by Leigh Bardugo
This book has waffle-lover Nina Zenik, badass Zoya Nazyalensky and a lot of Nikolai Lantsov. Couldn’t ask for more…at least that’s what I thought before reading it the very first time. It turns out that there are more familiar characters from the trilogy in this one, and at least one appearance heavily affected my verdict about this book.
‚The monster is me and I am the monster.‘
The Darkling may be gone, but some of his magic hasn’t – Nikolai Lantsov, one true King of Ravka and Supremely Adorable Character Number One of the Shadow and Bone trilogy isn’t a monster any more – that spell was broken. At least everybody thought so, until it turns out they were wrong. At night, the king who must heal his broken country turns into a demon that has to be supervised by his most trusted advisors to ensure that he doesn’t murder his subjects. While Zoya and the other Grisha try to help him on his search for a cure, Nina Zenik is among her enemies. Heartbroken by the events of the most epic auction in Ketterdam’s history (it’s in Crooked Kingdom, in case you didn’t know. Read that fucking book!), she has left for Fjerda, the land of the Drüskelle who consider any Grisha as a witch waiting to be burned. Working undercover as a spy for Ravka, Nina tries to reveal the dark secrets of the Fjerdan military.
‚She wished she had Inej’s gift for spywork or Kaz’s gift for scheming, but she only seemed to have Jesper’s gift for bad decisions.”
I loved Nina’s story arc. Once again, I could only marvel at how Leigh Bardugo manages to portray Nina’s feelings, that overwhelming sense of loss and sadness. She really knows how to make her characters come alive. I also loved the first half of this book, all the intrigues of the Ravkan court, all of Nikolai’s ingenuity, all of Zoya’s sassy quips. Nikolai was better as a secondary character, I think, but his chapters were still an easy, entertaining read, mediating between his hopes for the country he loves and his fear of the demon inside. I never would’ve thought there could be something between Zoya and him, but Bardugo narrates their developing relationship as brilliantly as usual, and anyway, by now it seems to be something of a trademark of hers to make all of her characters fall in love with each other.
‚He plucked his wineglass from his abandoned dinner tray and drank it to the dregs. „One day you will overstep and I will not be so forgiving.“
„On that day you may clap me in irons and throw me in your dungeons.“ She crossed the room, took the glass from his hands, and set it on the table. „But tonight it is you who wears chains.“
Her voice was almost kind.‘
Zoya and Nikolai aren’t a thing yet, but they’re definitely on the way there. Speaking of on the way there: they were on the way to unravel the mystery of why there are so many strange things happening all over Ravka when the story suddenly turns for the worse. I love how you can never guess where Leigh Bardugo’s stories go, but this time it was too much of ‚Just whatever is happening here?‘ for me. That whole Saints plot was just…er, no. Too much, thanks. And once that part was over and we came for the ending – THAT THING happened. And I hate it! Why? Bloody hell, someone’s returning who’s supposed to be dead.
Dear authors, don’t resurrect your characters! The only resurrection in the history of literature I was ever okay with was that of Gandalf. I’m definitely not okay with what’s happened here. IF YOU KILL YOUR CHARACTERS OFF, LET THEM STAY WHERE THEY ARE. Because? Because once you’ve opened that particular box, death loses its meaning for everything you write. The next time you kill somebody, I’ll be like ‚Whatever, maybe they aren’t really dead. They’ll come back.‘ So I won’t be happy about a villain’s death anymore, and I won’t be particularly sorry about a beloved character’s death any more – because there won’t be a finality to it. Also, I think it’s quite petty to bring back old characters – I think Leigh Bardugo is creative enough to write new, memorable characters.
So the ending pretty much felt like a punch in the stomach. However, this was still a far-above-average-book to me for the biggest part of it. I loved Nina’s storyline, I loved Nikolai’s and Zoya’s banter, and I loved the Isaak plot. Five stars for that. Also, five stars for the writing as a whole. Leigh Bardugo remains my Queen of 3rd person narrators, thank you very much…but still, I really disliked what happened to Zoya and Nikolai in the second part. It was just too mad for me (I never thought I’d ever say that. Guess I’m turning into an adult. Maybe. Hopefully not.), and I really, really am not okay with that character returning, not at all. So…maximum three stars for that second half, which adds up to four stars, I guess. Oh, and can I have the sequel already? Please?
‚There had been a time when words had been the only place he could find solace. No book ever lost patience with him or told him to sit still. When his tutors had thrown up their hands in frustration, it was the library that had taught Nikolai military history, strategy, chemistry, astronomy. Each spine had been an open door away whispering, Come in, come in. Here is the land you’ve never seen before. Here is a place to hide when you’re frightened, to play when you’re bored, to rest when the world seems unkind.‘