YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Ruin and Rising (Shadow and Bone #3): by Leigh Bardugo

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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…
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Conclusion:

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

Fancasts/Dreamcasts

My Fancast/Dreamcast: The Shadow and Bone Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

Image courtesy of Instagram profile: @queen_of_books_and_sleep

Leigh Bardugo is one of the my favorite authors around even from just reading her Six of Crows duology, but once I’d learned that they were actually a spin-off from this trilogy that she’d written before, I of course HAD to check them out too because let’s be honest: there are a few instances where there was obviously information referenced that I missed by not reading them prior. Whether it was because of a certain character’s surprise appearance, a past event mentioned, or more background information on the Grisha in general, I could tell I was missing some vital information.

While I enjoyed Six of Crows much more than this trilogy for multiple reasons, I can still say that the Shadow and Bone trilogy is not to be skipped over! There are some very memorable characters and plenty of twists and turns that you’d expect from Leigh Bardugo’s mind even if you’re like me and read these books out of order!

Even though there’s a Netflix show out with official castings, I still had my own version of the cast list of who I thought would play these characters in my head. Some of my choices below are my own, but I can also admit there’s a few selections from the actual show I agreed with that were mixed in with the bunch to add a little variety. See for yourself what you think!

Here’s a link below to my official Fancast/Dreamcast of the Six of Crows duology for those interested:

Click HERE to see my Six of Crows Fancast/Dreamcast

The Blurb of Shadow and Bone:

Soldier

Summoner.

Saint. 

Orphaned and expendable, Alina Starkov is a soldier who knows she may not survive her first trek across the Shadow Fold—a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. But when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed.

Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country’s magical military elite—and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift.

As the threat to the kingdom mounts and Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation.

Welcome to Ravka . . . a world of science and superstition where nothing is what it seems…

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 review of book #3 – Ruin and Rising – Click HERE!

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Here’s my official Fancast/Dreamcast:

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Zoya Nazyalensky: Shay Mitchell

Image courtesy of unitedtalent.com

My first choice for this character was Megan Fox, which I had no problem with except for when I later learned that Zoya is actually a person of color. I mean, she was the token “mean girl” in the first book, and Leigh described her pretty much as being stupid hot, so c’mon, Megan Fox is an obvious choice for me! Shay is also such a beautiful woman! Her Filipino, Scottish, and Irish descent makes her a much more accurate choice.

Genya Safin: Miguelle Landry

Image courtesy of the model’s Instagram Profile

This Instagram model is like my go to face for whenever a book calls for a gorgeous redhead, so sorry not sorry, but you’re gonna see her on a few of my fancasts *shrugs*.

David Kostyk: Luke Pasqualino

Image courtesy of fault-magazine.com

I don’t know much about him as an actor; he was on Skins not that I ever watched it, but he’s an actual casting for the part on the Netflix show, so I can roll with this casting choice!

Baghra Morozova: Zoë Wanamaker

Image courtesy of theguardian.com

She is another actual casting from the Netflix show, but most of you may or may not recognize her from another popular YA Fantasy series? No? Here’s a hint: she was the broom flying instructor at a certain school for young witches and wizards!

Nikolai Lantsov: Lucas Bloms

Credit to owner

A gorgeous male-model to play a gorgeous prince? Need I say more?

Botkin Yul-Erdene: Daniel Dae-Kim

Image courtesy of ew.com

Daniel may seem like a cliché go to character for these types of roles, but I can’t help but keep that way of thinking with him playing the role of Alina’s combat instructor at the small palace. I just think he’d make an excellent tutor!

Ivan: Simon Sears

Image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

He’s another actual casting choice for the Netflix show, and he’s not really described as well as I’d hoped in the books, so I’m happy to give my blessing for this choice! He looks rugged and rough around the edges, just like I’d imagined what one of the Darkling’s closest soldier’s would look like.

Fedyor Kaminksy: Julian Kostov

Image courtesy of the actor’s Instagram profile

Julian is actually casted to play this character for the show, so I thought I’d share him too and say I support this choice! I remember I liked Fedyor whenever he made an appearance in the books, sure he wasn’t afraid to viciously kill anyone who stood against him, but at least he killed a Fjerdan in order to protect Alina, right? Right…

Harshaw: Andrew Garfield

Credit to owner

Harshaw is described as being tall and gangly with red hair, so for some reason I thought of Andrew Garfield. Not sure why; Harshaw’s a wackjob who talks to his cat too much and probably an arsonist who just also happens to be an inferni…so yeah…Most of you would recognize Andrew from The Amazing Spider-Man movies with Emma Stone, and The Social Network.

Marie: Nathalie Kelley

Credit to owner

Marie was a conflicting character throughout the books…Sure, she tried to befriend Alina right away when the Sun Summoner first appeared at the small palace, but she was totally two-faced to Zoya and elitist with Genya, and flipped sides when her boyfriend, Sergei, spoke out against Alina in Siege and Storm. I just found her really catty, so I thought Nathalie, who’s been in The Vampire Diaries, and Dynasty (both CW shows), I thought she’d play the part well!

Nadia Zhabin: Gabrielle Brooks

Image courtesy of the actress’s IMDB Profile

Nadia is pretty much the same as Marie up above, but doesn’t really stick up for herself. Gabrielle is another actual casting choice for the show, which I just want to point out is great that they switched up her look because the books described her as kind of a mousy little blonde, so I’m happy with how Leigh wanted to make it a point to try and add more diversity amongst the cast!

Tamar Kir-Bataar: Lana Condor

Image courtesy of whowhatwear.com

I’m surprised it doesn’t seem like Tamar and her twin brother are going to be in the Netflix show! Like, they’re not even listed on the Netflix show’s IMDB page (check it out HERE)…Whatever I guess, their loss because she’s a badass! Lana may look small and fragile like she kind of is in the All the Boy’s I’ve Met Before Netflix movies, but check out other films she’s been in, and it’s obvious she can hold her own in more action-packed flicks.

Tolya Kir-Bataar: Ross Butler

Image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

Ross is on Netflix’s adaptation of 13 Reasons Why and DC’s “Shazam,” and he’s a tall guy who can also pull off the stoic, “tough guy” persona that I pictured Tolya constantly showed whenever he made an appearance. I’m still upset that him and his sister didn’t make it into the Netflix show apparently…

Ana Kuya: Amanda Donohue

Image courtesy of contactmusic.com

Amanda just gives me more of how I pictured the owner of the orphanage where Alina and Mal grew up than who they casted for the show! I’m sure the actual actress will still do a great job though!

The Apparat: David Bradley

Image courtesy of zimbio.com

David Bradley is just so good at playing creepy, despicable old men in Fantasy settings! He was Argus Filch in the Harry Potter films and Walder Frey in Game of Thrones, and the Apparat gave me some weird vibes, so I immediately thought of David Bradley to play him.

Sergei Beznikov: Jack Falahee

Credit to owner

Sergei was another one of those really conflicting characters in the books; I didn’t really have the greatest opinion of him, especially when he tries to oppose Alina in trying to take charge of the second army, but I felt for him at the end of Siege of Storm and what happened to him…there’s more to it, but I won’t spoil it! I loved Jack in How to Get Away with Murder, and thought he’d be a great choice!

Alina Starkov: Jessica Mei Li

Credit to owner

Here’s another actual casting off the Netflix show, and I for one am happy with how Leigh made it more of a point to make the cast more diverse with more POC actors! She felt bad about how whitewashed she made the books, apologized, and has been making it a point to not do that ever again. Kudos to her, and I can’t wait to see how Jessica portrays our main protagonist of the Shadow and Bone trilogy!

Mal Oretsev: Christian Hogue

Image courtesy of the model’s Instagram profile

So, Mal gives me the whole “Golden Boy, Big Man on Campus, Star Quarterback, Homecoming King” kind of guy that we see all over YA fiction, but of course, this particular time in a Fantasy setting. Christian is an Instagram model I’ve known about for some time, and he’s just who came to mind for me when I pictured Alina’s childhood friend-turn-lover.

The Darkling: Nick Ayler

Credit to owner

I’d also casted Nick Ayler as my Magnus Damora in the Falling Kingdoms series by Morgan Rhodes, and I will admit him and the Darkling have some similarities in their aesthetics…they’re both the broody, dark haired bad boy who the golden, innocent protagonist has mixed feelings for…so why not have Nick play my favorite character in the whole trilogy. Besides being my favorite character, you’ve outta admit he’s got the coolest nicknames!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Siege and Storm (Shadow and Bone Trilogy #2): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: June 4th, 2013
Number of Pages: 435 Pages
Publisher: Square Fish
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

***Warning! This book contains spoilers for the first book in the series, so continue reading at your own risk. You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review for book #1 – Shadow and Bone – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the trilogy – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 2.5 Stars

So I’m not sure if this would make any sense, but how does a sequel become so much better than the previous book: the plot gets more intense and impressive, the characters all have great development, and is just more original and creative in general….BUT you didn’t like the book any more than how you we’re lukewarm than the first one? I don’t get it; this book had everything it needed to become a much more entertaining read, but I still found myself bored and struggling to finish it.

One main reason I think this was the case is that I tried to read Siege and Storm during the pandemic for COVID-19, and I hate to admit how something I love to do: reading — is harder to do because somehow it’s a struggle to sit down and concentrate on what I’m reading… I’ve already dropped three books within the last month because I just couldn’t bring myself to care enough to keep reading. Maybe I’ll come back to them later on, but for now, they’re on my DNF shelf.

Overall, while I did mainly enjoy this sequel to Shadow and Bone, maybe it was the way the world is right now that kept me from fully enjoying it like I could’ve. I really liked the male characters like Nikolai Lantsov and the Darkling, and how the plot got so much thicker with many great developments. I was really torn about both Alina and Mal as characters; I get where they’re coming from with what annoys me about them, but they still bug me about certain things they do and the way they are. I didn’t enjoy the midpoint of the story, and it was there that I really struggled to keep wanting to read. I just found it so immensely boring, and believe me, it hurts right in the chest to say something like that about a Leigh Bardugo novel. The Six of Crows is still such a favorite of mine, but those came later than this original trilogy, and going backwards with any author’s titles always ends on a bad note for me.

When I say boring, I think Goodreads reviewer Elise (TheBookishActress) said it best: the narrative of this book won’t allow it to get any darker than it already is. It’s filled with morally grey characters, and how EVERYONE makes evil decisions in order to gain an advantage over all the other key players in the battle for power. Some are less evil than others, but the point is, it could’ve played on the idea of people doing evil things for different reasons and giving us some much more interesting character development and raise a bunch of interesting questions about human nature, but it was limited by what the YA market was looking for at the time. It gets close to crossing the line, but still stays safely in it’s lane, and knowing Leigh Bardugo has more freedom to go farther with it in her later books turns me off to these books more, not allowing me to enjoy them than if I were to have read them before Six of Crows.

I will say that Nikolai Lantsov and The Darkling are easily the best characters to come out of these books so far; they’re possibly the best part of these books period

What It’s About:

I know the truth in your heart. The loneliness. The growing knowledge of your own difference. The ache of it.”

– Leigh Bardugo, “Siege and Storm”

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.

There is no ordinary life for people like you and me.”

– Leigh Bardugo, “Siege and Storm”

What I Liked:

  1. Much Less Tropey Than The First Book! One of my biggest complaints of Shadow and Bone was how there were so many clichés used: the mary sue character who thinks she’s plain and boring yet has more than one love interest, the magical school she travels to in order to train, the hot mean girl, the chosen one, etc. Sure, it may not have been so cliché back when it was first written, but hasn’t aged as well into 2020. This book felt much more original and unique in comparison, the plot has become bigger, the stakes have been raised, the writing continues to improve, and their is some major character development!
  2. Nikolai Lantsov! Another book boyfriend to add to the (large) growing list! He turned out to be an amazing character throughout the course of this book; he was so charming, passionate, suave, and witty. The pirate—or privateer as he prefers to be called—made the book more fun to read, and his whole arc made the story feel so much more unique and creative from the author. Personally, I wouldn’t mind in the slightest if Alina ended up with him in the end.
  3. The Darkling! He continues to excel at being quite frankly one of the most interesting villains I’ve read in a long time, along with being one of my favorite characters in the whole Grishaverse. There’s hints that suggest he’s still human underneath the dark cloak of being the black heretic, and you can tell there’s an interesting inner battle happening there. Who knows what’ll happen there?
  4. The Roles Have Reversed! So I thought it was kind of interesting that Mal and Alina kind of switched places in this book when compared to Shadow and Bone: now Alina is the desired one, the popular one, the one with more influence while Mal fears he’s being left behind. Some could even say it’s poetic justice for Mal, who couldn’t see how great he had it before and now is fully realizing what he’s lost since the beginning of the whole story.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Really Boring Midpoint…I’m not going to lie, even though it breaks my heart to say this about a Leigh Bardugo novel, but I found the midpoint of this book to be just oh so achingly boring! Little tidbits of excitement were tossed in here and there, but for the most part, I was actually struggling to get through it! Take in mind there are several reasons on my part as the reader as to why this may be: 1. I started out with the Six of Crows books, which arguably are much better written, and going backwards with an author’s books never works out in my favor and 2. I read this is 2020 when the world is in the middle of a flippin’ pandemic! I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it difficult to stick with reading an actual book right now. Like, I’m not able to fully concentrate on what I’m reading because I’m just so stir-crazy if that makes any sense? Maybe I’ll think differently when I reread this book at a different time?
  2. Alina Starkov…Now, this one is split down the middle because I do still like Alina as a character; I felt like she’s had a great development as a character in this book especially. My problem with her is that she still sticks to some bad habits that she really just needs to break apart from. I love that she’s starting to gain some confidence in her abilities and now is starting to realize that her powers are really special and that yeah…she’s the chosen one to change the course of history. Everything that’s made her more interesting is because of the Darkling and the influence he’s had on her through these books so far. I hate to say it, because I’m also torn about Mal, but the thing she needs to stop doing is holding onto her past because she’s still too influenced by Mal and what decisions she makes that would make him happy. I get it: she’s a teenage girl in love for the first time, but lets maybe worry about the future of the world instead of worrying about which boy you should kiss next, yes? Katniss Everdeen didn’t have a problem with this.
  3. Mal…Arguably one of the most disliked characters in the book, which is sad considering I feel like that’s not the intent the author had for him at all. Many feel like he’s dragging Alina down, being petty and moody because of how things have changed since they were both pretty much foot-soldiers of the first army. To a degree, I can agree with that. While I do admire that the two of them are willing to sacrifice so much in order to make the other one happy, I feel like Mal is going down the same route as Chaol Westfall did in the Throne of Glass series, and only loves certain parts of Alina by this point. Obviously, I mean the non-grisha parts, and he’s upset at how things have changed and they’re out of his control, he’s getting left behind for men like Nikolai Lantsov and the Darkling, and he just wishes things could go back to the way they were before: back to “normal.” I want to like him, I really do, but I will wait until I read the final book, Ruin Rising, before I make my final decision on him.

Conclusion:

Siege and Storm was a much better written, an all around better novel than the previously written book in this trilogy, but I was disappointed to say that it still somehow didn’t draw me in, but that may be the cause of the pandemic were in, and how that’s affected my ability to be able to sit and concentrate on reading in general. I definitely plan to reread this later when things get back to normal to see if my opinion changes at all.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy

My Review: Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: September 20th, 2016
Number of Pages: 560 Pages
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

***Warning, this post contains spoilers from the first title! Continue reading at your own risk, you’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – Six of Crows – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.75 Stars

It warms a reader’s dry, cynical heart whenever they discover a new favorite author along with all of their brilliant work. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, but finding those books that are so much fun to dive right into, to enjoy the craft so much that someone has created, to be fully immersed in the story and have it inspire someone like me to create something that could maybe someday come close to it and continue the cycle with the next generation.

I can honestly back this book up with my high rating because it simply is amazing…It has a little bit of everything, and evoked so much emotion from me; both elated and devastated. I’m only relieved to see that it’s not just me, but almost everyone else who has reviewed this book is absolutely blown away by it. Seriously, the lowest score someone gave it on Goodreads was 3-stars…No one gave it a 1, only one person gave it a 2 star-rating, but they didn’t really justify it, so I don’t count it as being actually real…It’s seriously such epic perfection, but I still have to refrain from giving it a perfect 5-star rating because the author is a cruel, cruel woman who emotionally traumatized me and left me in a heap on the floor as I read a certain part. Seriously…I was shook, and I was NOT okay for some time after this (but I mean this in the best way possible!)

I found myself questioning how in the hell Leigh Bardugo was going to outdo herself with this next title in her Duology (now being turned into a series!) when the first book was so flippin’ impressive! She had created one of the most diverse, fabulous cast of characters in any book I’d ever read with such distinct personalities and voices, and we learn even more about them as the story continued! They are all so complex and fleshed out and truly change as the story developed. It was a masterwork of character design and development, and I want to know the moment Leigh Bardugo ever decides to teach a masterclass on how to write. I want to hear her methods and tips on the subject; any sort of money I have, it’s hers if she wants it!

One thing I wish I got more out of within the story was the surprise appearance of characters that make a short, but meaningful appearance. I’m not going to spoil exactly who they are, but I can say that they are some important players, and are some memorable characters from Leigh Bardugo’s other books. I had not read them before reading this title, so the shocking reveal of it all was kind of lost on me, but made me want to go back a step with the author’s work and check out her Shadow and Bone trilogy.

I personally recommend everyone read those, along with these, before the Netflix series comes out; I don’t know if there’s an official release date quite yet, but I seriously can’t wait to binge the day it comes on!

What It’s About:

Continuing straight off the cliffhanger ending of the previous book, Kaz and the others must rescue Inej from being kidnapped by Wylan’s corrupt father.

The other main plot is how they have Kuwei Yul Bo, the son of the creator of a powerful drug named Jurda Pardem that can control the Grisha: magical beings of the realm. With his father actually revealed to be dead, he is the only person alive who knows not only how to create the drug, but also how to destroy it, which puts a gigantic, gargantuan sized target on his back. Soon every crime boss, gangster, royal, criminal, military general, merchant, and mercenary in this dangerous world are drawn towards Ketterdam to take him away, but Kaz and his gang aren’t going to be giving him up all that easily…

What I liked:

  1. The Surprise Cameos! Mentioned earlier in this post, Bardugo shocks us with some memorable characters that some readers may recognize from other titles of hers later on in this book. I had not read her Shadow and Bone trilogy when I read Crooked Kingdom, so while the shock value was entirely lost on me, what it did reveal is that not only is her work is all connected within the same universe, it’s all happening simultaneously side by side at the same time! I love it when authors do this kind of thing and give fans little surprises to gush about; it made me want to explore other books even more! Going off of that, the author leaves the ending up in the air quite a lot of characters. It seemed like that meant we’re getting many more titles; some within this story, and even more from a new set of books she’ll write.
  2. Different Characters Get More Attention! In the previous title, we learn quite a bit about a few of the character’s backstories and how they came to be who they are before the events within the story, and in this title, we learn more about the characters we didn’t learn as much about before! It shows the author’s love of her characters to make sure she gave them each and every one of them the attention they deserve. Sure, some people could complain that they didn’t get it sooner, but as a writer, I say that everything doesn’t need to happen at once. Let it slowly reveal itself or it’ll just feel congested, clogged and not as enjoyable of a read! Good things come to those who wait!
  3. The Group’s Dynamic! I believe I mentioned this before in my previous review, but I’m serious; the alliance between the main characters and their relationships amongst each other within their group is something so pure and so much fun to read! The banter, the witty quips, the clashing personalities, the emotion, and even how they still sound like teenagers somehow within a fantasy-genre setting. Its truly a huge reason why this series is a new-found favorite of mine!
  4. A Particular Scene with Kaz! It was heavy, it was raw, it was emotional and it wasn’t something I’d really ever expect him to do, which is why it’s such a memorable scene! The shock of experiencing someone doing something that’s so unlike their character, their moral integrity, everything they stand for are great moments in literature and entertainment. While I’m even on the subject of Kaz, it’s also such a highlight to have him be the kind of character that always seems to have one step ahead of everyone. Everything could be going to hell, fires everywhere, death seems certain; Kaz will just come out of nowhere with a telling smirk that says all according to plan! What’s even better, is how at a certain point, no one is even surprised any longer; they just expect it from him!
  5. Literally Everything I said I liked about the First Title! Go see my review of Six of Crows (Link is towards the top), and every aspect I said I liked about it continues into this sequel!
  6. The Inner Conflicts Between Inej and Kaz! Inej was captured by his enemies, and the time she’s taken hostage, she questions whether Kaz will come rescue her, but also, if he’s rescuing her because he cares about her, or if he simply only wants her for her abilities. A confrontation on this inner struggle is angsty as hell, but man does it add an emotional punch and show us sides of characters we never thought we’d see!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. A Certain Character’s Death…Yeah…someone dies and I’m not okay about it. It left such an emotion-fueled book hangover for me, I never thought I’d get out of that depressive slump!

Conclusion:

Leigh Bardugo may have created what may be the closest thing to the perfect novel. I know this review may seem pretty one-sided, but it’s incredibly hard to find anything to really critique about this title!

Check out other reviews; the only people who (attempt) to criticize it are the ones who were even more traumatized by it than me, the ones who were even more upset about certain events that take place, so because they cried, they took it as them not liking the story, which is so bogus…Shouldn’t a story be celebrated if it evokes that much out of you? Let’s worry less about trigger warnings in fiction and celebrate the fact that something of this magnitude has been created for us to discover and enjoy and inspire!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell