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.
Released: June 17th 2014 Pages: 417
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. Source: Library
I'm going to take a moment to compare Shadow and Bone to Stormdancer. Both came out around the summer of 2012. The hype around both of them was nearly overwhelming. They both were praised for having unusual, unique, amazing settings and feisty female protagonists. Both were received with lots of cheering and applause. And yet, the Grisha series works, while The Lotus War fails in its second installment.
Here's why: the Grisha series is more than its setting. I find The Lotus War lacking in every aspect except setting. Sure, Japanese steampunk is cool, but what else? The Grisha series, on the other hand, has awesome characters, a compelling plot, and solid writing, all in addition to the fascinating setting. And that's why it succeeds where many other fantasy series fail.
You can't ignore the setting, though, despite all the series' other qualities. It's unique and beautifully realized. There was obviously extensive planning done for it, which results in an incredibly detailed and immersive world. I could always picture it clearly in my mind--and the picture was gorgeous. I want to visit Ravka. Or move in. It uses standard high fantasy elements, like a monarchical government, a magic system, and so on. The Russian influence is a fresh twist, though, that makes it feel unlike anything I've ever read.
I'm out. See you all later. Ravka needs me.
Ahem. Where was I? Characters--sure. While Alina once again spends a good chunk of the first part of the book either moping or doing nothing, I gained respect for her as the plot progressed. She's never been among my favorite protagonists, but I felt for her and genuinely cared about her. I had problems with Mal in Siege and Storm, but he redeems himself here. Despite his sometimes irritating perfection, he shows new sides of himself, and it made me care for him and connect with him on a deeper level than before. And then there's Nikolai. He's my favorite in this series, and is among my favorites from any series.
Yes, of course I track his Tumblr tags. For the longest time, I felt that him and Alina was the most logical ship, the only one that seemed like it could end well. I struggled with this, though, because--NIKOLAI. You've probably come across it, that character that you have a hard time shipping with anyone. Mostly because some part of you still holds onto the hope that someone will find a way to retrieve fictional from books (safely...yeah, Inkheart, I'm looking at you), and when if that ever happens, the ship will need to be open for you.
We can't forget David, either. David may not be my absolute favorite, but he's a close runner-up in this series. He's open and straightforward in a way that few other characters are. He's sweet, clever, and resourceful. And has an understated sense of humor that I love:“Everyone okay?" Mal asked.
"Never better," said Genya shakily.
David raised his hand. "I've been better.”
The plot is awesome, too, just like the characters. It starts out a bit slow, but as soon as it picks up, it never stops. It's more than your average fantasy good vs. evil story. The "good guys" can be dark and make difficult, questionable decisions. The "bad guy" doesn't always seem like a bad guy. The Darkling is a fantastic example of how shades of gray are the most important quality of an antagonist. It gets to the point where you're not even sure that he's the antagonist at all, which adds an extra layer of complexity to the book. I'm not in love with the Darkling in a way that many fans are--they ship him and Alina, or they even want him to prevail, somehow. While I love his complexity, his surprising softness, and the amazing skill with which Leigh Bardugo writes him, I can't root for him on this level. (And that's coming from the girl who loves Loki.) Still, though, he's a fascinating character.
I even managed to feel pain for him, at the end. Granted, I was feeling a lot of pain about a lot of things at the end. Mal, Alina, Nikolai, the Darkling--pretty much everyone got a share of my feels. The story speeds along toward the end, and for a concerning amount of time, it makes you expect the worst. I was afraid I was going to risk the loss of multiple favorite characters. And then the ending comes, and it wasn't anywhere near what I was expecting, but it was epic and perfect. The epilogue part caused so many feels, as well, but for entirely different reasons.
I debated my rating on this for a long time--four or five stars? It isn't a perfect book, or anywhere close. Whenever I consider its flaws, though, these thoughts are overshadowed by remembering how this book made me feel. I value emotional reactions to books so much, and I can't just overlook that. Plus, there's the awesome setting. In that case, I can't give it any less than five stars.