They had an ordinary life, full of ordinary things – if love can ever be called that.Leigh Bardugo
For the uninitiated, I mean those of you who have not been introduced to Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy world, this particular set (there are several others) has 3 books:
- Shadow & Bone
- Seige & Storm
- Ruin & Rising
All 3 will be adapted to screen on Netflix. In fact, the first of the series, Shadow & Bone is already available for you to watch.
Bardugo’s books unfold in a world where there is magic, darkness, romance and violence — loads of it. Every book of the series is an adventurous ride with twists and turns at every corner. And filled with oodles of romance. Although, not once is the romance a distraction or a detour. Or, an attempt to spice up an otherwise boring plotline.
Come to think of it. The romance does spice up the plot. And the premise.
Let me start with the premise. And reserve my comments on the good and bad of the book, for the very end of the post.
The books are primarily set in the fictional land of Raavka.
There is a heroine who is a cartographer. An orphan who is unaware of her power. And her identity — she is a Grisha. A magical being who can summon light. Meet Alina Starkov.
Her rock is her childhood friend, an orphan too, Mal. A Tracker who can track and locate magical beings.
They are friends and become more subsequently.
Then, there is the Darkling. An immortal magician, the Black Hermit who can summon darkness. The creator of the Fold, a place also known as the Unsea, where his dark creatures or the Volcra hover and feed over those who dare to venture into it.
Alina’s powers are a foil to his dark magic. A possible way to destroying the Fold and restore peace in a war-ravaged land where the soldiers are given a sword and a uniform. And where even twelve-year-old boys are expected to join the army.
And then, there is the most interesting character of the entire series. Nikolai Lanstov. The “bastard” prince whose charm, beauty, courage and astuteness keep you hooked in Seige & Storm. In Ruin & Rising he is turned into a Volcra by the Darkling.
Oddly enough, I found the scenes between him, a Volcra and Alina in Ruin & Rising much more potent and powerful than all their encounters in Seige & Storm.
Anyway, back to Alina, the Sun Summoner and the three men in her life.
All three are hankering and competing for Alina’s affections. As a reader, you vouch for the Darkling (Alexander to Alina & his Mother only) and Nikolai to win her heart. But, with each book, the author only strengthens Mal’s suitor-ship.
Until Alina ends up with Mal. Although, he does pay for it with his life. Well, almost.
Nikolai loses her but, manages to become the king. His burning ambition is realized. And Raavka gets an able king. For the first time.
And Darkling, well, what do you think happens to him? He meets the fate of Voldemort or Ravana.
Does evil ever have a chance to win over good? Not in fiction, at least.
Here, too, the Darkling dies in Alina’s arms.
Who kills the Darkling?
Alina, of course. The naive girl he had helped with discovering and channelizing her powers. The one who thanks to him, catapulted into a Saint. The confounded soul who under his guidance was on her way to greatness. The enticing young woman he wished would become his eternal companion.
Of course, the Darkling is not without his flaws.
He is a man prone to violence. And drunk with power.
Killing the Darkling leaves Alina powerless. And Mal dead. With the help of the other Grishas, Mal is brought to life later on. Destroying the Fold, however, turns Alina into a mere mortal. An ordinary human. Her journey to greatness is cut short. But, for a larger and nobler cause.
Leigh Bardugo leaves us with Mal & Alina in the place where their stories began. The orphanage, which has now been revamped and spruced up with better living quarters and resources — with regular visits from Prince Nikolai himself.
Alina & Mal are happy and basking in their ordinariness. Although Alina continues to fight the demons of her past.
What I Loved:
- The fantasy world.
- It’s believable and gripping to say the least.
- The detailing in creating the Grishaverse is a feast for the reader.
- Well-rounded. Credible. Relatable. Charming.
- If I were to choose one aspect of the book that stood out for me — it would be the character arcs and development.
- Kudos to Bardugo for creating such different and powerful male characters.
- And the side female characters, be it Zoya or Genya, they all stand out.
- The plot twists and perfect pace.
- I was never bored.
- Dazedly and hurriedly, I turned the pages while the googlies kept coming.
- The emphasis on love and hope and friendship over everything else.
Hope is tricky like water. Somehow it always finds a way in.Leigh Bardugo
What I Hated:
- The ending.
- Alina didn’t have to become ordinary to live an ordinary life.
- There is nothing wrong with greatness.
- Of all the male characters, Mal was the most unlikable and yet, he gets the girl.
- This is a big letdown for the fans and readers.
- Again, Leigh Bardugo’s penchant for glorifying the ordinary makes for a tepid finis to an otherwise captivating fantasy-romance series.
Do I recommend the Shadow & Bone Trilogy?
How much would I rate it on 5?
3.5 / 5