I hate how they have the power to kill my future, kill me. They treat my Black skin like a gun or a grenade or a knife that is dangerous and lethal, when really it’s them. The guys at the top powering everything.”
– Faridah Àbíké-Íyídé, “Ace of Spades”
What It’s About:
The official blurb:
Gossip Girl meets Get Out in Ace of Spades, a YA contemporary thriller by debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé about two students, Devon & Chiamaka, and their struggles against an anonymous bully.
When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.
Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.
As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?
With heart-pounding suspense and relevant social commentary comes a high-octane thriller from debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé.
Ace of Spades is a whirlwind of a story once you really get into the thick of things…it’s about two black students who are being targeted by an anonymous online presence who goes by the name “Aces” at a prestigious private school. They have no idea why this faceless enemy is targeting them specifically, but what they do know is that they know all their dirty secrets and aren’t afraid to put it all out there for the world to see, thus putting their futures in grave danger…
This book has gotten a lot of praise and exposure on bookstagram and all over social media ever since it came out over the summer of 2021, and I’ll admit that the comparison of “Get Out” meets “Gossip Girl” really had me interested to see what the hype is all about. Plus, I’m a strong advocator for how representation matters and wanting to hear different voices in books and expanding my perspective of other people’s lives that are different than my own. I am a white CIS male, and while I know I will never fully understand the struggles of being black in America, especially a black queer male, but I can honestly say I felt like this book gave me a good idea! The social issues that are explored in this story are a definite highlight that a lot of us can definitely relate to in some way, shape, or form and the characters feel much more fleshed out and dynamic as more is revealed to their character and personal sense of morality.
While the initial set up and beginning of the book were good enough to draw you in, I felt the midpoint really dropped the ball and really slowed down for me…I mean, I really struggled to stay interested through a good chunk of it and even considered putting this book on my DNF stack on several occasions. Heck, I even tried bribing some of my coworkers at the bookstore to read it for me and just spoil it all for me! Not exactly a good thing for any book, lesbehonest…however, my curiosity to find out who was behind it all was what kept me going to be able to finish the story. It obviously won out in the end, and I can’t say it disappointed me either!
While the midpoint was slow, once I got to page 200 I think, that was when the mystery really began to get juicier and it was a much faster and engaging book. The whole situation begins to be revealed as something much bigger and sinister than anyone could imagine, and even I found myself with freakin’ chills running up my arms when certain things happen to the characters, like with certain students or even faculty members. I found the ending to be very satisfactory even if it also felt a little rushed, but I also think that’s okay because by then the authors message and lesson for the reader is loud and clear about issues like systematic racism, classism, and even the struggles of being a POC LGBT+ youth in America today.
Like I said, when you get further into the book where the plot becomes more significant and characterization moves to the passenger seat; sex, lies, murder, secrets, white supremacy, and the ongoing battle of taking down racism make this quite a wicked ride of a story that somehow even has some heartwarming softer moments of both family, friendship, and love that make this even a more well rounded story!
All you need to know is… I’m here to divide and conquer. Like all great tyrants do.”
– Faridah Àbíké-Íyídé, “Ace of Spades’
What I Liked:
The Representation! One reason I picked this book up was because it’s not a bad thing to broaden your horizons and try to listen to different voices in literature. We all know the argument that representation matters, and I can say this book provides someone like me a great visual on what it’s like to be black and dealing with racism, and even to be black and queer and dealing with the system being against you just because of the color of your skin. It’s not the type of story I usually go for, and for that is why I wanted to try something new.
The Character Development! Chiamaka and Devon both have such amazing character development as the story progresses and they deal with other issues besides a cyber bully. I especially liked Chiamaka’s chapters and her as a character in general because she,at start off as the typical queen b, Blair Waldorf HBIC, but she becomes so much more as you get closer to her.
The Social Commentary/Theme! It’s been said alreadyin this review, but I thought the author showed the struggles of dealing with racism, classism, and even homophobia all incredibly well, and it certainly helped someone who’s not facing the same struggles as they face to better understand it and hopefully learn from it as we move forward!
What I Didn’t Like:
The Extremely Slow Midpoint…I’m sorry, but that midpoint almost killed the book for me! I was just so bored, and I kept putting this book down for others because I just couldn’t get myself to read it most days. I almost put it in my DNF stack, but I hate doing that and really did want to find out who was behind it all.
Overall, Ace of Spades was crazy and twisted YA thriller that also has an incredibly interesting take on systematic racism, white supremacy, and plenty of other social issues that are so incredibly important, ESPECIALLY with all that has happened in the last year and a half pertaining to those specific issues and what plenty of POC citizens still deal with today.
I will never fully know the struggle of being black in America, that is a privilege that I am aware of, but I wanted to read this as a way to help spread the message of how important it is for stories like this to be heard, and for writers of color who are willing to put this sort of material out there for us to read, to enjoy and hopefully also to learn and understand from their perspective. Those are their stories, and we should want to hear them!
I would’ve rated this book higher, but the slow midpoint is why I’m not giving it a higher rating. None of the social importance is really revealed until later in the story, and I really did struggle and almost not bother to finish this book, but let’s also take into consideration that this is also the author’s debut novel, which that in itself makes it an impressive story too! I also usually don’t read this type 0f story, so I’m sure there are plenty of others who will especially enjoy this one!
***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 full review of book #1 – An Ember In The Ashes – Click HERE
To see my full review of book #2 – A Torch Against The Night – Click HERE
To see my full review of book #3 – A Reaper At The Gates – Click HERE
To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the whole series – Click HERE
Total Star Rating: 4 Stars
You are broken. But it is broken things that are the sharpest. The deadliest. It is broken things that are the most unexpected, and the most underestimated.”
– Sabaa Tahir, “A Sky Beyond The Storm”
Let me start off by saying OOWWWWWWWW, this book punches you right in the heart! It’s certainly been awhile since a book has made me as emotional as A Sky Beyond The Storm has, and that’s the case for multiple reasons: it’s the final book of one of my favorite book series, but also because Sabaa Tahir once again knows how to torture her characters in some of the most brutalistic ways that even though I know they’re fictional, my heart absolutely aches for all they go through. I think the last time I was affected by a book this much was when I read Kingdom of Ash, the final book of the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. Both hold a special place in my heart, and it was a little sad to see the story end.
A Sky Beyond the Storm was definitely one of my most anticipated books of 2020, but it wasn’t the easiest to get into this book as I’d hoped. With a lot weighing me down in my personal life at the time of this book’s release, I was in a bit of a reading slump—part of me feels like I still am—and it really showed with how slowly I was getting through this book at first. I think it was that along with how I also think the beginning of this book through a good chunk of the midpoint was just kind of slow. Not a whole lot was grabbing my interest, it’d been since June 2018 when the previous book came out, so it was a little distancing to reacquaint myself with the characters and the world and all that had happened before; a reread of the series would’ve been beneficial if only I’d had the time! However, strange as this may sound, but once a character sacrificed themselves for one of the main characters was when things really began to pick up.
Similar to A Reaper At The Gates, the back half of this book was when the stakes were at their highest and everything was coming together and PLENTY was happening. A lot of dark, horrible, traumatizing, heart wrenching things that I absolutely applaud the author for making me feel because once again that proves to me what an effective storyteller she is, or Kehanni as she puts it in this book! I know there’s the piece of advice to torture your characters as a writer, but man…Sabaa knows where to make it hurt the worst! My friend who also read the book said it was some Game of Thrones level torment and pain, and I can’t disagree with her on that.
Of course with this being the final book in the series, I’m trying to not only review this book in itself, but also kind pay homage to the whole series too, and I want to do that by giving the characters their own little spot and my honest thoughts about them below:
Throughout the course of this entire series, it was astounding to see the amount of bravery a girl like her, who came from so little and had just as much, could show when face to face with the many dangers she had to confront. Laia’s tenacity and courageousness along with her ability to show her true self and be vulnerable and still feel like she was a young girl after everything she’s dealt with and suffered through, although I must say it also felt like she didn’t really grow as much as a character about halfway through the series. I could be totally off on that and may rediscover more things about her in the future whenever I plan to reread these books back to back, but for now these are my thoughts. In a way, her ending was perfect for her and how she is able to honor so many with how she’s able to move forward onto the next chapter.
To be honest, Elias was a very conflicting character for me throughout. He was perhaps my favorite character (or at least top three), but I was also not the biggest fan of his whole story arc for the second half of the series. As soon as it became clear that he was to become the Soul Catcher, I found myself becoming less and less interested in his storyline and thought his chapters were boring when compared to Laia and Helene. He was a soldier born from violence and raised to become a master of death in his own right, but instead he longed for more and for a brighter future, and his willingness to put the needs of his loved ones way above his own needs was what made me love him as a character. I Still adore him, he’s def’s still on my book boyfriend list, and his storyline definitely picks up again for me in this final installment, I’d say he also had a great way to wrap up his story and end up in a good place as the story drew to a close.
Arguably one of the greatest character growth storylines in all of fiction, I totally had Helene pegged wrong when I met her in the first novel. Back then, she seemed like just another pretty blonde who was elitist, shallow, selfish and not worth my time caring about because of how she looked down on people like Laia and the rest of the Scholars. As we learn in the ending of the first book, she gets the title of being the Blood Shrike to the Emperor, and from then on is when her character develops so beautifully, I want Helene to have the world and now I believe she truly deserved more than what she got. If anyone was put through the wringer in these books, Helene had lost so much and had seen some truly horrifying things that most people wouldn’t recover from, yet there she was in the middle of almost countless battles and holding her own against the powerful forces that work against her and her friends. Helene was proof that there can be so much more going on beneath the surface and how first impressions don’t mean almost anything. Her and Harper were perfect for each other!
A truly magnificent villain for this series, but it didn’t always feel that way. Like Helene, his whole being felt rather one dimensional and was just evil for the sake of being evil. That dramatically changed when you learn so much more about him in the third book and witness more of his tragic backstory that lead him to being where he was and why he was doing all that he’d done. He’s still evil and needed to be stopped, but the best villains are always the ones that you still feel something for and can relate to what their reasoning behind their plot is. They’re the manifestation of our darkest thoughts and wishes and show us why we shouldn’t go as far as they do in order to achieve their wishes, but understanding them like that makes it all that much better of a story overall. I felt so bad for him as I discovered all that he’d been through, everything about him and the pain he’s endured just really makes my heart heavy.
I’ve praised her plenty before and it’ll mostly be the same of that right here, but Keris is one of the best villains I’ve come across in literature if not all entertainment media like books, movies and tv shows. She was always so cold and calculating and made my skin crawl with her lethal calm and how little emotion she showed with every heinous act she performed, I said in one review that she’s scarier than Cersei Lannister and I stand by that statement! It was interesting to get inside her mind a little bit in this final book and—of course—have my heart go out to her and how her part in the story came to be. Looking at other reviews to see what others thought, I saw that others were pretty torn about it and wanted her to remain the cold and distant and cruel leader that she was. While I partially agree, the fact that I was still able to feel things like pity and sorrow for her after all she’d done before shows how great a storyteller the author is.
A hidden in plain sight treasure of a character, I had no idea the significance she was going to play in this series when I first met her in the start of it all. She seemed like the typical old, grumpy, mentor-like character whom Laia was going to eventually bond with, but boy was I way off on that! Well not totally, but like a lot of things in these books, it was in a way that I was certainly not expecting. She was in and out of the story for quite some time, and with good reason, but I think her storyline also wrapped up nicely that played well into the type of person she was and how things came to be.
Another character I didn’t really think much of at first, but once this soldier began to question the orders he was given, I caught a glimpse of something there that drew me in. The tension that built up between him and Helene starting in the third book definitely piqued my interest further until I couldn’t believe it, but I wanted more than anything for them to get together somehow, but knowing both of them and they way they are, it wasn’t going to be easy to get there. Loved him in this last book, it was obvious how perfect him and Helene were with how he’d wordlessly know how to help her best in certain situations, heck even sacrificing meeting his own half-brother sooner than he did shows the dedication and loyalty he had to her. I only wish Harper and Helene had more simpler and happier moments than what they got.
LOVED HIM FROM THE START! I’m a sucker for characters like him: handsome, charming, sarcastic, roguish, deadly, and has all the hilariously snappy one-liners. He was a great addition that I didn’t know I needed for these books, I wish he’d shown up sooner! Even Musa experienced some major trauma and loss in this final book, but the glimpse of possibility for happiness we also see for him warms my heart for him!
As I wrap up this section of the review, it’s just still crazy to me that I randomly selected the first book off the Barnes & Noble shelf one day to keep my entertained for a long plane ride back in 2015 when it first came out. I didn’t look on Goodreads or Amazon, saw no reviews or knew about it beforehand, I just randomly snagged a copy and gave it a chance. Maybe I need to do that more often because nowadays it feels like I almost rely too much on those things in order to select what I might read next, but that’s just because there’s so many amazing looking stories out there that I want them all! How do you choose which ones to invest your valuable time on? Everyone has their own answer to that, but part of me feels like maybe it’s a good thing to just give a book a chance before taking out your phone and looking up it’s score before deciding to read it. Who knows, you might just find one of your favorite books that way!
Would that we all knew the cracked terrain of each other’s broken hearts. Perhaps then, we would not be so cruel to those who walk this lonely world with us.”
– Sabaa Tahir, “A Sky Beyond The Storm”
What It’s About:
The official blurb:
Prepare for the jaw-dropping finale of Sabaa Tahir’s beloved New York Times bestselling An Ember in the Ashes fantasy series, and discover: Who will survive the storm?
Picking up just a few months after A Reaper at the Gates left off…
The long-imprisoned jinn are on the attack, wreaking bloody havoc in villages and cities alike. But for the Nightbringer, vengeance on his human foes is just the beginning.
At his side, Commandant Keris Veturia declares herself Empress, and calls for the heads of any and all who defy her rule. At the top of the list? The Blood Shrike and her remaining family.
Laia of Serra, now allied with the Blood Shrike, struggles to recover from the loss of the two people most important to her. Determined to stop the approaching apocalypse, she throws herself into the destruction of the Nightbringer. In the process, she awakens an ancient power that could lead her to victory–or to an unimaginable doom.
And deep in the Waiting Place, the Soul Catcher seeks only to forget the life–and love–he left behind. Yet doing so means ignoring the trail of murder left by the Nightbringer and his jinn. To uphold his oath and protect the human world from the supernatural, the Soul Catcher must look beyond the borders of his own land. He must take on a mission that could save–or destroy–all that he knows.
What I Liked:
The Ending For Each Character! Each character’s arc conclusion felt natural and made sense for them in where each of them have been and how things came to be. It may not be the brightest or happiest endings for some of them, but it was all fitting for each of them.
The Depth of All The Characters! Sabaa Tahir is so effing amazing at making complex and well fleshed out characters. Each have so much depth so long as you pay attention, especially the villains. The author honestly writes some of the best villains you’ll ever read in any book EVER! The Nightbringer and the Commandant were so cold and cruel, but when the author sheds some light on their tragic backstories, it not only totally pierces your heart but almost makes you really understand where they’re coming from.
The Themes! I’ve said it in past reviews for this series, but what really makes me appreciate it is how dark these books got when compared to other YA Fantasy series. The usual themes remained consistent in this title as with the previous books, but one that really stuck out that felt more new to me was the theme of mothers and daughters. It was amazing how this was shown in so many different ways in the final battle of all places, it’s truly a highlight of the whole book!
How The Plot Progresses! It was the same thing in A Reaper At The Gates, but it amazes me how the author was able to tie everything together and how she uses prophecies but plays with the wording really well. They always end up coming true, but not always in the way you’d expect. Simply brilliant! *chef’s kiss*
What I Didn’t Like:
The Magic System…To be honest, thinking back on the magic system throughout these four books, I wasn’t a big fan of it because to me it felt like it was just there and there wasn’t really a strict set of rules or guidelines to it at all. The series totally worked with it, but sometimes it felt like it was used out of convenience with the plot, but again, the overall story didn’t require a more tightly knit system.
The Slower Start/Midpoint…It may be because I’ve been in a reading funk as of late, but this book was hard for me to initially get into. The beginning and most of the midpoint were just slow for me and there were days where I just couldn’t bring myself to want to open the pages to read on, but again, take this with a grain of salt because lately no books have been working for me as much as they have in the past.
It should have been him dancing with you”
– Sabaa Tahir, “A Sky Beyond The Storm”
Overall, A Sky Beyond The Storm wasn’t the perfect book, but it was a highly satisfying way to wrap up one hell of a YA Fantasy series that should be given more props than it really does. A lot of heart wrenching scenes and words are spoken as to show how the author really knows how to hit the readers right in the emotional gut and keep your interest, even if the series hasn’t gone in the direction you’d hope it go in.
A slower beginning and midpoint are what makes this just a four star rating for me, but let it still be known that this ended up being a magnificent book and had a satisfying series ending that seems to be so rare in most of the media we consume lately; it left me feeling a mix of emotions like happiness with how everything wrapped up for most of the characters but also sadness of all they had to endure, and like I said earlier, that this series is now over.
One thing that is certain is that Sabaa Tahir can freakin’ write a story. Her storytelling skills are undeniable and is able to really emotionally invest a reader should they choose to stick with this story all the way through. No book or author is perfect, but if this is her first series that she’s written, lord knows what else she may come up with.
If it wasn’t obvious by now, I can’t recommend this series enough to anyone who’s looking for an epic adventure filled with danger, surprising twists, fatal decisions, burning romance, and magic. I’ve been having that definite book hangover after this one because of all the years I’ve spent with this series, and once again a truly amazing story has come to an end.
***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!
***Warning! This book contains spoilers to previous books in the series! Continue reading at your own risk, you’ve officially been warned!***
To see my full review of book #1 – An Ember in the Ashes – Click HERE
To see my full review of book #2 – A Torch Against the Night – Click HERE
To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the series – Click HERE
Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars
I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Sabaa Tahir is an evil genius!
Never before has a story that’s so devastating, so visceral, so gut-wrenching in the YA Fantasy genre than this incredible—and underrated—book series that started off with a young girl trying to rescue her brother and a young soldier who just wants his freedom. Things seemed so simple back then, even though they weren’t, but so much has happened since then to not only Laia and Elias, but EVERYONE in these books.
I will admit, I loved the first book a lot more than the second book. I liked the simplicity in the idea of just these young heroes fighting for their freedom with the rebellion against the Martial Empire with a tiny hint of magic sprinkled in, but book two made the series go in a direction I was not fully expecting, nor was I incredibly thrilled about. It brought up ideas I was indifferent about, but fell in love with more characters as depths to their motives were revealed. This book made me fall in love with the books all over again, and in my opinion, saved the series from continuing to slump!
Was it perfect? No…
Was it fun and entertaining? Yes!
Did I cry like a baby at the end and go into a crippling book-hangover for about a week after I finished this book? ….yes.
I can agree with a few people who say this book was slower in the beginning and with Elias’s chapters, as I’m also not really on board for how his storyline is developing. I honestly never pictured how it’s played out from the way he was portrayed in the first book. While thats the case right now, this book ends in a way that makes me very curious to read what happens in the next book, because lesbehonest…it feels like a HEA is almost impossible for Elias and Laia at this point, and I just want them to be happy when this is all over!
Helene continues to slay across the page and become such a strong and fierce female as more and more terrible things keep happening to her thanks to Marcus and the Commandant. Helene and the latter forge a rivalry of who can become HBIC of the Martial Rule, and that was a highlight as Marcus slowly descends further into insanity and paranoia, but what surprised me was how the author explored his character a little more than usual this time around. I mean, he’s still a sadistic nutjob who needs to cool it with the threats against Helene and her family, but it was a surprise nonetheless. I will never complain about developed villain!
The Commandant continues on with her amazingness, and I continue to love her wickedness and overall badassery!
There was a significant less amount of romance in this book—some readers may like that, but I’m the opposite—and it seems like the author gets a kick out of putting just about ANY wall between Laia and being happy with Elias, but there’s another romance that develops that I had been shipping since the last book, so I was happy to see that become canon, and hope it continues into the next and final book!
Overall, I loved this book and it honestly saved the series for me! Since I wasn’t the biggest fan of book #2, I was nervous this book wasn’t going to be nearly as good, but then I get to the climax of A Reaper at the Gates, and in reading all that happens and having all the information revealed to me, I was absolutely blown away by the occurrences and how emotionally impacted I was! The way it was all tied together: The Cook, Laia and Elias, Helene, Harper, The Commandant, The Nightbringer, and the prophecy we learn about….I definitely teared up from this one, and only one other book did this to me back in 2018, and that was Kingdom of Ash, the final book in the Throne of Glass series.
It makes me just as sad all this time later in 2020 that this series is coming to an end at the end of the year. I will be depressed about it for quite some time, just being completely honest about that, but I also enjoy the challenge of continuing on and using all that I’ve gathered from this series that I love, and using that to find yet another series I can fall in love with and shamelessly promote to anyone else who’ll listen!
What It’s About:
I will sing you such a story—a story that was long untold. The story of a name and its meaning. Of how that name matters more than any other single word in existence. But I must prepare myself, for such stories are dragons drawn from a deep well in a dark place. Does one summon a dragon? No. One may only invite it and hope it emerges.“
– Sabaa Tahir, “A Reaper at the Gates”
The highly anticipated third book in Sabaa Tahir’s New York Times bestselling EMBER QUARTET.
Beyond the Empire and within it, the threat of war looms ever larger.
The Blood Shrike, Helene Aquilla, is assailed on all sides. Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable, while the Commandant capitalizes on his madness to bolster her own power. As Helene searches for a way to hold back the approaching darkness, her sister’s life and the lives of all those in the Empire hang in the balance.
Far to the east, Laia of Serra knows the fate of the world lies not in the machinations of the Martial court, but in stopping the Nightbringer. But while hunting for a way to bring him down, Laia faces unexpected threats from those she hoped would aid her, and is drawn into a battle she never thought she’d have to fight.
And in the land between the living and the dead, Elias Veturius has given up his freedom to serve as Soul Catcher. But in doing so, he has vowed himself to an ancient power that will stop at nothing to ensure Elias’s devotion—even at the cost of his humanity.
Curse this world for what it does to the mothers, for what it does to the daughters. Curse it for making us strong through loss and pain, our hearts torn from our chests again and again. Curse it for forcing us to endure.”
– Sabaa Tahir, “A Reaper at the Gates”
What I liked:
The Well Developed Villains! A definite highlight that was really surprising was how the author really took the time to shine a spotlight on the evil characters in this addition to their series. They’re still downright despicable, but there’s some hidden depths there now that do nothing but enhance the richness of a good story. The Commandant continues to be one of the most sadistic female villains I’ve ever come come across—something I’ve been saying since the beginning of these books—but even Marcus has more going on with his character, and you finally learn about the Nightbringer’s backstory…and what his master plot is!
The Stakes Have Risen Again, Indeed! The big reveal: what has The Nightbringer been planning all this time? What has all the buildup been about? Why is he there? Where did he come from? Who is he exactly? All this gets answered as the author finally exposes what his motive is.
The Climax Scene! Some may argue that the book has too much filler, and that really depends on the specific reader, but I can say the epic climax of the story really makes up for the slower plot points! So much happens, so much angst and betrayal and shock; it was one of the most emotionally impacting book moments I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. It was truly amazing how all these storylines came together, how the author included the prophecy into the actions of the characters, and the shocking events behind the Cook! I literally have chills thinking back on it…
The Slow-Burn Romance! Surprisingly, there wasn’t as much romance in this story, as the author has to come up with every single possible way to keep Elias and Laia away from each other…Helene and Harper have a nicely drawn out slow burn romantic sub-storyline that really develops. As someone who really shipped them since the previous book when Harper was initially introduced to us, I was happy for this to happen! I mean…Helene has a lot of heavy shit happen to her—as does everyone in this series—but she has had the most growth out of any character, so I’m more than fine for the author to throw her at least one freakin’ bone of happiness amongst all the misery!
What I Didn’t Like:
Elias’s Story Development…I’m not gonna lie…Elias’s whole storyline is not for me. I still love him as a character, but I just can’t get behind how his development, especially in this book, has come about. It’s still somewhat interesting and tragic, especially with how his relationship with Laia is affected at the end, but I can agree with other critical readers when they say his chapters were the slower parts of the whole book. However, I am very curious to see how his storyline developments in the next and final book!
Darin and Serric Steel Storyline Faces the Back Burner…I was majorly disappointed in how this whole storyline seemingly got dropped in this book. It was a huge part of Laia’s motivation as a character: to rescue her brother from Kauf prison and allow him to share how to use his valuable knowledge of the special metal to construct weapons to take on the Empire…but none of that seems to matter anymore. So, okay I guess…
THIS Was Where The Book Rebranding Occurred…I mentioned this in one of my previous reviews, but this series got rebranded and A Reaper at the Gates was when that happened. Personally, I do prefer the new covers because I think they make the series stand out a little more than the older versions did, BUT don’t rebrand books while they’re still coming out! Maybe do it years later once the series is complete, or just use the design for another series, but it’s tacky to do it right smack dab in the middle of the series. People like me are incredibly passionate about their bookshelves and are OCD about having their books match: hardcover or softcover, or if the covers match. While some would be more than happy to go out and repurchase the newly designed books all over again, some people need to worry about the cost of that as well! This may seem outrageous and completely extra, but like I said: I’m extremely passionate about the books I keep on my bookshelf, and I want my collection to match.
This book brings so much life into the series!
I was less than enthused about A Torch Against the Night, so this series sank from the pedestal a little bit, but this book changed that, and made me fall in love with the series all over again. One thing that’s stayed constant is the fact that I think the Commandant is easily one of the top villains I’ve ever read or watched in my life, somehow she gets worse and worse as the story goes on.
Sabaa Tahir writes her world in such a beautiful way, and does such a great job of creating complex and interesting characters, and I’d also say her writing has matured so well as the series has progressed. Its somehow gotten even more serious and gained an even darker tone.
It’s a shame that more people won’t read this series because it’s YA/Teen, but seriously, it’s such a great series despite that, and it doesn’t even read like a normal YA fantasy book; the only thing that makes it fall under the category is the fact that the main characters are teenagers.
Overall, what an amazing book, I was until 5 am to finish it, now I seriously can’t wait for the next title to release!
***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:
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!
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.
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?
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:
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?
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.
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.
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.