Ruin & Rising Review

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Book: Ruin & Rising (Shadow and Bone #3)

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Bechdel Test: Pass-There is a brief conversation (more like jibes) between Zoya and Genya that is not about men.

I decided to read Ruin & Rising right after Siege and Storm so that I would be done with both in time for King of Scars, though in a turn of irony, I’m feeling a little Grisha burnout, having read both back to back, so I reckon I probably won’t read King of Scars until a little later on in the year (excited as I am to see more of Nikolai!). Sadly however, I found the conclusion to this trilogy somewhat lacking, I don’t know if that is just a theme with Bardugo as I was quite disappointed with Crooked Kingdom as well, but I was expecting so much more from Ruin and Rising and in the end, it just wasn’t exciting enough for me as a series conclusion. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

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.

My major problem with this book, and it’s an ongoing theme throughout the trilogy was the pacing. THE PACING. I love Leigh Bardugo, but man did she have an issue with pacing these books. The chapters are ridiculously long, like getting on for 20 pages in most cases and yet NOTHING HAPPENS. The entire first two chapters was Alina wandering around in caves with The Apparat which added nothing to the story and quite honestly could have been skipped. I really didn’t see the point of the Apparat at all, he added nothing to the story. It took me at least half the book to finally get engaged with the story, which considering the book is only 350 pages long, is a bit ridiculous really. I also thought Alina should have struggled a bit more getting her powers back, considering that was quite a big cliffhanger at the end of the last book, but it takes no time at all and suddenly she’s more powerful than ever again? Nah.

I do love the dynamics between the characters, especially the Grisha, they have such great banter and that really helped to break up some of the bleaker parts of this book (of which there were many). Zoya in particular was a delight, I can’t wait to see more of her and Nikolai together in King of Scars, because their humour will just gel so well! The diversity in this series isn’t great, but we do get some minor lesbian rep in this book with Tamar and Nadia, so that’s better than nothing and I know Bardugo has got better on this front from reading Six of Crows. I did find however that it was quite difficult to follow the ever expanding cast of characters and Bardugo might have been better just focusing on the core few.

Speaking of Nikolai, there was nowhere near enough of him in this book! It takes six chapters for him to even appear, only for him to be taken out of action by The Darkling, and then basically just pop back up for the end of the book. He has some amazing moments, particularly when he confronts his father and takes the throne, but I felt like he wasn’t used to his full potential in this book. I didn’t really get the point of what Leigh Bardugo did to him in this book, it seemed more for shock value than anything else, and to get him out of the way of the main narrative, though it was nice to finally get context of where the “King of Scars” name comes from. I’m looking forward to finally seeing Nikolai do some “kinging” (yes I know it’s not a word, just let me use it anyway) in King of Scars, because he doesn’t really get that in this book.

Mal is still well, Mal. I find it quite ironic that his name, in Spanish means bad, because that’s exactly how I find him, so it’s really quite fitting (and yes, I know this book is Russian inspired, not Spanish inspired, but I just thought it was quite fun that was the translation). I didn’t find him as infuriating as in the last book, but I still don’t really see the chemistry between him and Alina, Alina and Nikolai have much better banter and things are so much easier and less angsty between the two of them. Considering that so much of this book relies on how invested you are in Alina and Mal, that was a bit of a problem for me as I don’t really like Mal at all, so all of the scenes of their relationship were kind of bland to me.

I LOVED Genya in this book. After being less prominent in Siege and Storm, Genya is back with a vengeance in this book and it’s glorious to behold. She refuses to be held back by The Darkling’s scarring of her face and takes on the King in what was probably the most satisfying scene of the entire book. I also really loved her and David, the scene where he tells her that he doesn’t see her as broken and that she doesn’t need beauty as her armour because her spirit is unbreakable was lovely, more romantic than any of the Malina stuff in this book!

I liked that we got more of Baghra’s backstory (and by extension The Darkling’s) in this book, it was great to finally see how all of the Morozova stuff ties into the main storyline (Baghra and The Darkling are his daughter and grandson) and having all that context made her inevitable ending pack that much more of a punch.

Alina kind of becomes inexplicably more powerful just to suit story purposes, which I guess, fine I can deal with, but for someone who struggled so much to master even basic magic, it seems weird that she picks up this new stuff with ease, after all, she still hasn’t been using her powers all that long and she still has the same number of amplifiers as the last book, so there’s not any real reason why she should suddenly be able to do all this stuff other than we need her to for the story. Still, I loved the whole invisibility thing and found it so cool that Bardugo based it on real science!

I thought the twist with the amplifiers was good (I can’t really explain without going into too much spoilery territory, I know this book has been out for five years, but I still don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t read it) but it did kind of negate most of the first half of the book since searching for the firebird was so integral to that.

Getting more of the Darkling’s backstory did make him more sympathetic but I still felt like he wasn’t a fully rounded character by the end of the book, it felt like Bardugo was using the fact that he was this enigmatic character to avoid any real development and I had the same problem as the last book, he’s never really a strong enough presence to feel dangerous, he just shows up, does evil and then goes away again, he appear in maybe 5 chapters of this book total? I don’t know, I just didn’t feel like he ever reached his full potential.

I thought the whole final battle was kind of anti-climactic, we’ve built up to this for three books, and yet it lasts a single chapter, everything is dealt with quite easily and even the parts that were meant to be emotional (I can’t elaborate due to spoilers) fell flat. There was just so much planning, so much buildup, that I was expecting something really epic and it just….wasn’t.

Again, without meaning to go into spoilery territory for anyone who hasn’t read it, I found the conclusion with Mal, just far too easy. It didn’t feel earned, it felt like Bardugo took the coward’s way out of resolving that storyline and I would have been far more interested to see what would have happened if things had gone the other way. It didn’t feel like Alina had to make any real sacrifice, which we had been promised throughout the book.

The epilogue, I have many thoughts about. On the one hand, the ending does make sense for who Alina is as a character and I understand why she would have chosen that ending, but I can’t quite reconcile that fact with that it wasn’t what I would have chosen for her, I think there could have been a way to keep a similar sort of ending without the frustrating parts, but there’s not much more I can really say about it without veering into spoiler territory, so I guess those of you who haven’t read it will have to make up your minds yourself. One thing I will say is that I thought Bardugo already had a killer final line at the end of chapter 18, and I think the line she chose to end the epilogue with was kind of cliche, so honestly I think it would have been a more satisfying ending without the epilogue, and I wouldn’t have really minded not getting a concrete resolution to the ship stuff, since it’s clear enough who Alina chose (that’s a whole different set of issues that again would veer into spoiler territory, if anyone wants to talk to me about it, please DM me on Twitter, I have FEELINGS), I didn’t think we really needed the epilogue to clarify things.

Overall, Ruin and Rising was a bit of a disappointing way to end the series, it’s a bit of a problem when the final battle in your second book is more intense than the climactic battle of the trilogy! The plot was limp, the pacing was all over the place and I wasn’t wholly satisfied by the conclusion. That being said, I did love most of the characters (Mal and Alina aside really), the writing was good (not Six of Crows level, but good) and the group banter was brilliant, so it wasn’t a total loss, it just wasn’t a total win either.

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will either be of Alex and Eliza by Melissa De La Cruz, or Enchantee by Gita Trelease, I’ve already read Enchantee but UK pub date isn’t till the 21st February, so if I don’t finish Alex and Eliza before then, then my Enchantee review will be up first.

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Siege and Storm (Shadow and Bone #2) Review

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Book: Siege and Storm (Shadow and Bone #2)

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Bechdel Test: Pass-Alina and Tamar have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around men.

My first read of 2019 (since all the reviews I’ve done so far this year were hangovers from 2018) was Siege and Storm, the second book in the Grisha trilogy, in a nice bit of symmetry from last year, where Shadow and Bone was the first book I read in 2018. I was a little bit unsure about completing this trilogy, since I wasn’t overly keen on the first book, but since I really want to read King of Scars and was told I’d find it difficult to understand without the original trilogy, I decided to finish the first two books this January so I would understand what was going on when it came to King of Scars. Thankfully I did enjoy Siege and Storm more than Shadow and Bone, the introduction of new characters, particularly Nikolai, made it far more captivating, and the plot had a lot more substance to it than Shadow and Bone (though it still felt a little padded at 370+ pages). Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Darkness never dies. Alina and Mal are on the run. Hunted and haunted, but together at last, they can’t outrun Alina’s past or her destiny forever. The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and he needs Alina to realise his dangerous plan. There are others who would like to use Alina’s gift too. And as her power grows, somehow, she must choose between her country, her power, and her love – or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm. Glorious. Epic. Irresistible. Romance. Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and Laini Taylor. 

I have to admit, I still had some of the same issues with this book as I did with the first, particularly in regards to pacing. The chapters were once again overly long, and it still felt like the book was longer than it really needed to be, though there was more action spaced throughout the book this time rather than all in a big chunk at the end, and the final battle was epic, so I did appreciate that.

I loved all the new characters introduced, especially Nikolai. NIKOLAI. I had been waiting for ages to meet Nikolai, because I initially read the Shadow and Bone trilogy because my friend told me how much she loved Nikolai and I have to say, I finally realise what all the fuss was about. Nikolai was everything I wanted him to be, sassy, clever, incredibly cunning and honestly I just love him so much, I cannot wait for King of Scars even more now.

I wasn’t that keen on Alina in the first book, but I have to admit, I enjoyed her more in this one. I don’t know whether Nikolai had just rubbed off on her, but she seemed to have developed a sense of humour in this book! I also liked seeing her embrace her power and toy with the line of darkness a little bit more. I was unsure about her taking on the role of leading the Grisha at first, but she grew into it and by the end I was enjoying seeing her take charge. I would like it if she didn’t have three potential love interests because I am seriously done with the all the guys are in love with this one girl trope, but I guess you can’t have everything.

I really hated Mal in this book, he was kind of insufferable! All he really seems to do is moan and be grumpy and whilst he has perfectly good reasons for being so, I just didn’t really enjoy reading about it. I still don’t really see the chemistry between Mal and Alina, honestly I saw more chemistry between her and Nikolai!

This book was a lot more funny than the last one, courtesy of Nikolai and Alina’s new found sense of humour and I appreciated that, because SHIT GETS REAL, in this book, so it was nice to have that added bit of humour to break up the sadness/darkness.

I’m still not entirely sure about the Darkling, I don’t quite get what everyone loves about him. He’s still kind of an enigma and comes across as kind of one dimensional to me, we don’t really know anything about his motivations, so he kind of just shows up, is evil and goes away again. I appreciate that he’s powerful and that alone makes him quite an intimidating villain, but I still wish we knew more about him because he still doesn’t feel entirely fully drawn to me. I also don’t really get why people ship him with Alina, he basically gaslights her through the entire book and that’s just…..not healthy.

I felt really bad for what The Darkling did to Genya and I hope that she and Alina are together more in the next book, because Alina really needs some more girl friends!

The stakes are finally feeling higher in this book, which was great, our main protagonists finally have a goal to work towards, and this book always feels like it is working towards that purpose which made the plot feel a lot tighter than in the first one which is good.

I still think Leigh Bardugo’s writing in Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom is better than here, but I can’t deny that she definitely improved between Siege and Storm and Shadow and Bone and I found this book a lot more entertaining and easier to read.

The final few chapters were just amazing, Leigh really knocked it out of the park with the ending and really made me glad that I had Ruin and Rising on hand to read next, so I could immediately find out what happened after.

Overall, Siege and Storm was a vast improvement on Shadow and Bone, the plot was tighter, the writing was better, I finally got to meet Nikolai and it finally feels like there are real stakes in this world. I’m looking forward to seeing how Ruin and Rising wraps up the trilogy.

My Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of the final book in this trilogy, Ruin and Rising, although I don’t know when it will be up as I’m still not particularly far through it.

 

 

Shadow and Bone (Shadow and Bone #1) Review

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Book: Shadow and Bone (Shadow and Bone #1)

Author: Leigh Bardugo

First book review of 2018, everyone! Who’s excited? Okay, just me? Moving on then. My first read  of 2018 (and my first #RockMyTBR read) was the first book in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, recently renamed The Shadow and Bone trilogy as she is expanding the Grishaverse. I was super excited for this one, because I absolutely loved Six of Crows when I read it last summer but sadly it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. The plot was slow paced, and didn’t really pick up until right at the end, so it felt a lot longer than the 300+ pages of the book and I really couldn’t connect to the main character at all, which was such a shame. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.

Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite – the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?

The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfil her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.

But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him?

Glorious. Epic. Irresistible. Romance. Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and Laini Taylor.

First off, the pacing was incredibly uneven. Some chapters were like thirty pages long and some were like seven and I didn’t like this at all, it made the book very difficult to get into, especially when the plot was incredibly thin on the ground for most of the book (the prologue was really gripping but then it severely slowed and didn’t pick up again till the end), for the most part it focus on Alina training and learning how to use her powers and whilst that’s important, it wasn’t the most fun to read about for twenty or thirty pages at a time.

Then there was Alina herself, who I just couldn’t connect to at all. I mean okay, I am in my twenties now, so that could be part of it, but even considering that, I’ve managed to find YA characters that I could connect to before. Alina for me, just seemed bland, for a lot of the first half of the book she was incredibly mopey, she got a little better when she started to grow into her powers but I still found her a little dull and I just didn’t really care about her at all. Mal as well, didn’t really seem to have any semblance of a personality, so of course, I didn’t really feel the romance between them because how can two such bland characters have any kind of chemistry? Answer: they can’t.

I also hated how Alina acted to any girl who showed even the slightest bit of in Mal, like girl, you haven’t told him how you feel about him, he’s not dating you, other girls are allowed to be interested!

Whilst Leigh Bardugo did go for the special snowflake here, I appreciated that despite having these awesome powers, Alina did struggle in learning to use them, it’s irritating when protagonists have awesome powers and are amazing at everything else, Alina might have had these cool powers but she wasn’t good at everything and I appreciated seeing her struggle.

The Darkling was an interesting and complex character and I wish more time had been focused on him, he’s this charming and manipulative and ruthless guy but we don’t really get to see that side of him very much as Bardugo spends a lot of time trying to convince us and Alina that he’s decent. I wasn’t much of a fan of the hints of romance between The Darkling and Alina though, he’s several hundred years older than her for one and that makes me rather uncomfortable, I know it’s common in Fantasy, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Also must we with the love triangles? I know this was published a few years ago, but the point still stands!

The world building was okay, I guess. I liked the magic system with all of the different types of Grisha powers, I thought that was cool, if not the most inventive system in the world. The world is Russian inspired, but some of the Russian influenced words didn’t make sense, especially the fact that Alina’s surname was the masculine version of the name when it should have been the feminine version. There were other mistakes in the names as well, Genya and Ilya are both male names used for female characters and one of the characters’ names is a swear word, so overall, more research needed to be done into Russian culture. I did think that the way the Grisha’s use of their powers actually made them stronger was pretty cool, as most fantasy books tend to go with using magic making the wielder weaker. Still, whilst I think the Grisha and their society were developed well, I would have liked to know more about the world in general. I found The Shadow Fold incredibly confusing and there were a lot of places that were just kind of brought up and then dropped.

I really enjoyed Genya and Alina’s friendship and I was kind of sad with what the plot twist did to them because aside from her, Alina didn’t really have any female friends. I liked Genya as well, she was kind of vain, and funny and I just enjoyed reading about her, so I hope those two find a way to patch things up in the next two books! There was a lot of focus on looks, Alina seems to be obsessed with how pretty other girls are, and whilst I can understand that from a teenage girl point of view, twenty one year old me found it kind of irritating. I also didn’t like how Alina shamed Genya for calling herself beautiful, like self acceptance is a good thing Alina?

I think Leigh Bardugo’s writing skills have definitely got better over the past few years, not that this was badly written, it wasn’t at all, but I preferred the writing in Six of Crows, one of her later books, it was tighter and involved less inner monologue!

The map was very cool, I always love it when books have a map!

There were some interesting twists, mostly in the latter half of the book and I’ll be interested to see how those twists affect what happens in the next book. Honestly, if those twists hadn’t happened, I would have been unlikely to finish this book, so I’m glad they did, although you do kind of have to suspend disbelief with how quickly Alina accepts one of the plot twists.

Part of my problem with this book is not actually the book’s fault, I had been told so much about Nikolai Lantsov by my friend, who loves him, so I kept expecting to see him and love him, without realising that he doesn’t actually appear until the next book!

Overall this book was decent, but it does read as a rather cliche YA fantasy and was a little bit of a letdown after Six of Crows. I am going to continue on with this trilogy as I want to meet Nikolai and see what happens with The Darkling, but I definitely wouldn’t count this book amongst my favourite fantasies I’ve read.

My Rating: 3/5

Bechdel Test: PASS-Genya and Alina have various conversations that don’t relate to boys (I should explain here: I’m analysing the books I read this year to see if they pass the Bechdel Test, a test for female representation in media. In order to pass, a piece of media must have two or more named female characters who discuss something other than a man).

My next review will be of Everless, by Sara Holland, my latest Netgalley read, I should have it up for you guys tomorrow as I have the day off Uni.