Well. I’m feeling… irked. Honestly, this series didn’t live up to the expectations I had after finishing the first book. If you want to see the visual definition of a “bummer”, go read my very first review of Shadow and Bone… and watch my hope for this series get crushed. I’m still glad that I read these books, because now I understand the Grishaverse and I’m READY for the Shadow and Bone Netflix series… but there were so many other directions I thought the story could go in. Once again, I felt like this book skimmed over all of the good bits, and instead focused on the wrong bits. So, before you continue reading this highly opinionated review, I’d like to briefly point out the redeeming qualities of this series: Nikolai (duh), and the insight into the Grishaverse, which we don’t really get in Six of Crows. Now, brace yourselves.
In the beginning, Alina is being held captive underground by the Apparat and his Sun Soldiers. Let me be straightforward: I felt like this detour underground was entirely unnecessary and it really did nothing for the plot in the long run. While I was reading it, I kept thinking “what are we doing here?”. I blinked and suddenly three months had gone by since they took Alina underground. And then I blinked again, and suddenly Alina and Mal were escaping to the surface with their gang. Wait, what? *head swings side to side, looking for more of the plot* The entire deviation felt soooooooo rushed and unnatural to the flow of the story, like it was added as an afterthought just to make it fluffy. I get it, three months went by and Alina was left weak and frail as she recovered from the battle with the Darkling (still think they both should have died right then and there). But, it could have been crafted better, with more mystery surrounding the Apparat and the Sun Soldiers. If it had to be included at all.
Once Alina and Co. reach the surface, they suddenly come across Nikolai, who magically rescues them and takes them to a secret lair. This also felt forced. I understand that when you read fantasy, there is a certain element of “that’s just the way it is, it’s fantasy so you can’t question it like reality”. So I don’t want to be too harsh while critiquing this series; however, a lot of this book just didn’t add up.
The Darkling attacks their base, which was chaotic and probably the only part of the story I enjoyed. Bring on alllll the chaos. He turned Nikolai into one of his monsters, which was badass, even if it did break my heart a tiny bit. Now that Nikolai has been possessed by a literal demon, it will make his continuing story in King of Scars that much more entertaining. The story sped up once again as Alina and Co. head to find the Firebird… only to learn that Mal has been the third amplifier the whole time. WTF. When we finally reached the battle scene between the Darkling and Alina, I was thoroughly miffed. At this point, I was only reading to get to the end of the book. The story lost me earlier due to all the inconsistencies and plot holes, and I had pretty much conceded to the fact that this book wouldn’t go down as one I enjoyed. Mal dies, but then doesn’t die? I didn’t understand how once Alina killed him, she lost her powers… but every single other normal soldier gained her powers… and he lived. Como se dice… forced.
I’d like to talk about the Darkling, who I still find alluring. I am prepared to die on this hill. The only parts of this ENTIRE series that felt right to me were the parts when Alina interacted with the Darkling. Sue me. I know that Leigh herself said that it isn’t healthy to like the Darkling, who is supposed to be abusive and possessive of Alina. But why?? Why did she have to make him the most interesting character if it wasn’t her intent for us to like him so much? He was hands down the only character in this series who had depth to him, and the story just blew right over it. And before you think I’m a sadist, I read into several other blogs and reviews on this topic and found that I am not alone in my appreciation of him (whew). Alina was drawn to him from the start, as like calls to like. They were meant for each other, and she was meant to be his equalizer. But she finally kills him in the most anticlimactic way possible: with a knife. Alina and Mal then go on to live a happy and boring life together… which I guess would be satisfying if you liked either of them. Bleh.
I know I’ve complained a lot in this review, so let me give some examples of where I would have like to see this story go. One: Alina and the Darkling die together in the chapel. She could have done it, and it would have honestly made more sense than the events that happened after. The story then picks up with Nikolai, which let’s be honest… he is the main character. Two: Alina joins forces with the Darkling, and combats him in a much more enemies to lovers type of way. She ultimately convinces him to do better, because he really was acting out of good intentions for the Grisha the entire time. Just think, he made Ravka a safe haven for Grisha, who were killed off or enslaved in the other parts of the world. Tell me this doesn’t make more sense!
Ok, ok… I just had to get this review off my chest. I mentioned this in my last post, but I’ll say it again: I can sit here and scream all day about how I wish the story would have gone down, but that changes nothing about the actual book. Ultimately, I found this series to be disappointing, and I certainly wasn’t satisfied after finishing it. So thank you for going on this tumultuous ride with me, I hope I didn’t offend anyone too much. While I’m excited to get to Nikolai’s story, I think I’m going to take a break from the Grishaverse for a little bit… let the dust settle until I’m ready for it again.