more like what I expect from the author, then it got a little better at least!
- I Wish The Darkling Showed Up More…I’m only really saying this because I may be biased, but I think these books would’ve been much more successful if The Darkling was a more central character, or at least showed up more than he a;ready did. Maybe that was part of the allure of him, but he’s such a marvelous, complex character and there was so much potential for these books to get darker and more sinister like I know Leigh Bardugo is able to do, but I get that these were her first published books so she wasn’t able to be as artistically free as she is now.
- The Surprise Twist with Mal…After its reveal and thinking back about certain scenes that are pointed out, this wasn’t something entirely out of left field that the author slipped in for pure shock value, but was so subtle in how the clues were placed throughout that only a select bunch of readers would’ve caught the foreshadowing. Plus, with the backstory of how Morozova brought his daughter back to life with his merzost power, he never ended up finding the firebird because his power was used up by then. Without giving too much else away, it certainly was explained well enough to make sense, I was still just….mehh about it either way. I found the backstory with Morozova the much more interesting aspect about it.
- That Bittersweet Ending…I can say that with how everything concluded certainly made sense, I guess… I don’t know, I was just kind of disappointed with most of it even though the harsh reality is that there’s really nothing that would’ve made a better ending for everyone. My heart breaks for The Darkling, and of course I wish things could’ve ended up differently, but as we’ve seen with him with all that he’s done and how he operates, he’d reached the point of no return/redemption. Alina and Mal also had a fitting ending for them, I guess… I’m not personally a fan, but I guess it works for them and what they wanted in the end. Nikolai probably had the best conclusion even though his was more open-ended, but it helps that I know he has his own set of books that take place later on past Six of Crows.
Overall, it was an okay-on the verge of liking it for me with how this trilogy ended up. I didn’t enjoy these books as much as Six of Crows, but part of me knew that’d be the case because I know what kind of reader I am, and I’m just someone that will hardly ever enjoy an author’s earlier work when I’ve read something that was published later on in their career first. I just notice more smaller things, like their writing maybe isn’t as captivating and/or less experienced, plus it feels more “safe” when I know their later work has much more creative freedom and is much more complex. I just can’t go backwards with author’s work, you know?
Like I said, I knew this going in that I was potentially not going to enjoy this trilogy as much, but I was so disappointed in how it was so hard to read a set of books by Leigh Bardugo—who with the Six of Crows books alone had her become one of my favorite authors—and NOT love it. By SoC, she’s a much more established author and is allowed to go further with her storylines, her characters, and the overall mood of her content. Shadow and Bone was just filled with too many familiar tropes we’ve seen everywhere in YA Fantasy, while Six of Crows has a much more diverse cast, and went so much further in terms of the mental health and inner turmoil the characters all faced; it’s just so weird how a spin-off might be better than the original series!
I still recommend these books for anyone who loves YA Fantasy with a strong female lead. I know my review may seem like I’m less than thrilled about them than I’d hoped, but when compared to the many other titles that are out there within the genre, Leigh’s stories are much stronger and more memorable than, say… The Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard. Not to knock that series, but in my opinion, Bardugo just creates a better/deeper/richer story. At least with the many clichés that fill up the first book, she does veer away in big ways as the story develops.
Now that I have this trilogy under my belt, I can now move forward with the other Grishaverse stories that I still haven’t touched, plus be more prepared for the eventual, much anticipated release of the upcoming Netflix show premiering in fall/winter of 2020! Alina’s storyline is going to be a central storyline, so I had to read the Shadow and Bone trilogy before for context. I may even reread the Six of Crows duology too and maybe catch a lot more references and details that went over my head the first time I read them, and there’s even King of Scars, the next installment of the Grishaverse, and the first book in the Nikolai duology! I love that Leigh is continuing more stories within this rich and detailed world she’s created for us, and I always look forward to seeing what she comes up with next!
Thanks for Reading!
— Nick Goodsell