Review: Shadow and Bone Trilogy

Did I reread the entire Grishaverse books before the show came out? Why yes, yes I did. Well, almost. I really tried, too, and this was supposed to be the entire universe in one post, but not only did the reviews run away from me in length, I just didn’t get to all of it in time for this to post, so stay tuned for two more! I also forgot that Rule of Wolves was coming out, and so it ended up being the perfect opportunity to refresh my memory on everything. I meant to reread more of it in March so that I could get to ROW sooner, but reading series in a short space of time is probably the thing I’m least likely to do when it comes to books. I don’t know why, I’m just a terrible series reader. Thankfully, I utterly adore the Grishaverse, and Alina is one of my favorite characters, so I had a blast diving all the way back to the beginning.

Also, this is going to contain all sorts of spoilers. I feel like the first five books in this universe have been out long enough that no one is going to stomp their feet about that, but fair warning. I’m also 100% going to talk about the ending of King of Scars (in this post, actually), so if you still haven’t read it, don’t scroll past the first book here! I’ll try to be less spoilery about Rule of Wolves, but I’ll put a note before that review if things got away from me.

I think I’m probably in the same boat as a lot of people when I say that I read Six of Crows before the original trilogy–which, side note, I was shook by the Sturmhond/Nikolai twist in SOC and thought it was genius until I finally read S&B, and then I just felt dumb–and I was a little nervous, initially, about reading Bardugo’s earlier books, thinking they might not live up to the glory that is the Crows duology. And, I mean, I wasn’t wrong, but I also wasn’t right, and this reread has proved that all over again.

Shadow and Bone definitely stands apart from the Crows duology for a few reasons–it’s in first person, which I’m breaking down my theory on next week, the writing is a big departure from later books, which just makes sense, given how much earlier it was written, and the focus leans more heavily on romance. But, at its core, S&B is the kind of book that we all know and love so much. I see the same themes reflected across many of the fantasy books that I adore, and for good reason. The world that Bardugo has built is similar to Shadowhunters in that it’s so easy to create layers and layers of story, and I can absolutely see her continuing to thread new stories into this larger world. But, at its heart, the thing that I love the most about S&B is Alina Starkov. I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but she truly is a phenomenal MC.

I think the reason that many people complain about Alina is because they see themselves in her. She has very human, relatable emotions, and the way she reacts to all of the sudden turmoil and trauma of her life is exactly how many of us would react. When she’s sullen and angry on the ride to the Little Palace, I feel that right down to my bones. Truly, Alina reacts in a much stronger way than I think any of us would, given all the unbelievable things that happen to her in such quick succession. Her fortitude is something to be amazed by, and the way that she slowly finds steel in her heart and uses it to protect herself and those she loves is something to admire.

And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the Darkling. Is his relationship with Alina the most toxic thing ever? Yes! Does it still make my heart beat faster during the party scene when they escape to the queen’s rooms? Hell yes. The Darkling has so many vampiric qualities that of course we fall for him time and time again. He’s written in such a way that it would be weird if we didn’t find him seductive and charming. Granted, we do get to see the awful sides of him during the second half of the book, which brings me right around to Mal.

In a perfect world, Alina would end up with Nikolai and rule as Queen of Ravka, but that would kill her slowly, so I’m endlessly happy she has Mal. I’ve argued before that the best possible ending for Alina is alone, but I’m now retracting that argument because I think that, too, would probably break her into jagged pieces, and Mal is just the perfect complement for her. Say what you will about his brooding and brash nature, but y’all love those qualities in every single other character, so it sounds like you just don’t like him because you like Nikolai or the Darkling more. Mal is, truly, an outstanding support in Alina’s life, and there’s no better person for her to run away with.

I’ll be honest, I meant to review all three books at once, and then I unsurprisingly got carried about talking about Alina, so here we are, reviewing them one at a time! Because there was zero chance that I was going to skip over our collective fave, Nikolai Lantsov. I was absolutely gleeful this time around reading about the Sturmhond scenes, knowing where he was headed and getting to see him being his usual snarky self right from the beginning. He’s such a terd as Stumhond, too, and I can only imagine how readers initially received him before they knew he was Nikolai. I almost wish I’d read the books in order, too, so I could have watched Nikolai slowly unfold rather than just dancing with a stupid grin on my face literally any time he spoke.

In my original review of Siege & Storm, I unabashedly said that it was a five star read purely because of Nikolai, and, honestly, in the almost three years since that day, I stand firm behind that. This was again a five star read for me, and I’m confident that it was, again, because of Nikolai. Don’t get me wrong, I still adore Alina, and I am hella excited to round out this trilogy with her, and I will still always think highly of Mal, and I’m even excited that we’re finally getting to see the Zoya we all know and love, but Nikolai?? I can’t, I love this clever, obnoxious, sweet prince so much. And ugh, but my heart just breaks for him in the scene where he tells Alina he wants to kiss her. Every moment up to that was just drenched in calculation, but that? I don’t care what Alina thinks, that was pure Nikolai right there.

And that ending. Part of the reason that I get so up in arms over the ending of King of Scars is that we’ve already done this two separate times now. The Darkling has “died” so many damn times. I forgot, too, that S&S also ended with him nearly defeated, on the brink of death, and then whoops, just kidding, he was saved. It makes him seem both unkillable in a really predictable way and leaves me feeling a little hopeless with the characters. I mean, what’s the point in bringing him back in KOS? It just undermines this entire trilogy, which just infuriates me.

That said, we’re not quite there yet, and I love this book. It’s one of the few rare excellent middle books out there for trilogies, and it’s such a chaotic bridge between the first two. So much happens in this to setup things in the third book while not dragging, and I can’t wait to see everything unfold again.

I did truly mean to review the entire universe in this post, but alas, here we are with only the first three, although I’m not sure I’m even a little surprised. I love to wax poetic about even the smallest of things, never mind one of my favorite series. And wow, what a conclusion. There’s always a little part of me that’s sad that Alina doesn’t end up as the queen of Ravka, but most of me is just so relieved. I think many authors would have just leaned into that, and sure, Alina would have been happy eventually, but that happiness would have come at a price, and it would never have been total. It breaks my heart when I think of Nikolai still in love with her years later, but I’m also so excited for him to be with someone that loves him back completely. And honestly? Say what you want about Mal, but he is the perfect person for Alina, and I’m so damn happy to see them together at the end. They belong together! They’ve fought so hard to get back to each other and to stay together that it just overflows my heart with joy every time I read that last chapter.

I also really like that Alina ends up powerless. Even though she feels this desperation to find the firebird and connect each of the three amplifiers, she struggles so much with her power, and, by the end, I think she’s lost a bit of herself sans power. I think, if she’d gotten the three amplifiers in truth and had that much power, she would have ended up like the Darkling, and perhaps even sooner because she was so exhausted. And the way it happens, that the sun summoner power unravels all across Ravka, is just so poetic and beautiful. It’s so fitting for everything that Alina has gone through, where she’s come from, and how she wants to live her life.

Because, at the end of the story, the ending that Alina gets is the one that she craves, more than anything. It’s threaded constantly throughout her internal dialogue, and though she’s always reminding herself that she needs to put Ravka first, all she wants is to live a quiet life with Mal, and that she gets to do both? I mean, damn, okay, obrigado e mais, por favor. It’s just such a good ending.

There’s a lot to love even outside of the ending, too. Though it destroys me every time Nikolai gets tortured by the Darkling, it sets him on a path that I think he needed. Yes, Nikolai has fallen a lot from when we first meet him, but this final moment, that shows him what it is to be powerless, is good for him, and it creates a character arc that is both believable and very intriguing. We could not have had a Nikolai duology if he hadn’t had that encounter with the Darkling, not just for plot, but because there would have been nothing to force Nikolai through a shift in character.

I definitely cried a little at the end of this, and there were so many wonderful moments that I forgot about. I didn’t remember Harshaw & Oncat at all, but oh my gosh, wow, they were my favorite duo all over again. I thoroughly enjoyed watching my friend go from “wow screw Zoya” to “alright she’s pretty awesome”, and I can’t wait to watch her fall in love with Zoya even more in KOS. Misha going off to live with Alina & Mal in Keramzin broke my heart all over again, and Zoya, Genya, and David coming to visit them once a year just ugh. And don’t even get me started on the odd man that never takes off his gloves and stays late whenever he visits. The fan in me will just weep over the possible reunions between these characters forever and ever, and heck, who knows, maybe we’ll get to see one of them at the end of ROW.

This was way more of a journey than I was expecting, which is dumb because I know how much I love these books, and I’m honestly bursting with excitement over finally cracking open the Crows duology. I’ve only been saying I want to reread it for three years now! Hopefully, I’ll have at least Six of Crows reread before the show comes out, but I’ve got that duology review & the Nikolai duology review slated for May, so keep your eyes peeled!

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she/her | yoga teacher | Tibetan Buddhism | part-time witch | full-time author | astronaut in a previous life

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