Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 26th September 2017
While these stories are set in Bardugo’s Grisha-verse, you don’t really need to have read those books (or remember them in great detail) if you fancy reading this: it’s a little collection of twisted fairytales, somewhat shaped by the world of the Grisha, somewhat just by Bardugo’s responses to old stories. There’s a version of Hansel and Gretel, a sort of prequel to ‘The Little Mermaid’, a retelling of the story of the Nutcracker…
Each story has a certain magic, and Bardugo handles them well: they feel like fairytales, while also feeling fresh and new. I liked Ulla’s story in particular, the last one in the collection — but I liked the perspective Bardugo took on each of them. For example, the sting in the tail of her Hansel and Gretel retelling… But I’d better not say too much.
Suffice it to say it’s a great little collection, and it’s probably going to be a beautiful book in hardcopy, too. I recommend it if you love fairytale retellings as well as if you’re a fan of the Grisha-verse.
As I’d hoped, Ruin and Rising is better paced than Siege and Storm, to my mind. Although some notable folks thought the opposite, so I suppose it really does depend on what you’re most interested in. I did enjoy the twist with the third amplifier, and the fact that finally they really got on track to deal with that plotline — so much of book two was spent wanting to deal with it and going back and forth on whether it was a good idea, etc, etc.
I did like the continued development of Alina’s character, and the way things worked out with that — the way she had to learn to deal with the things she had to do, and how ruthless she tried to be. How power had a hold on her as surely as it did on the Darkling, and on the pity she felt for the Darkling even despite his behaviour. I think you can judge a person (or character) by how they treat vanquished enemies, and Alina was generous about it: she remembered the Darkling’s name, made sure his wishes were honoured, etc. And I enjoyed Nikolai’s development, too, though I think a lot of the drama and interest with what happened to him was elided for the sake of Alina and Mal’s story. Which makes sense, since Alina is the narrator, but… I’d still like to have seen more of Nikolai. He is the sassiest, and also the most capable character.
All in all, I think it was a good conclusion to the trilogy, and I’m looking forward to seeing this world from a different angle in Six of Crows. Here’s hoping it’s as good as everyone says!
Siege and Storm, the second Grisha book, wasn’t quite as absorbing as the first, Shadow and Bone— though that would be difficult, since I read the first half of Shadow and Bone while walking back from the library. I’m not even kidding. I think the pacing was a bit off here, and the fact that the book is almost 100 pages longer did it no actual favours. It’s still a pretty quick read, but the extra 80 pages felt like unneeded bulk.
Or perhaps that’s the added time I spent disbelieving that Mal would keep being such an idiot. He plays right into the hands of his rivals. It’s like he liked Alina when she wasn’t powerful, when she needed him to look after her, and he could feel superior because he was taking care of her, he was the only one who saw her worth, etc. Granted, Alina herself is changing (and I liked that journey, the way the power is changing her and the conflict she feels about it) and of course that concerns him, but it doesn’t seem to be about that. He just doesn’t like that she’s no longer devoted to him and that she’s no longer his to protect.
Which is, well. Kinda gross.
Nikolai, on the other hand, is pretty awesome in all his guises. I like that the way he acts is carefully examined — he’s manipulative, and he knows it and uses it, but at the same time, he’s not 100% comfortable with it. He seems to care about his mother and about Alina. He also genuinely cares about his country, rather than wanting power for the sake of power. And unlike Mal, he’s very clear about what he wants and expects of Alina.
The Darkling isn’t much in evidence here, with just a handful of scenes. That leaves the book a little lacking, I think; his opposition isn’t enough felt for a good 100-150 pages in the middle. It makes the showdown at the end very sudden. I’m not mourning the loss of his manipulation of Alina — interesting parallel to Nikolai, who is at least open about it — but he felt a little… lacking in bite.
I’m interested to read the third book, and hopefully it’ll get more of the momentum back. This seems like a lot of criticisms, but I did enjoy Siege and Storm enough not to drop it another star.
I was vaguely not-interested in Shadow and Bone after reading a couple of negative reviews, which I think particularly mentioned the Russian influences and then overall not-Russian-at-all, fairly typical fantasy world setting. This is true, and if it’s something that will bother you, then yes, steer clear. However… I picked this up from the library at five o’ clock, walked to the station, got the train home, walked up the hill home, mostly without reading… and by six o’ clock, had got two thirds of the way through the book anyway. It was a fast read, and it was compelling.
Now granted, yeah, there’s some typical YA stuff going on — there’s a love triangle, for one. It came across quite well for me, though. I think it helped that Mal and Alina have such a clear bond, which has been confused in realistic ways as they grew up. And the Darkling has an obvious allure, and you can see why people trust him, want to be near him. I like the development of Alina’s powers, and her interactions with people around her. For a book with a guy called the Darkling and a main character who is a “Sun Summoner”, there’s a fair amount of ambiguity going on — there are several characters who don’t clearly align on a good/bad matrix.
Overall… I don’t quite know why I enjoyed this so much. Probably it matched my mood, in part, and it wasn’t a challenging read, while I wasn’t in a great mood. I’ll be interested to see how I react to the second and third books.