A well-written trilogy with original elements. But the romance overwhelms the adventure when it should have stayed secondary. 3/5 stars.
What it’s about (to avoid spoiling the whole trilogy, here’s the blurb for book 1, Shadow and Bone:
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.
I apologise if this is less of a review and more of my ramblings about the trilogy. I’ll do my best to keep it succinct and spoiler-free. 🙂
Overall this is good, but I didn’t love it. I think it takes itself a little too seriously. Also the romance – which becomes drawn out and irritating (just get it together already!) – overwhelms what could otherwise have been a great fantasy adventure/action story.
Any lack of enjoyment had nothing to do with the writing itself. Within the first few chapters of Shadow and Bone it’s clear we’re in safe hands. Leigh Bardugo’s writing is fluid and absorbing, her style unobtrusive and easy-to-read.
I had a few issues getting to grips with all the foreign terms used in the world building but eventually I stopped trying to remember everything and let it wash over me. Besides, I loved the Slavic setting which distinguishes this story from other YA fantasy trilogies.
The weakest installment is Siege and Storm (book 2). Shadow and Bone carries you along in the drama of the set-up while Ruin and Rising has the pay-off of the big finale. But after the first third of Siege and Storm the rest of the book feels like our characters are treading water, hanging around squabbling among themselves while waiting for the baddy to turn up.
And the baddy’s name – “the Darkling” – was a specific problem. I’m sure the “-ling” suffix is linked to the Slavic setting/cultural inflections in the series. Unfortunately it immediately made me think “duckling” and so removed any chance of me finding him even the tiniest bit frightening.
Sorry. I imagine the duckling thing is an “exclusive to Claire” problem! 🙂
Each book is “bookended” by a short introductory and conclusion chapter told by an impersonal third-person narrator. The rest of the books are from Alina’s first-person viewpoint. I think it’s telling that my favourite parts of each of the books were these short bookend chapters. I didn’t warm to Alina enough to enjoy the story from her exclusive point of view. If the trilogy had been narrated in the third-person, switching between different character POVs, I think I may have got more out of it. Particularly because my favourite characters were in the supporting cast (especially Nikolai – he was great).
Thankfully, the ending is perfect. It was entirely consistent with the character development we’d seen throughout the trilogy and I found it very satisfying.
I would recommend this series to readers who love YA fantasy, although I think there are more enjoyable options out there (see my recent review of The Lunar Chronicles).