‘There are victors and victims. Decide who you want to be. Or the choice will be made for you, witch. And I doubt you’ll like it.‘
I threw my head back and groaned. ‘It’s a game of scopa, not a battle between life and death. Are you always this dramatic?'”
– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked”
Kingdom of the Wicked was a slow burn of a book for me; the beginning started off like any other YA Fantasy title, but once you get further into the story and discover more and more myth and lore in the world that the author of the Stalking Jack The Ripper series has created, I can really say that the book takes off with a jolt in some witchy delight!
This is actually my first novel by Kerri Maniscalco, and after reading it I can say I’m definitely more and more interested in reading her other series I mentioned above because there are still some familiar themes of murder, mystery, romance, and historical settings to make the reader engaged and wanting to stay up late to see what happens next. What I’m noticing with this newer series, however, is that the author seems to have more room for fun and creativity to take her story even further!
The romance was a huge draw for me, and for the most part, it certainly didn’t disappoint! I easily got into the chemistry that oozed between the two main characters, Emilia and Wrath, and loved their whole dynamic; I never get tired of an enemies-to-lovers dynamic. While both characters weren’t anything brand new or entirely unique to the genre, I can say they’re still fun to read as they argue and (attempt) to ignore their growing attractions for each other as they work together to solve a murder mystery.
It wasn’t a perfect read; The the overall pacing with the chapters and how they’re set up was a little strange for my liking, and some of the ending needs to be clarified for me—or I need to go back and reread it for myself and make sure I pay more attention!
What It’s About:
The official blurb:
One brutal murder…
A quest for vengeance that will unleash Hell itself…
And an intoxicating romance…
Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe—witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin… desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister’s killer and to seek vengeance at any cost—even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.
Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked Princes of Hell that she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia’s side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women’s murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems…
‘One day you might beg me to kiss you.’ He stepped close enough for me to stab him.”
– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked”
What I Liked:
The Many Food Descriptions! Several other reviewers pointed this one out, but there are some seriously delicious italian dishes that get mentioned in this book since the main character’s family owns and operates a restaurant. Cannoli’s are amazing, and I had some major cravings for some once I arrived to that part within the story…yum!
The Romance Between Wrath and Emilia! This book is a great addition to the enemies-to-lovers romance trope as Wrath and Emilia have some immediate sexual tension that builds and builds between them as they reluctantly work together to solve the murder of her twin sister. They irritate each other and start verbal lashings from each other, but underneath it all is an obvious attraction that neither can ignore the closer they become. Their dynamic also grew rather realistically as they slowly begin to trust each other—at least until certain things happen—and rely on each other’s strength into a begrudging respect for one another.
The Worldbuilding! I actually liked the class systems of demons the author presented us, there are also the seven demon princes of hell representing the seven deadly sins, the witches living amongst the normal folks and the witch hunters who are secretly members of the church, even werewolves; it’s all mixed together to create an interesting world that may or make this series an incredibly memorable one!
The “Whodunnit” Murder Mystery! I always love a good mystery where the main character is on the hunt for a killer who leaves a bloody trail of bodies behind.
What I Didn’t Like:
The Beginning Felt Very Generic…This book was pretty boring at first and felt like any general YA Fantasy title out there, but once Emilia and Wrath run into each other and meet for the first time, that was when things really begin to take off!
Not Enough Steam…I know this is a YA Fantasy book so the sexual content (a.k.a. smut) is supposed to be very limited, but really do feel like this story would be even better if there were more steamy scenes. I mean like let’s see truly how “wicked” Prince Wrath can be *wink*wink.* Maybe there’ll be more scenes like this in later books, but again, I know it can only go so far within the YA reading level.
The Ending…Okay, so this one may be on me because I maybe wasn’t fully paying close enough attention and missed something, but part of the ending kind of went over my head. For most of the book, it felt like a pretty light read that didn’t require my entire attention, but then all of a sudden SO MUCH was happening at the end and I blinked and missed some vital information I think…if someone sees this review and wants to message me to fully explain it all to me, you’d officially be my favorite person!!
The Short Chapters…Some chapters were only like a page and a half long, and I was wondering to myself why a single conversation was sometimes three whole chapters when it could’ve been just one? It was weird pacing to me and kind of annoying at times…
This is my first Kerri Maniscalco novel, and this book really does make me interested in reading her Stalking Jack The Ripper series that put her name on the map!
Like the romance between the two main characters in this book, the story was a slow burn that definitely left me interested to keep reading on once the next book arrives later on! It wasn’t the next binge-worthy series for me to become obsessed with, but this book shows that the series has a whole lot of potential to become a huge fan favorite among the many other incredibly popular YA Fantasy series most of us readers know and love!
A reckoning awoke in me. The more I gave, the more he returned. We traded kisses like blows. And if this were a fight, I wouldn’t know who was winning. I understood why some thought kissing one of the Wicked was addictive. Each time his tongue touched mine, it felt as if the ground beneath me quaked. Like we were a cataclysmic event that shouldn’t be.”
– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked”
I recommend this book to those that really enjoyed other titles like Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin or the Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black; the dynamic between Wrath and Emilia for sure gave me some impressions of Jude and Cardan with the whole enemies-to-lovers, then back to enemies dynamic!
Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.”
– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
It may sound ironic, but this has to be one of the most popular books that I’ve come across that doesn’t have an actual fandom for it. Those who’ve read it all have said it’s a great story to enjoy and that they really enjoyed it, so why isn’t it referred to by many more avid book readers? Why don’t I see it showcased more on the many #Bookstagram accounts I follow? There’s also the later released book Carry On by this author too but everyone who’s read both said that this book comes first, so here we are!
I will say that besides other’s recommendations with that reading order, I had my own curiosity with this title for personal reasons. For those not aware, I’ve been on-and-off working on a coming-of-age college story of my own over the last two years, and this title popped out at me to what to check out to gather intel, see how the story works, what worked well and what didn’t, what I would change, help make some of my own college memories resurface, etc. For anyone interested, go check out my story’s progress on its page titled “When In Doubt (WIP Fiction Series)” on the main menu bar. It’s had its ups and downs and with a lot going on in my personal life at the time I’m typing this review, I haven’t worked on it as much as I’d liked to, but enough self-promotion, back to this review!…
You’re never going to find a guy who’s exactly like you—first of all, because that guy never leaves his dorm room.”
– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
I liked but didn’t love this book, even as I found it to be one of the more unique stories I’ve read in the YA reading level. the main character, Cath, who is a lot like most of us who have our heads in a book: she’s awkward, weird, complex, anti-social, and full of her own inner stories based off her favorite franchise, which is called Simon Snow and is basically a Harry Potter knockoff. Being a total Potterhead myself, even if the books no longer have an author (Shame!), I could totally relate because the Harry Potter franchise is what started it all for me! They’re the books that really got me truly passionate about books, about film, about storytelling in general, and is the catalyst that truly made me think “I want to do that” for the first time in my younger years.
As for why I didn’t love this book, it just felt like there could’ve been more that happened in terms of the plot? I think it just had too many slower moments that made it somewhat harder to keep my attention from wandering, and even the conclusion I felt like could’ve been bigger. It just felt like not as much as I’d thought would happen by the end had actually done so. I did love the growth that the main character went through as the story in all aspects: her family, finding her first love, and of course friendship, and felt like she was definitely a different person once we got from point A to point B, but I was hoping maybe there would be a bigger, and grander ending of some sort? Maybe the story works the way it is, but part of me felt like there was some buildup with Cath’s writing that got a conclusion that just fell a little flat for me.
Now despite all that, there is plenty to praise the author as well! Rainbow Rowell’s characters and her work on them are a major highlight; I think just about everyone can read this story and have most if not all the characters remind them of someone they know in real life because of how real they feel. She even has the ability to make them all so complex, even as they stand on opposite ends of the social spectrum. What I mean by that actually is by comparing Cath to her twin sister, Wren, and how they interact as the story moves forward. Cath is a totally anti-social introvert who stays in her dorm to write fanfiction, but Wren has totally embraced the college party scene and wants to drift apart from her sister, but they meet up several times and while obviously Cath has a lot of inner depth to her, you even see it in her sister in little moments and as their family is put through the emotional wringer. It was the little moments like these that made me believe that the author truly knew her characters in and out.
I was also a fan of the romance—of course—that develops in Fangirl as well! What I liked about it the most was how realistic it felt. Sometimes, the romance genre can go so over the top and make it feel like we have to bend hand-over-knee or whatever that phrase is for our significant others, and those grand gestures are the one answer it takes to show them our true feelings. Well, life ain’t like that nor is it some spanish telenovela, and what we need to remember is that even the simplest of things can get the message across just as effectively. The little things do matter!
She smiled, and her eyes started to drift downward.
Back up to his eyes.
‘You know that I’m falling in love with you, right?'”
– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
Besides the characters, it’s the nostalgia that was the most powerful thing for me to come out of reading this book. It was the nostalgia of my own freshman year of college—perhaps the greatest year of my life—and of course all the fandoms that I’ve been a part of over the years. Whether we admit it or not, we’ve all been obsessed at one point or another with something much like Cath is with Simon Snow. We’ve read the books, we bought the (sometimes) overpriced merch, the action figures, we went to the midnight premieres in costume, we had those heated debates with friends, we shipped those couples that never become canon, we joined the fanclubs, etc. Some of them we can openly admit to and maybe can even still say we belong to it, but I can agree that there are probably some that we blush and stay mum about and keep it a total guilty pleasure. I’ve been like that, but as a way to end this section of this review, I’ll put myself out there and list off all the fandoms that I can remember that I’ve been a part of:
Disney’s Little Mermaid, Spongebob Squarepants, Winnie the Pooh, Power Rangers, Pokémon, Digimon, Sailor Moon, Bratz Dolls, Kids Next Door, WWE, Yu-Gi-Oh, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Throne of Glass (or any book by Sarah J. Maas honestly), From Blood and Ash series, Dexter’s Laboratory, Scooby Doo, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, Batman and Batman Beyond, Dragon Ball Z, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, Superman, Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, The Pussycat Dolls, Star Wars films, Teen Titans, Fairly Odd Parents, Danny Phantom, Choices, Schitt’s Creek, Samurai Jack, Finding Nemo, Stranger Things, MCU, Tomb Raider, Greek Mythology, The Powerpuff Girls, Shonen Jump manga, Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, An Ember in the Ashes series, The Vampire Diaries, MTV’s The Hills, The Folk of the Air series, Rocket Power, Rihanna, Ed Edd ‘n’ Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Looney Tunes, N*Sync, The Backstreet Boys, Kim Possible, That 70’s Show, Hannah Montana, Mean Girls, That’s So Raven, Phil of the Future, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Spy High, The Falling Kingdoms series, The Cheetah Girls, The Sims, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Nanny, Full House, Friends, New Girl, The Emperor’s New Groove, The Proud Family, Jesse McCartney, Lizzie Mcguire, Goosebumps, Totally Spies, Family Guy, The Land Before Time, Hocus Pocus, Boy Meets World, Duck Tales, Monster’s Inc, The Rugrats, Zoey 101, Drake and Josh, Zoobooks, The Black Cauldron, Roller Coaster Tycoon, The Lion King, The Fever Series, Queer Eye, Riverdale, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Pretty Little Liars, Once Upon a Time, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Pizza, American Horror Story, 13 Reasons Why, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight, and I’m sure plenty more that I can’t even remember! Here’s a crazy thought to leave you with: think of how the very person you are, your beliefs and personality and maybe even your soul is influenced by all the things like these that you grew up with, with the messages they sent you, the lessons you learned, and all that makes up who you are!
What It’s About:
The official blurb:
A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan..
But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
What I Liked:
The College Nostalgia! Oh man, did this book bring me back to my own college days! I actually started my freshman year the fall of 2012, which is actually the school year after the timeline that this book takes place in, so I found a lot of the pop culture references, clothing choices, etc. to be really relatable. Even the time at the bowling alley reminded me of the many Thursday nights I went to the UW-Stout Alehouse for 50 cent bowling nights. My freshman year of college is what I consider the best year of my life so far, so the fact that this book made me think back to some really fond memories gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling right in the chest.
The Themes! Family, isolation, love & sex, writing, drugs & alcohol, and of course coming of age are the themes I got while reading, and I thought they all commingled rather nicely into a realistic and touching story. Cath is so dedicated to her family even when she feels like everything is moving on without her which leads into the isolation. She’s not a partier like her twin sister and is totally content to stay in every night and just write more fanfiction because of social anxiety and the uncertainty of it all, I get it. Cath noticing boys in a new way, plus her growing relationship with Levi focuses on the love and sex aspects, add in a side note with Reagan as being involved with Levi in that regards too, but not in the way you might expect right off the bat. Creative Writing is a huge part of Cath’s life, plus the story follows her struggles with her writing course with Professor Piper and Nick. College and drinking go hand in hand—my two underage tickets can attest to that—and Wren really seems to embrace the party culture on campus with her blonde roommate, Courtney. Cath worries about her, but Wren continues to blow her off and downplay how far she goes whenever she goes out on the weekends.
The Romance Between Levi and Cath! The budding relationship between these two was a little insta-love on Levi’s part, which actually wasn’t too bad since he wasn’t the protagonist, but it was actually kind of sweet how it was so obvious he was totally smitten for Cath since day one. Reagan, Cath’s roommate, plays an interesting role as the thing that initially keeps them apart in the beginning. What I really loved about their relationship and all that happened within it was just how realistic it felt. He never judged her for her quirks, he broke through her walls and pushed her in a non-manipulative and genuine way, and always offered his support no matter what. Usually with romance novels, it can go a little over the top with grand gestures to win someone over and heart wrenching confessions of love with gorgeous prose, and it wasn’t like that this time and it was actually rather refreshing. Sometimes the sweetest thing a guy can do is bring their girl a specialty starbucks drink when they meet up after his shift, he offers to drive you home to see your sick dad in the hospital even though it’s hours away, or he’s a total gentleman who admits he’s in love first and says he won’t do anything sexually that she doesn’t initiate first. This romance just simple, and that should be enough!
The Author’s Character Work! Rainbow Rowell is really good at writing those quirky, oddball characters with plenty of complexity and a method to their madness. Each of them have their own distinctness to them, and you’ll never get confused with any of them or get their names mixed up. there’s an honesty about them in the sense that I feel like just about everyone in real life has met people who remind them of each and every one of these characters. There’s definitely a line straight down the middle and you either like a character or you don’t, there’s not a whole lot of in between, at least that’s the impression I got!
Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.”
– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
What I Didn’t Like:
Her Sister Wren Abandoning Her…Wren was a real piece of work throughout this book, and I was so frustrated with her most of the time! How could she so easily ditch her sister without a second thought, especially when she knew the anxiety issues Cath has and all that they’ve gone through together growing up, then just replaced her with Courtney, which no offense to her, wasn’t really an upgrade. I get her behavior to a certain degree: with college and new beginnings, it is a normal reaction to want to strike out and try new things, to test the waters and experiment, but know where you come from and don’t take the people who actually care about you for granted!
Their Mother…What a bitch-a-rooney-dooney she was! I was totally on Cath’s side with this whole situation, even if a small chunk of me understood Wren’s need to have her come back into her life. But seriously… who ditches their family on 9/11? Like, the actual 9/11?!
Too Much Fanfiction…So it sucks to say this about the book considering a huge them about it was about writing fanfiction, but I was not a fan of the passages of Cath’s story that we got. I know it would’ve been worse to not have any of them at all in the story, especially since there’s such an emphasis on it, but I thought there was just too much of it. I liked the parts when Cath read it to Levi for the most part, but I also never really got a gay vibe from Simon and Baz that everyone was totally gushing about. Not that I’m not for a gay relationship between a fictional wizard and vampire, but I wasn’t sold on the execution of what we were given.
The Plot Felt Too Slow In Parts…This story did feel like it dragged in quite a few places, which can be a side effect of a character-driven story such as this one. Maybe it could’ve been a shorter story in general, or something totally shocking could’ve been added?
The Ending Could’ve Been More Grand…For some reason I was totally picturing a much bigger way to end the story, like the author of the Simon Snow franchise found Cath’s fanfiction on the internet and offered her a publishing collaboration deal or something like that. It felt like not as much actually happened by the time the actual ending took place, and it’d been a whole ten months of the school year!
‘No,’ Cath said, ‘Seriously. Look at you. You’ve got your shit together, you’re not scared of anything. I’m scared of everything. And I’m crazy. Like maybe you think I’m a little crazy, but I only ever let people see the tip of my crazy iceberg. Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy and socially inept, I’m a complete disaster.’”
– Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl”
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is a cute, genuine, and real take on growing up during an eventful moment in a young girl’s life: starting her freshman year of college and having to deal with major change from what she’s grown up used to. It’s a coming-of-age story filled with distinct characters, humor, angst, fanfiction, and first love that I really enjoyed for the most part, but still felt like something was still just missing that keeps it from becoming a hit classic that would have a lot more people refer back to it. It’s character-driven, and maybe it just had too many slower moments to keep it from really picking up, plotwise. However, It invokes feelings of nostalgia from either your own college days or from the fandoms you grew up being a part of; the memories this book helps invoke certainly does feel like a little gift from the past to warm your heart, which I think is the main reason that a lot of readers really enjoy this title.
One addition I would to make is that the author has teamed up with Gabi Nam, and almost paying homage to her fandom roots and themes with this book, they’ve transformed this story into a manga! Check it out in the link HERE and I can say I’d definitely be interested to check out this version of the book myself! Maybe it’ll translate better into this format, who knows!
Another addition is that now that Fangirl is under my belt is how I now get to read Carry On, which stars Simon Snow, the author’s knockoff version of Harry Potter, and how it reads like the work that Cath was working on in this book! Someone told me it’s basically a gay version of HP and I was sold! I have a copy on my shelf to read, and once I have a few other titles read under my belt first, I can’t wait to see what Rainbow Rowell did with this idea.
***Warning!!! This review contains spoilers to the series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!!***
To see my full review of book #1 – The Cruel Prince – Click HERE
To see my full review of book #2 – The Wicked King – Click HERE
To see my full review of book #3 – The Queen of Nothing – Click HERE
Total Star Rating:3.5 Stars
This was such a nice treat: to be transported back into the magical realm of Elfhame and be reunited with perhaps one of the most popular couples to ever grace the YA Fantasy genre: Jude Duarte and Cardan Greenbriar. I’m not gonna lie, I missed my beautiful, morally grey couple after everything that did—and didn’t—happen in the previous book, The Queen of Nothing!
This book reads very much like those whimsical fairytale stories you read as a little kid, and the book certainly adds to that aesthetic with the artwork that also fills the pages. What I think is the big draw for this novella is how Holly Black majorly switched it up and instead of Jude, you get inside the intricate mind of the Wicked King himself and what the heck was going through his mind in some key scenes before, during, and after what happens in the original trilogy. Sure, some readers are not fans of him for his manipulative and abusive actions in some parts of the story, but this book is also the perfect gift for anyone who is on the complete opposite side of that spectrum.
The artwork is actually so so so so so gorgeous too! Rovina Cai is a freelance artist based out of Australia, and you seriously need to check out her website to view her portfolio! Her work is utterly enchanting and haunting; she was a perfect choice as the illustrator for this tale!
Check out her website in the link below, and be as amazed as I was:
One thing I will say is I was just a little disappointed with how short this whole book was, and it felt like as I was really starting to get into it that it was over before you know it! I also totally figured this would be the case going in too, but this book just feels like a total teaser and I WANT MORE! Still enjoyable, most definitely, but why not just write a full length novel, but still keep all the artwork (of course)?
What It’s About:
The official Blurb:
An illustrated addition to the New York Times bestselling Folk of Air trilogy, that started with The Cruel Prince, from award-winning author Holly Black.
An irresistible return to the captivating world of Elfhame.
Once upon a time, there was a boy with a wicked tongue.
Before he was a cruel prince or a wicked king, he was a faerie child with a heart of stone . #1 New York Times bestselling author, Holly Black reveals a deeper look into the dramatic life of Elfhame’s enigmatic high king, Cardan. This tale includes delicious details of life before The Cruel Prince, an adventure beyond The Queen of Nothing, and familiar moments from The Folk of the Air trilogy, told wholly from Cardan’s perspective.
This new installment in the Folk of the Air series is a return to the heart-racing romance, danger, humor, and drama that enchanted readers everywhere. Each chapter is paired with lavish and luminous full-color art, making this the perfect collector’s item to be enjoyed by both new audiences and old.
What I Liked:
The Artwork! It has a certain appeal that really works for a grimm fairytale-like story much like this collection of short stories. The artist created well over a dozen gorgeous images that coincide with what is written on the page, and just about every single page has something to look at–whether it be a gorgeous border and a full page image of Cardan Greenbriar enjoying his own little storybook out in the forest.
The Perspective of Cardan! In the original trilogy, you only really got to be in the head of Jude Duarte as she overcame all the challenges laid before her in Elfhame, but this time you follow the Wicked King much more closely and get a closer glimpse of what’s been going on in his head over the years, including during some key scenes within the actual trilogy.
The Story of the Drunk Moth! It was just a moment in this book that took me by surprise by how much it made me laugh! I guess I’ll give a slight spoiler warning for this::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::Basically, Cardan rides a giant moth into the Mortal realm—our world—but the creature will only fly him back if Cardan buys him booze, so Cardan glamours a couple leaves into dollar bills, goes into a liquor store and brings the moth back a six pack in terms of their agreement! I don’t know, that just really paints a glorious picture in my mind!
The Continuation of Cardan and the Troll Woman! Cardan comes face to face with a particular character throughout the course of this book, and each time they meet a story is told about a boy with a stone heart. The story changes over time, much like we do, and I thought the way the author tied this together was done remarkably well, definitely pay attention to this when you read it yourself!
What I Didn’t Like:
It’s Way Too Short…I mean, I knew this was going to be the case going in with this book, but while the material was fun to read and it was like being reunited with long lost friends with these characters and the world of Elfhame, it wasn’t enough! It was very much just a major teaser and I wish we’d rather have just gotten a full length novel instead, especially as something to treat ourselves to after the crapshoot of a year 2020 was!
For fans of The Folk of the Air trilogy, this is like the best sort of cherry on top of what was a pretty sweet and decadent dessert that the three books provided for us as avid readers. You get inside the mind of Cardan as the stories are told from his perspective, and the artwork is absolutely stunning, so I can say that besides the fact that I do wish there were many more pages to read, what’s not to like about this perfect gift of a novella?
***Warning!! This review contains spoilers for this book and the whole series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!***
To see my review of book #1 – Throne of Glass – Click HERE
To see my review of book #2 – Crown of Midnight – Click HERE
To see my review of book #0.5 – The Assassin’s Blade – Click HERE
To see my review of book #3 – Heir of Fire – Click HERE
To see my review of book #4 – Queen of Shadows – Click HERE
To see my review of book #5 – Empire of Storms – Click HERE
To see my review of book #6 – Tower of Dawn – Click HERE
To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the whole series – Click HERE
Total Star Rating: 4.75 Stars
Y’all… this series, seriously…
I could go on and on and on, and I kind of will in this review because fuck it, this is MY blog, but before I go into this book that’s the final installment of this series, I guess I’ll share my original Goodreads review from when I finished this book all the way back in the fall of 2018 when it was first released. Here’s a little book review throwback:
Not since Harry Potter has a series really grabbed me and emotionally invested me like this series has. I remember I discovered this series back in 2012 on Pinterest, of all places, and seeing so much fan art about it and seeing amazing digital art work with “Throne Of Glass” in the caption, not knowing what it was, but after awhile, my curiosity got the best of me and so I decided to look into it and give the book a try.
One of the best decisions I’d ever made.
I quickly loved this series so so much. I loved everything about it. I especially loved the characters. I loved the dynamic of Caleana with Dorian and Chaol at the very beginning, the original trio, and even the new characters every book, to Rowan, Aedion, Manon, Lysandra, Nesryn, Yrene and so many more. I felt so connected and familiar with each of them, and felt like I was friends with them. They were my definition of squad goals, at least within a book.
Sarah J. Maas has created such a vivid, creative, wonderful world with this story of a girl trying to win back her kingdom, and it’s so incredible to know that this series began when she was only 16. I am so happy for her that she was able to fulfill a dream of hers and see this series grow over the many years. While I know some people didn’t like this aspect, but it was incredible to see her prose grow and mature over time, and yes, that means the subject matter also matured. Throne of Glass felt more than a typical kind of Teen fantasy and later on, especially in Empire of Storms, more mature themes had shown up and I noticed how some people didn’t like that; some saying it’s not the best material that young girls should read. While I saw their points of view, I thought it was great to see her writing change over time, because the story had changed so much over time, and characters grew and changed over time and so did Sarah as a writer. A woman in her thirties will write something very different than when they themselves were a teenager. The series developed into a non typical teen fantasy series, and into an area between YA and Adult fantasy. I also think that pushing boundaries and having subject matter that parents might not want their kids to read means it must be a good story; they’re more shocking, interesting and thought provoking.
As any great book series, it had to come to an end at some point. It makes me remember when I first read the big battle at the end of the first book, knowing there’s some big villain that needs to be vanquished and thinking to myself, how in the world are they going to get to that point? What will happen from now until then? The book didn’t really pick up until surprisingly almost 200 pages in. It was understandable; Sarah had to catch us up on a lot of characters and their arcs because for some of them, it’d been two years since the last book they were in, plus there’s a lot of characters. I loved each and every one of their stories, and adored the parts where they reunite and/or meet for the very first time. So much that I wanted to see happen did in fact happen, and knowing that this was the final book, I let myself savor every word.
Long story short through the entire middle, I laughed, I cried, and I prepared myself for the eventual end.
The ending… there were many things that Sarah did that paid tribute back to the very first book, going back to her roots of the story that were so touching, so heartwarming, I’m so happy she did them. It made me emotional about how it’s all over now but it made them reflect on the beginning. The ending of course wasn’t perfect, some storylines I wish ended differently or got more attention, but who knows, ACOTAR was only supposed to be a trilogy, so fingers crossed.
I can’t say a single bad thing about this series overall. Any writer I hope wants to have their stories touch someone meaningfully, and Sarah, this one did, so much. It’s one of my inspirations of wanting to write my own books, even if they aren’t anywhere close to resembling her own. What a story it’s all been, so much that happened, so much time and energy put into it, and it honestly gave me a newfound passion for reading. The Throne of Glass series will forever be such a big part of me, as a writer and a reader.
You could rattle the stars. You could do anything, if only you dared”
Thank you Sarah J. Maas, sincerely from the bottom of my heart. Reading your books, meeting you and getting a picture with you when you came to Minnesota for your Tower of Dawn tour, I aspire to touch someone’s life one day like you’ve touched mine!
To the stars that listen, and the dreams that are answered”
Awwwwwwee look at me trying to be a huge, influential book reviewer on there while singing praise to my favorite author and trying to keep my emotions in check at how my favorite book series has come to an end. I’d at least like to think I’d learned to not use as many commas and that my grammar has overall improved tremendously since then as well! Honestly, not a whole lot has changed in my opinion of SJM since then, even though she’s only released House of Earth and Blood(Crescent City #1) since then, which is also crazy to think about, but I’d say I’ve also come to notice more of the things in her writing that aren’t so great, whether it be from fellow fans or haters. The cool thing about it all is though is that I can say I still love her stories even though I do notice the little things that I do wish would change, but instead of bashing an author, simply go and find someone else who does include that kind of material, whatever it may be.
Celaena/Aelin is an absolute favorite of mine over the course of the series; her growth is done so well, and the emotions behind her words, her motives, her actions are so sharp and vulnerable that you truly feel them alongside her as she goes from assassin to long lost heir to queen attempting to regain her kingdom. In this book, she once again goes through the wringer and learns the valuable lesson of having to lean on those in her corner and how that’s not actually weakness, but a strength in itself. That’s only one of the lessons she’s taught me throughout this series, another is how to let those same people in. Allow yourself to be vulnerable with them in order to not only survive, but truly live. It’s better to have gone too far than to not have travelled at all.
Rowan is of course another favorite; how could he not be if you’ve made it this far? He’s stoic, hard around the edges, protective, honorable, and a fierce ally and friend and lover. It shows how much he’s changed since Aelin came into his life; not only because they’re mates but also because of how she’s made a Fae warrior prince like himself whose been around for many years to somehow see the world in a different way. She was literally like a sun that made him see the light in his long and arduous journey. Was I immediately sold on his and Aelin’s relationship? No…… The shit from allies to lovers could’ve been smoother in my opinion, but that doesn’t mean I don’t totally fall for the passion and love they have for each other by this point. To be honest, I didn’t see a whole lot of dynamic change from Rowan in this book, but he was more the rock and calming presence in order for Aelin to fulfill her destiny!
Dorian is my absolute favorite, hands down! I’ve loved him since the first chapter of the first book, and that love only grew more and more as the series went on. It was disappointing to see him kind of get the brush off and shift slightly to the background in some parts, especially once Rowan and Aedion came into the picture in Aelin’s life, and I do think he was done dirty a few times because of that, but maybe that’s also partly why I love him so much as a character! He’s grown so much since the tropey, handsome, charming, total ladies man prince and has become a just and wholesome King full of bravery and more courage than anyone else I can think of! Ladies and gentleman and non-binaries, if a man like him who actually likes to read for fun enters your life, YOU HOLD ONTO THAT PERSON!
Chaol is such a controversial character towards the series, it seems like you either love him or hate him with hardly anything in between. Believe it or not, I’ve always been a big fan of his, even when he had some moments in Queen of Shadows that truly made you want to truly slap that boy across the face, I do put blame on SJM for that by putting him into the bitter ex position that he’d been relegated to. I could understand some of the things he did and said up until that point, it was all in his character and how he was brought up with his upbringing, but even I can agree that he was an ASS-HAT to Aelin in some moments… Nonetheless, I felt like he truly also redeemed himself later on by the time this book comes around. I was so glad/overjoyed/relieved to see him get his own little redemption arc and (hopefully) present himself in a better light once the story was done!
Aedion was another character I wanted to take the time to address. I immediately loved him when he strutted into my life in Heir of Fire, even though it was unclear whether he was going to be hero or villain right off the bat. He’s pretty much a male version of Aelin, which is straight up fire, but I will say I wish we explored his bisexual confession a little more! This is one thing that I’m not a fan of in terms of SJM’s writing, but so far her only LGBT+ representation is when a character just says it to their character, and that’s it… She got better about it in her Crescent City book with a lot more side characters who’re queer, but I say it can always get better; doesn’t mean I’m gonna trash her for it! I hate how disappointed I was in Aedion in this book with how he is towards Lysandra, but I go more into that later!
Manon Blackbeak is a badass, plain and simple. She’s a stone cold bitch, and I love her for it, but I have to say I like her character more than I liked her storylines. I just found myself skimming more often whenever the chapters centered around her; I just found her chapters to be more boring. That definitely changed in Empire of Storms, and suddenly I think she’s the most interesting character out of the bunch in that book! I also never thought I’d be so obsessed with her and Dorian becoming a thing, but a certain scene below decks with some chains later, and now…
If there’s more characters you want me to give a little commentary on, feel free to say so and I’ll happily add them!
What It’s About:
This book continues shortly after the events of both Empire of Storms and Tower of Dawn, both of which were happening parallel to each other in terms of chronological events happening. Aelin has been taken away by Queen Maeve and Cairn, brought back to Wendlyn to be taken prisoner and held captive in that horrid iron coffin, and let’s not forget Fenrys whose also there in his wolf form.
Aedion and Lysandra are trying to keep up the ruse of Aelin being safe and sound as the allies the Terrasen Queen has brought together, but tension is insanely thick between Aedion and Lysandra as she puts Aelin’s face on in front of everyone but themselves and Aedion is a general scorned by their wicked betrayal of keeping him out of the loop and allowing Aelin to be captured in the first place, all while barely being able to keep the Valg King Erawan’s army at bay…
Rowan is following close behind Maeve in order to save his mate and wife (yes, remember she’s his wife now too), and it’s a race against time before she’s gone forever…
Dorian and Manon are travelling with the 13 to gather even more allies amongst the witches…
Chaol, Nesryn travel back from the Southern Continent with all their new allies and the recent news they’ve discovered about the Fae Queen…
With Aelin captured, friends and allies are scattered to different fates. Some bonds will grow even deeper, while others will be severed forever. As destinies weave together at last, all must fight if Erilea is to have any hope of salvation.
Years in the making, Sarah J. Maas’s New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series draws to an explosive conclusion as Aelin fights to save herself―and the promise of a better world.
What I Liked:
The Final Battle! Just the fact that it’s the final book and that big final battle is finally here is reason enough to be excited! Remember when you read the first book for the first time and Aelin was still Celaena and she was facing off against Cain? You wondered what you were possibly getting yourself into, and what could possibly happen in this series as you kept going on with each book? It’s just crazy to think we’re finally here and the end is upon us!
SJM’s Reunion of the Original Trio! The nostalgia was heavy in this book, and I was so happy to see SJM pay tribute to how this whole dang series started, and that was with Aelin (as Celaena), Chaol Westfall, and Dorian Havilliard! To have them all reunite and how she brought their dynamic back into the spotlight actually brought me to tears a few times! They feel like my actual friends, and they’ve been through so much together and on their own and to see them come back together and still have so much love and adoration for each other….ugh, SO MANY EMOTIONS!!
Aelin Learns to Lean on Her Squad! One thing that even I was finding annoying with Aelin was how she had to keep all her plans inside her own mind and couldn’t share the entirety of them with anyone! Sure, the plans usually came together successfully up until this point, but c’mon girl… these people are your squad! Don’t keep them out in the cold, you’re not your cousin!!!! By this point, there was no way she was going to be able to get out of her predicament with Maeve and Cairn on her own, and it was great to see her finally learn to rely on her loved ones and allies in order to become victorious! It’s not weak to seek help from those who are willing to give it!
Dorian Makes a Major Play! Once again, Dorian proves why I love him so much and becomes a major MVP when he shape-shifts and flies over to Morath, THEN his whole interaction with Maeve had me on the edge of me seat!
All The Couples! I think I was complaining about this aspect of SJM’s writing before—that all her characters end up together when they don’t necessarily have to—BUT I can also say I care way too much about every couple by now to think this way, at least for this series… Aelin and Rowan, Aedion and Lysandra, Dorian and Manon, Chaol and Yrene, Lorcan and Elide, and even Nesryn and Sartaq; I just care about them all so much by this point! It’s hard to say some of these couples didn’t need to happen when I love them all so much!
What I Didn’t Like:
Aedion’s Behavior Towards Lysandra…What a douche-nozzle he was in this book! Yeah, he felt betrayed by the two women who’re most important to him in his life, and sure they left him out of the loop with their plan, but seriously?! I was heartbroken by how much I was liking him less and less with every chapter that focused on him and Lysandra and the allies that Aelin brought to them. I was happy to see him redeem himself a little bit by the end, but I can tell it wasn’t enough for some readers, and not all was forgiven in terms of his behavior. I still can’t believe he even left Lysandra out in the snow when she was completely naked! I wanted to slap the sense into that hard head of his!
More Characters Should’ve Died…Now hear me out because I can literally feel some of you readers deciding to have me cancelled for even saying this, but I seriously think SJM played it too safe and saved way too many characters in the end! The story would’ve been WAY more impactful if more main characters died in this epic final battle, and seriously it’s a nasty and brutal battle, it’d just be more realistic if more of the major players were to have been killed off. It would’ve been sad and depressing, yes, but it surely would’ve made such a more effective and memorable storyline with the emotional impact more deaths would evoke! What If Aedion and Lysandra died before they could reconcile? What if they literally died in each other’s arms while they confessed their love for each other? What if the same thing, but with Lorcan and Elide? What if the whole royal family of the Southern Continent died? The Ruks? What if Dorian died in his major sacrifice? I will admit, the character deaths we did receive were plenty tragic and I won’t spoil who it was for anyone who still doesn’t know, but I stand by my statement!
The Ending Should’ve Been More Extensive…By this I mean it was wrapped up a little too neat and trim. I kinda wish there was a much bigger jump through time, and with more information on what happened to other characters besides just Aelin and Rowan. What happened to Chaol and Yrene? Aedion and Lysandra? Lorcan and Elide? Manon? Sartaq and Nesryn? What kind of King did Dorian truly turn out to be? I wanted more of these kinds of answers from SJM, but fingers crossed that she left it more open-ended so that if she ever wanted to, she could return to this world and continue their stories in some way!
It’s like I said in my original Goodreads review: Before this series, only Harry Potter has been a book series that has made me give as much emotional and time investment as this series has over the course of my 27 years on earth. The Throne of Glass series holds such a special place in my heart, and I think that’s partly because I was with the series as the books were all being released, and I grew up alongside the books and the story at a very impactful time of my life from 2013-2018.
It was always alongside me in my journey through those years, and with that proves my attachment towards this series that I might not ever have with another series ever again if not for quite some time. In terms of Gen Z’rs and the TikTok generation: these books truly hit different!
I truly can’t recommend this book series enough for anyone looking for an epic fantasy series to try and read. I say it’s seriously got a little of everything needed in order to create an epic story: adventure, memorable characters, danger, romance, character growth, the battle of good vs. evil, action, mystique and lore, surprising twists, history, betrayal, many intertwining storylines, and so much more! My only concern is that for the more advanced readers, the first book is truly the weakest and only shows what feels like 1% of what the actual series is about! It’s filled with many recognizable tropes we’ve seen so many times before, but remember that it was published in 2012 when these ideas weren’t considered as cliché as they are now. I say give it a chance, see what happens, and you never know, you’ve be as in love with it as I am!
***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!