Review: Siege and Storm / Leigh Bardugo

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Disclaimer: This review is semi-spoiler free; meaning I won’t give away any major events but I will be mentioning facts pertaining to well beyond the first chapter.

Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

I feel as though I should start off by disclaiming that this is the third book I’ve read by Leigh Bardugo so far, Six of Crows and Shadow and Bone being the previous ones. In fact, I wanted to write this review right after finishing Siege and Storm but fatigue got hold of me and as trying to stay focused was becoming harder and harder by the minute I decided to postpone it to the next day. Now here I am, with a clear mind and ready to put all my thoughts and feelings regarding this second installment in the Grisha trilogy into words.

First of all, I loved the way Leigh Bardugo crafts her stories and how she embellishes them with her one-of-a-kind, partly poetic, partly sarcastic writing style. Of course, I could go on and on about these great qualities of hers but I’ll leave it to the part where I actually get to talk about each and every one of these topics individually or else I’m going to repeat myself every sentence or two. Especially after diving into her Grishaverse which was as twisted, dark and magical as ever before but, unfortunately, I felt myself being confronted with mixed feelings throughout the course of this book time and again. Believe me when I say it was just as much of a shock to me as it might be to you right now. And – fear not! – by this I mean in no way that this book was bad whatsoever. Siege and Storm just couldn’t live up to its prequel and spin-off and especially the sensation of devouring said-books was still mingling in the back of my mind which might be the reason for my slight disappointment. Leigh Bardugo has outdone herself with each book but this one just couldn’t set the stakes any higher than her previous works, that’s at least how it was for me. But again, it was by no means bad. It just didn’t particularly strike me as phenomenal either. In fact, there were parts I loved and, on the other hand, disliked about it. So, let me quit my seemingly-endless blabbering here and now before I get off the track. No need, to hum you into oblivion…

    “Weakness is a guise. Wear it when they need to know you’re human, but never when you feel it.”

You get where I’m coming from when I say how very well written her stories are? Well, there’s definitely no denying that her writing is a gift from the merciful gods themselves – I might be exaggerating here but you might as well fight me on it if you dare! – And this little quote above is just a little demonstration of her abilities as an alluring author. I love the way she crafts word after word, leaving the reader a slave to her personal rhythm and, ultimately, bending his/her emotions the direction she wants them to go. She has always taken me entirely by surprise so far and continues to do so in this book either. I already mentioned the melodic and poetic tone to her writing style which wrenches a bittersweet feeling from the reader in an instance, sucking him or her right into a gloomy, beautiful world of magic and keeps him/her begging for more when reached the finish line. Especially the way it corresponds with the dark atmosphere of the story won’t stop but catch me unawares every time I read one of her books. In this regard, Leigh Bradugo never seems to falter, much to the reader’s pleasure.

And as always, I can’t help but fall for the intertwined Russian elements. It just makes me want to travel there and explore every hillside, every little river and mountain this ginormous country has to offer. Just thinking about the opportunity of being surrounded by such rough and compelling lands sets my mind at ease with unforgiving speed. But it’s not only the very nature of Russia that allures me to such extent but rather its culture and history that fill my heart with longing. The way Leigh Bardugo wove those traits into the story almost made me forget that I was reading a mere novel and not some book about folklore. I would even go so far as to say that it felt like reading a fairytale because partly her writing style works wonders in this regard, of course, but mainly due to the fact that everything she brought up in her story had a very much whimsical undertone to it, as it can only be found in such tales. And not to forget the language, I bet each time some Russian words were coming up I was trying my best at speaking them out loud. But I won’t discuss my successes and failures with you now, even though I think there might have been slightly more of the latter. Only slightly, though…

I think the following makes for a great transition as I was just about to go over to the actual world presented in the book, or also called the Grishaverse. As you can see a bit of it in the image above the world is divided into multiple kingdoms; Novyi Zem, Kerch, Fjerda, Shu Han and last but not least, Ravka. The main events are focused on places within Ravka, as in the first book, which would make sense since the Grisha’s homeland lies within Ravkan’s borders. With each book Leigh Bardugo unveils a little bit more of her world, but ever so slightly as not to rush us with information which I’m really glad about. She gives us just enough facts to draw on those previous strings and expand them even further but all the while she focuses on the Grisha’s kingdom. As I already mentioned I loved the Russian traits in it so much. For me it was not only the architecture or even the culture that made it come to live but rather the gloomy atmosphere that went alongside all that. Crossing the dangerous, wild sea, facing magical creatures that were only known to be myths, dark, muddy alleyways in a far-off village and beautiful, high looming palaces in Os Alta. All that and more can be found in the Grishaverse. I also want to include the magic system; Grisha, the masters of the Small Science and members of the Second Army, can be seen as witches and sorcerers as they either control the elements, the very anatomy of every being or are able to craft the most unbelievable things. And that’s the reason why most humans are afraid of their powers which is the very reason for the upcoming battle that decides that fate of thousands. But for the first time ever we get to hope that both factions could actually work together as one union and fight against those who want destruction and revenge. Since I started this series I didn’t dare hope for this to come true. All the more reason to celebrate this little twist. I, for my part, loved the complexity of both, the world and the magic system of this series so much for it continues to amaze me with its richness in detail and its great magnitude.

“Were you always this much trouble?”
“I like to think of myself as delightfully complex.”

I also want to remark the diversity this series has to offer the reader. It melts my heart to see more and more authors opening up to this “touchy” subject as I like to call it. It shouldn’t be this way, though. We live in the 21st century and should act like it! And I very much embrace the fact that most people in this community seem to share those interests with me as well. Hereby, I don’t tell you to only read diverse books from now on! God forbid! I don’t even do that myself for I pick up books that strike my interest and not more but if diversity is part of this read then so be it. I’m surely the last one to complain. I only want to open your eyes to the possibility of not only including white and straight people but rather other ethnicities and sexualities as well. Regarding this very case here, laid out in front of us, Bardugo executed the diversity in form of displaying more than only one skin color. She depicted this topic even more so in her Six of Crows duology where she combined both factors in her story line which made this world even more complex.

Going on with the not so brighter side of things, namely the plot. Well, the problem for me was that not all too much happened at all over the course of Siege and Storm. This would’ve proven even more of a problem if not for the writing style and the characters. But, fortunately, it was them who provided the reader safe passage until the end. And, also luckily, it was indeed only the lack of plot and not the added misfortune of being not okay with how things went down at the end. To me the book started out very promising and the ending… don’t even get me started on this final part but, well… everything in between? In fact it did seem to me to be more of a bridge book than anything else. It’s still covered with the reek of the second-book-syndrome, sadly. (For all those who don’t know what that is; It applies to, who would’ve thought, a second book or a sequel in a series that is being outshined by its predecessor and therefore considered a disappointment. – Just to make things clear). As I said the beginning was great; the ruined hope of safety, being back in the Darkling’s clutches and then the search for the second amplifier of Morozova on a privateer’s ship, the upcoming ambush, but then… then everything went downhill. Well, just until the last 70 pages or so because the pace went back straight up by then, leaving the reader breathless. Myself included. This final part still has my mind reeling relentlessly. I can truly count myself lucky of being able to marathon this series for I own all the books. Honestly, that’s all I need in life right now after this blast of a cliffhanger threw me in a bottomless pit. But to throw in some good news on my part; I definitely loved the general direction this story was going. Compared to book 1 this installment embraced a much darker tone and showed it in various thoughts and actions of the characters, which I will get to in a bit. Everything seems so much more unpredictable the deeper the reader stalks forward. Anything could happen and I already try to confront myself with the very idea of being a useless mess after finishing Ruin and Rising, or merely just a shell, unable of continuing on with my life from that moment on.

Even though what I want to talk about next will be significant to explain the above a bit further I wanted to dedicate it its very own paragraph. The middle part… plot-wise there wasn’t much to talk about, but in all things else? A deluge of hormones. There was testosterone every where. It seemed to consume the actual story at some point. I won’t lie, I did enjoy some parts of it, and maybe it’s vital for the following character development but I can only review what I read and it really started to get on my nerves. I wanted action, I wanted intrigue, but what I got instead, was a whiny boy, brawling and spilled tears. Over and over again and there seemed to be no end to it. I enjoy a good romance and as I said I did enjoy some parts of it but the rest was just insufferable. There were actually times were I wanted to smack my head through a brick wall between all those backs and forths. I want to end this on good terms, though, by promising you some scenes will be worth the effort and wait. Believe me, they were so bittersweet. I might just reread them afterwards for the sake of it.

    “Don’t wish for bricks when you can build from stone. Use whatever or whoever is in front of you.”

Moving on to the characters; again this category includes a rant but, fortunately, it’s just a minor one. So no need to worry just now! With the atmosphere getting darker, the characters take on a darker shade as well. This very change is being reflected in their every move, each and every one more calculated and ruthless than the last. New allies and enemies are made alike. Friendships fall apart. Sanity becomes a rareness among them all. The only thing that counts henceforth is who has the most power and who is able to gain the upper hand. And yes, this applies to them all, or at least most of them. So let me start with our narrater, Alina Starkov, the Sun Summoner, the Saint, Sol Koroleva, etc. etc. … She has grown on me so much over the course of this book. The burden she has to carry is enormous and she deserves so much more respect for all that she has done and sacrificed in order to protect those she holds dear. But beneath this shell is a broken girl, one who never truly got the chance to live a life full of happiness. It stands to reason that she would change so soon. That she had to change and become the fierce warrior she is now. Actually I like that part of her that stands up to what she things is right and I can’t wait to see her rise to unknown heights; of what I’m sure of will happen in the last book. Next off, I present to you Sturmhound, Nikolai Lantsov, Prince of Ravka… *cough* the love my life *cough*. Even in the very beginning I could sense greatness radiating from him. And I wasn’t mistaken. Honestly, I was a bit shocked as he unveiled his true identity but this reshuffled the pack, making for a shocking scene, just what he is so good at. I loved how strong he could be if need be, but deep down he is just a young man trying to take on the world and making himself a name by not showcasing all his titles but by deserving them through hard work and effort. Am I the only one to ship him with Alina? I can’t be the only one who thinks they’d make a great pair of rulers on the Ravkan throne. And I swear if he doesn’t make it to the end, I will come after you, Leigh Bradugo. That’s a promise… Last but not least, Mal. He’s the origin of my anger. For someone who has started out on good terms with me quickly became the reason of my outrage. He only cared for himself. He so desperately wanted to call Alina his own when she had the burden of the safety of the world to carry. As the story went on he became more and more agitated to do something, to feel useful again. He just couldn’t bear the fact that Alina might be strong enough on her own now and doesn’t need constant company to keep her safe anymore. At the end he let her down and hurt her heart multiple times. This is unforgivable, no matter the situation. I really hope for his characters to take on a good path again, for he has a vital role in this game. He just needs to leave the orphan behind and move forward. Hopefully he is able to find happiness then.

A world full of fantastical beings, a journey as bloody as never before, vicious schemes and intrigues marking a new era among them all, the war forges on, leaving nothing but madness and greed in its wake. With new players being introduced and old enemies returning the battle has only just begun. Leigh Bardugo crafted a fairytale out of this world to take you on an adventure that will most likely leave a shattered soul behind.

Rating: 3.75/5

Review: Crystal Storm / Morgan Rhodes

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The ruthless Empress Amara of Kraeshia has taken the Mytican throne, and now uncertainty looms over the three kingdoms. Since Lucia unleashed the fire Kindred, wreaking havoc throughout the land, Myticans have been looking for someone—anyone—they can trust. They believe in Amara, not knowing her grand promises are built on lies.

In Paelsia, Magnus and Cleo reluctantly follow King Gaius to the home of his exiled mother, Selia. Selia is a powerful witch and claims she can help unlock the magic of the Kindred—if the visitors agree to her terms. When Jonas arrives from Kraeshia, he is shocked to find that his rebel army now includes his sworn enemies. Along with Nic, Felix, and the mysteriously resurrected Ashur, the contentious group agrees to cast aside old grudges—for now—and united against their common enemy: Amara.

Meanwhile, bearing the child of a Watcher and feared by all, Princess Lucia travels across Mytica to find her family. But time is running out. The impending storm signals the dark prophecy Timotheus warned her about. Her fate is written, and it includes none other than the rebel Jonas. When their paths collied, Jonas and Lucia must decide between blindly following their destiny or fighting for their own free will.

The battle for power culminates at the Paelsian palace, where Amara resides. Rain pours. Blood spills. And soon all will discover that the darkest magic comes at an even darker price.

It took me quite some time to gather my wits after finishing this book. Even now I’m still not really sure whether all of the provided information made it into my damaged brain safely for I’m still in a constant state of denial regarding the last few pages, which, of course, I won’t discuss any further than that; but please be aware of the fact that this ending will most likely leave an innocent, shattered soul in its wake. Consider yourselves warned!

I marathoned the previous books in this series around earlier this year and since then I passionately awaited book 5, Crystal Storm. As soon as my preorder arrived I locked myself up in my room and dived into a world full of magic, violence and intrigue. If I had to describe this series with only three words those would definitely come into my mind first for each and every book enhances these elements with unbelievably deadly precision. Powerlusting kings and queens doing anything to attain what is rightfully theirs, dark, magical beings ripping towns apart until it rains blood and an evil force dooming them all… This and more will await you in this second to last installment. If this premise alone didn’t get you hooked than I certainly don’t know what else will.

“The fire that hollows us out is what allows us to be filled with strength and power where before there was none.”

It’s impossible for me to put everything that happened into words and add my two cents but I very much lean on the term revelation book for it sums up a very great deal of the plot without giving away too much just yet. So it’s safe to say that a lot of the things we took for granted until now we’ll be turned upside down in this world of secretiveness, with your sorry head being on the receiving end of processing everything we thought to be reality and changing it up now that we know better. If this sounds frightening, don’t be for it will make perfect sense in the aftermath. Honestly, I was rather impressed by the fact how complex Morgan Rhodes crafted the relations in this installment and everything beyond. Pieces we didn’t even thought to be missing were uncovered in the most beautiful way possible, slowly but steadily forming a huge web of constructed perfection. I would even go so far as to say that it reminded me a bit of a puzzle coming together; the only difference here is we already thought we were in the know… but oh no, how I very much mistaken I was back then. This book showed me how easily deceptions can be formed and how willingly people are able to fall for them either, without so much as a second guess. In a world, where intrigue is a major part of everyone’s agenda, this can be a deadly mistake; one no one wants to fall for again…

The above is still gnawing at me to this very day and, by far, one of my favourite aspects to this book. But, granted, there are quite a few other things I want to talk about as well; one of them being the world building and setting. Everyone keeps saying: “Falling Kingdoms is a Game of Thrones for young adults” and honestly, there might be hidden a germ of truth in this say, but let’s give this series the credit it so very much deserves; a world divided into multiple kingdoms, reckless rulers trying to lay claim on the throne in a competition for crucial power, an evil force looming to destroy the world as we know it etc. etc. … I, as a passionate fantasy reader, know what I’m talking about when I say that this premise is very common ground this genre stands on. In the end, it’s all up to the author to mix it up with unique elements and give spice to it. But, of course, this wasn’t meant to be a rant; Game of Thrones and Falling Kingdoms share similar traits and are thus to be seen as recommendations only, if someone was pleased by one of the above, naturally. I certainly don’t like it being considered a copy only because of some similarities regarding the story line and you shouldn’t either.

But to get back to the main topic at hand; I loved how Rhodes expanded the world as we knew it, firstly consisting of the island Mytica and then introducing an entirely different and much much bigger land mass beyond, the Kraeshian Empire. Even though we did get to see a bit of this new expansion at the end of book 4 and the beginning of Crystal Storm, the focus remained fixed on the magical borders of Mytica which I very much enjoyed. Rhodes gave away enough to make the setting even more realistic without getting lost in its complexity in range. But, of course, the Kraeshians play an important role either for it was them, or rather Amara, who seized control of our beloved Mytica. Through the course of this series, we made stops in every single kingdom within the island; Limeors with its rough wilderness and ice wastes, Paelsia as the poorest of them all, its citizens barely making it through the day and Auranos with its beautiful, green scenery. I loved that every realm had its very own elements which made the story so much richer. Even the magic aspect seems to unfold with every book, growing ever stronger and stronger. With the fire Kindred being a real living being it very much enhanced my way of thinking about magic; rather it being a force used by witches and wizards, to see it being its very own master brushed up the old standards I had in my mind before and gave way to a new view regarding this topic – at least for me.

“He saw weakness in all mortals, weakness that disgusted him.He wanted to burn it all away, to reduce everything and everyone to ashes, so the world could begin again as part of his quest for perfection.”

I always appreciate when authors add some diversity in their books which was just the case with this series. It’s a “touchy” subject. And yes, I did set the quotations marks on purpose. It definitely needs to be picked up way more than it is right now and I love how most people in this community share my intentions in this regard. We’re heading toward 2017, guys! On this note, I found it to be very refreshing to see Kraeshia being displayed as a beautiful, exotic kingdom; its citizens being of color rather than being straight white – I’m Caucasian myself, just saying. Bisexuality and homosexuality are picked up on as well, giving the story a nice touch. I was especially intrigued by the fact how forthcoming the characters were for fantasy tends to lean on historical aspects regarding the way of thinking and the world at that, and considering that these sexualities were seen as diseases not too long ago and then comparing them with the behaviour shown in this book  it was in fact a great take on what actually should be.

After all my blabbering, not to forget the writing style; At first I was doubtful after receiving my copy of Crystal Storm, I mean only 379 pages? I did pray to all the gods above to grant me my deepest wish to come true, namely the otherworldly success of fanning me into oblivion caused by this very book. Well, let me tell you it did, in fact, do just that. Leaving me speechless, weeping in the corner could be considered a success after all, right? It was mostly due to the amazing writing of Morgan Rhodes. I’m not saying that she’s one of the best writers I’ve ever come across so far but Falling Kingdoms, however, is one of those series which dwell a lot more on the world building, with the characters being the strongest element of them all and deeply embedded in its core. It’s them who make this story so unique, Rhodes I would rather consider as the leader who guides us through this world, whereas my only hope lies in not dying because of anticipation of the last book which won’t come out for yet another year (*insert cries of pain*). But after finishing Crystal Storms, and my barely collapse being merely inches away, I was in awe by how much happened in these 379 pages. I still am. And that’s the thing with these books; each time you remind yourself this will be the last chapter you can’t help but flip yet another page. And so it goes on and on for quite some time until you’re confronted with the horrifying idea of actually reaching the finish line. Her fluent writing truly does wonders in this regard and leaves so much room for anything action-related at that. But, of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t wish for the next book to be somewhat larger than the prequels.

Last but not least, the characters: I already mentioned my love and admiration for them multiple times, rightfully so! These perfectly crafted human beings are shaped with the greatest of caution. Each and every one is flawed from head to toe, some physically some mentally, and therefore, they all build up a wall in order to protect themselves. One thing they all learned the hard way; “If you want to achieve your goal, do your utmost to accomplish said-goal, at any cost.”And that’s exactly the mantra they all live by which is being reflected by most of their actions and thoughts either. So it’s very interesting seeing them react to one another and being able to see behind the curtain as well, when they’re already off to calculating their next move. The most intriguing part, though, is when some unwanted emotions get in the way, messing up their plans, which is rather often the case. That’s where things start to get interesting…

“There are certain situations that practically require me to be as cold and ruthless as possible. If I were to have shed tears over every life I’ve taken over the last year, I’d have dried to a husk long ago.”

Crystal Storm is, as all the previous books in this series, told in multiple POV’s. So, of course I’ll mention all of these characters but I’m trying to squeeze in some secondary characters as well – “trying” being the operative word. Let me start with my cinnamon roll, the Prince of Blood, Magnus Lukas Damora. He is probably one of the most complex characters I’ve ever stumbled upon. He so very desperately craves to be a reckless leader to show his worth, but thereby, he finds himself in a constant fight against his true nature. Being the son of the King of Blood doesn’t help in this regard. Deep down, when he drops his mask of indifference, he cares for those he holds dear and would do anything to get them out of harm’s way. Especially in this book this more vulnerably side to him is being expressed more than ever. Cleiona “Cleo” Aurora Bellos isn’t much of a fighter but what she lacks in fighting skills she definitely makes for up in scheming her way out of a tricky situation. The spoiled princess we used to know died along her way to seek revenge. She has become a calculating and smart queen, doing anything in her power to reclaim what has been stolen from her. I love both of their development throughout this series so much because now, when I’m looking back to it, I can definitely see why people wouldn’t be very fond of them in the first place but I can assure you by now you’ll be rooting for them with all your power. I certainly can’t skip on King Gaius’ part, for this matter. I warn you now; you’ll be confronted with the most unnerving feelings for him than ever before. Whom you came to know as a soulless bastard may not be too soulless after all. Of course I don’t want to spoil anyone that’s why I’ll stop myself now, even though I’d love to take this discussions on another level because there’s so much depth and pain involved which are in dire need to be talked about. Let me just say that some revelations regarding his character turned the relationship between father and son upside down and them some. Next off, we have our ferocious rebel Jonas Agallon. I’m trying to keep this as short as possible; I never really knew how to place Jonas but with this installment his path seems to take on a great turn. After so many losses which shaped him as a man he finally comes to terms with who he truly is by embracing his role in this tale. Lucia Damora is being confronted with all the evils she committed upon innocents and, thereby, grows so much as a character. The girl I came to despise in the course of this series, consumed by her magic, shows true strength by turning her back on who she has been so far and trying to be better. After a long time I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her. Amara is the typical villain, or that’s how it seemed. Craving for power and showing her worth she murdered her family in order to claim her title as empress. But it’s the first time that we are able to see behind the curtains and get a closer look at a girl who can’t help but feel just a tiny bit of remorse of what she has done. and who’s struggling to keep on an indifferent facade in front of her subjects. Felix, coming in last, intrigued me since his very first appearance. A broken assassin, changing sides to redeem himself and avenge what has been done to him didn’t lose a bit of his sassiness and always managed to make me smile in the most inappropriate of times.

With new alliances and schemes being formed, a danger looming above their every heads and multiple kingdoms on the brick of war Crystal Storm will take you on a journey that will leave you craving for more. With every flipping of pages you will get sucked in a bit more until, eventually, you’ll find yourself in a world so beautifully written it will sweep you off your feet. All the while realistic and flawed characters will keep you constant company until the bittersweet ending. This and more will await you in this second to last installment in the Falling Kingdoms series.

Rating: 4.75/5

Review: Shadow and Bone / Leigh Bardugo

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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.

A wide-open meadow, awash with morning light, stretches out in front you, the mist curling around your feet. Scents, inlaid in the oddest of ways, whirl about in the breeze and fill your nostrils. Slowly, your body comes to life, raises from the restless slumber that it was kept imprisoned in; it mingles and, finally, becomes one with its surroundings… Strange figures emerge out of thin air, seemingly hovering above the misty soil, with their hoods hanging low, their faces barely recognizable under the heavy shadows. Around them, the murkily-alluring air currents sway hastily with their movements, causing the cloaks to thrash after them in whimsical strokes. Their radiating power drowns out all but darkness, the blood-moon bathing the world in red light. One of the figures holds out a slim finger, wavering ever so slightly. Far away, wolf-like cries ring through the air, crying in anger and frustration. The hood, only just covering the figure’s head, slides off, revealing a face, ancient and young at once. Its index finger touching the sensitive spot between your eyes, suddenly, a soulless darkness grabs ahold of you, diving you deep under – Growing anticipation are your constant companion, leading you through a dark, mysterious tangle of corruption in this first intallment of the Grisha trilogy.

This little piece of writing was supposed to give you somewhat of an insight as to what it was like for me to find my way through this nerve-racking treat, inspired by Russian folklore. It was a wild ride, that’s for sure. This book kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time and my heart skipped a beat or two as well. I seem to be on a review-roll, as of late, but, admittedly, I don’t see anything wrong with that. And I plan on marathoning all of Leigh Bardugo’s books in the near future; so beware of the forthcoming storm that will be brought about. Consider yourselves warned!

After reading Six of Crows I just had to get my hands on all her books immediately, needless to say that Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising and Crooked Kingdom wait impatiently for me to pick them up. One thing is clear, though; Leigh Bardugo is a genius when it comes to coming up with amazing titles for her books. This is beyond debate! So far, she’s also been blessed by the cover design gods themselves – I’m sure they’re real. Fight me on it – Hopefully the odds decide to stay in her favor for I don’t mind a beautiful exterior, every once in a while.

“He did not see the moment the girl ceased to bear her weakness as a burden and began to wear it as a guise.”

I’ll be damned if I keep on drooling over extravagant designs and, thereby, neglect the matter at hand – the literary aspects. Being the good reader I am, I won’t take this path but focus on the interior, instead; as all book enthusiasts should do. That goes without saying! So, talking about Shadow and Bone; I bet I’m able to make this piece of art very, very tempting for you, with just some keywords:

  1. Slavic/Russian folklore traits
  2. Epic fantasy
  3. Strong heroines
  4. Whimsical, exotic settings
  5. The Darkling being inspired by Koshei the Deathless

Was this enough to catch your attention? I bet it was! What else could you want in a book; you tell me! As for my part, I was sucked into the story from the prologue on. Every flipping of pages made me want to reach the finish line but, to be honest, I was dreading the end as well for it would mean a temporary parting of ways. School, you lousy, little thing… – But to push this exasperation aside for now; Shadow and Bone definitely lives up to its name, with a dark atmosphere and a ruthless world to showcase plus a sarcastic undertone crawling its way into your heart in an instant.

I thought I’ve already encountered the Grisha universe in Six of Crows but I was very much mistaken; Leigh actually wrote this series before Six of Crows and thus the events in the Grisha trilogy happened decades earlier from what I’ve gathered so far. My fear of being spoiled was the reason why I put it on hold in the first place. But in Shadow and Bone we get a completely different view on the Ravkan lands and this universe alike. I always wondered what it might look like in Ravka for it was mentioned quite often in Six of Crows, especially in connection with some of the main protagonists. Another thing that just wouldn’t leave me be was this scar-like abyss that strechtes out from the north to the south. Fortunately, the mystery surrounding this theme was revealed, either. Ravka is said to be the land of the Grisha and what they call their true home. Breathing in the cold winter air in dark, mysterious woods, ambushes by brutal warriors, wandering the alleys of worn-down villages, voyaging through darkness in its purest manifestation and dances in a ballroom occupied by countless aristocrats with their finest jewellery on them… Traversed by Russian elements this book was a living fairy tale. Leigh Bardugo takes the reader on a legendary journey and in this first book alone we got to see so much of this magical nation that it took my breath away at times; We travelled to Kribirsk, Os Alta and so many more places throughout this story and from where it left off I’m pretty sure we’ll get to see even more than that. But it’s not only the diversity and complexity of this world but they way she brought it to life and made it its very own that doesn’t cease to amaze me, still. Most of the time, it felt like I was there, like I was part of its rough und untamed nature. I let myself get floated away, through its unforgiving borders, gladly biding my time for the next page turner to come.

And here I am, talking about Grisha like you should know about them, too. I don’t want to go too much into detail but I try to give you a very brief summary regarding their characteristics. Grisha are masters of the Small Science and members of the Second Army. Their powers are to be seen as extensions of the natural world. The Grisha are divided into three orders – Corporalki, Etherealki and Materialki – and within those orders there are many subdivisions as well. In Shadow and Bone the reader is being introduced into this magic system and exploring it bit by bit, slowly getting familiar with all it ways. It was sort of refreshing to see this kind of wizardy come to life, for it is unlike anything I’ve ever read about. This magic felt raw, its power radiating right through the book, with an unique and untamed undertone to it. My desire of being Grisha became a wild creature of its own, fighting to break through, in the course of this book.

Everyone who know’s me just a bit, will be well acquainted with the fact that I’m a big sucker for mythology and folklore alike. Just hand me a book and tell me it was inspired by either of these and I will drown myself in its pages, eager to absorb all its whimsical and peculiarly gloomy elements. Shadow and Bone will offer you just that; Leigh Bardugo wove these inspirational Russian and Slavic traits so flawlessly into the story, and combined with her writing style this novel was literally a feast for every fantasy and historical fiction geek. Taking in this story felt like being thrown into its midst, with no way of escape. It almost read like an old fairytale or legend and this very fact made reading this book such an intoxicating adventure. I thought I was prepared, but think again! Her writing blew me away once more. With her talent for crafting word after word in such a disarmingly beautiful way she managed to enchant me with every flipping of pages.

“The problem with wanting,” he whispered, his mouth trailing along my jaw until it hovered over my lips, “is that it makes us weak.”

Shadow and Bone isn’t your typical story of a hero/heroine and villain. It’s a lot more twisted and complex in its ways to get labeled as such. It was just the same with Six of Crows; this concept really does wonders in regard of dark, epic fantasy and underlines the gloomy and dark atmosphere of the book perfectly. Another thing I very much appreciate is the fact that the protagonist, Alina, is not one of these unearthly beautiful creatures that every so often make their appearances in books. I’m tired of seeing this trope and it was nice, for a change, to meet a character who doesn’t have flawless skin, a character who is by no means unaware of her striking looks… Arghhh! We definitely need more Alinas in all our lives. But to get back to the point; The reader does not only get to meet perfectly imperfect Alina, but Mal, the Darkling and Genya, who, in my opinion, are the most important characters next to our protagonist.

Together with her best friend Mal, Alina grows up as an orphan. Nothing and no one would be able to separate these two nor stop them from spending time with each other. Their relationship is a very delicate thing at that. Living in the same house for years, chasing the same demons left its marks upon both of them but, quickly, they realized that, together, they could outrun them and, eventually, chase them off. Alina, despite her flaws, is just another girl, though, and she avoided mirrors all her life. She never felt like she fit in the way the others did, Mal included. So it was always these two against the world, but under the given circumstances, things, eventually, start to turn upside down. In the course of this book Alina is not only on her way to find her destiny, she also learns to fully accept and even embrace herself. Her character development was such a dainty thing to behold. Seeing this progress unfold throughout this story stirred something inside of me and even though I fell in love with all of these characters, it was her, I rooted most for at the end. Rightfully so, if you ask me! And as for Mal, he was always there for her and he still is but, without giving too much away, at the beginning of this book, you could almost feel the distance that somehow crept its way between them, seemingly unnoticed at first. But when push comes to shove, the priority of each other’s safety drowns out everything else. Honestly, Leigh didn’t give to much away regarding his character but I have a feeling we’ll get a closer look at him in the sequel. And then we have the Darkling… His name alone gives me goose-bumps. Savior, warrior, destroyer, killer,… he is all of these things and, still, nothing quite seems to suit him as much as his name does. A Darkling is a special kind of Grisha, with the power of bending the shadows to his will. With this character Leigh Bardugo created the perfect addition to the gloomy atmosphere of the story and, if you ask me, it was him, who gave it that certain something either. He is corrupt, mysterious and alluring, making him the perfect antagonist.

With a world full of magic, intrigue and romance, this first installment of the Grisha trilogy is going to leave us all in ruins and, still, craving for more. A writing style, sweeter than honey, takes the reader on a journey through untamed beauty in all its facets; all the while being accompanied by unique characters. Once more, Leigh Bardugo, you’ve amazed me!

Rating: 4.5/5

Review: Six of Crows / Leigh Bardugo

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Disclaimer: This review is semi-spoiler free; meaning I won’t give away any major events but I will be mentioning facts pertaining to well beyond the first chapter.

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager
A runaway with a privileged past
A spy known as the Wraith
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

I feel as though I should start off by disclaiming that I’ve never read a book by Leigh Bardugo before. Everywhere I looked, may it be on #bookstagram, tumblr, etc…, someone was raving about either her Six of Crows duology or Grisha trilogy. And after finishing this book I have to admit it deserves all the praise it received, rightfully so. Six of Crows is not only a treat for the eyes; it’s just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside.

We’re not here to honor its marvelous design, though, but rather the interior. I don’t know why I haven’t picked it up any sooner, in the first place, for fantasy and especially dark fantasy is my go-to genre and I can’t seem to get enough of it. So I don’t have anything to bring forward as an excuse any other than the biggest obstacle every reader has had to face at least once; and its name is TBR. This particular evil made it its task to ruin all our lives and we walk straight into the trap it laid out for us…

“Wanden olstrum end kendesorum. Isen ne bejstrum. The water hears and understands. The ice does not forgive.”

But to get back to the main topic at hand; Six of Crows is told in multiple POV’s. The reader follows six, more or less, thieves and criminals on a heist. Yes, a heist. If that alone didn’t get you hooked, then I don’t know what else will. And, honestly, I don’t want to go into more detail as to what the story is about for it unfolds in such a miraculous way if you go into this unknowingly and I would hate to ruin the experience for you. But I can tell, no guarantee, you one thing; it will be a wild ride. That’s fore sure.

Leigh Bardugo created a world like I’ve never encountered before. Marching through the dark and treacherous aisles of Ketterdam, screams of joy and agony in the fighting pits in Kerch, crossing waters into the unknown, wandering to sure death in the harsh north and a one-way-ticket into an seemingly-unbreakable prison… This and more will await you on a journey to unlimited riches and fortune. But it is not only the detailed and complex places that intrigued me to this very extent; Bardugo also managed to display this world in a very visually-appealing way and it feels like you are being transported into this universe. Another thing that just made me fall in love with it is the diversity and cultures that are being displayed throughout this story. There are, for instance, the cold Fjerdans, Suli acrobats, multiple gangs, Zemeni-born sharpshooters, Ravkans and of course the Grisha.

For those of you who haven’t read either Six of Crows or Shadow and Bone; Grisha are masters of the Small Science and members of the Second Army. Their powers are to be seen as extensions of the natural world. The Grisha are divided into three orders: Corporalki, Etherealki and Materialki and within these orders there are many subdivisions as well. This complex magic system enhanced this world to the point where I thought I, as a reader, was actually a part of this universe. I’m currently reading Shadow and Bone and I have to say that this system itself plays a much more important role in it than it did in Six of Crows in the sense that it feels like the reader is being introduced to the world. In Six of Crows we cross paths with Grisha and their powers are a big part of this story as well but Six of Crows takes places decades after the Grisha trilogy and, thereby, focuses on many different things. Leigh herself disclaimed that it’s not important in which order you read them but I, for my part, would recommend starting with Shadow and Bone for it gives the reader a first glimpse as to what you are actually up against and lays the foundation for the story where, in Six of Crows, you are basically being thrown into the current situation and have to make your way through a tangle of information. But no need to worry! In the course of this story everything comes together so that finally a big light bulb will appear above your head and everything is alright!

The Grisha world was inspired by Russian folklore and if you know me just a bit, you will be well aware of the fact that I’m a big sucker for mythology and folklore. I love everything whimsical and peculiarly dark; and that’s exactly what I found in Six of Crows. Leigh Bardugo wove these Russian elements so beautifully into the story, and combined with her writing style this book was a literal feast for every history/historical fiction nerd. Reading this novel felt like being a part of a legend or saga and this very feel made it such a special experience for me. And, admittedly, I was drooling over her writing. With her talent for crafting word after word in such a disturbingly capturing way she managed to fascinate me with every flipping of pages.

“Kaz leaned back. “What’s the easiest way to steal a man’s wallet?”
“Knife to the throat?” asked Inej.
“Gun to the back?” said Jesper.
“Poison in his cup?” suggested Nina.
“You’re all horrible,” said Matthias.”

As for the characters; They’re just too precious for this world and I’m by no means exaggerating. In Six of Crows we don’t get your typical hero or heroine but antiheroes. This concept really does wonders in regard of dark fantasy and underlines the gloomy and sarcastic atmosphere. Each and every character has its own backstory to be told and this past left its marks upon every single one of them. May it be physically or mentally. And it’s this heart-wrenching truth that makes them such reliable personalties who you can’t help but fall for at the end. Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Nina, Matthias and Wylan – I took a shine to all of them. It’s very hard not to, actually! Leigh, thank you so much for these wonderfully flawed human beings – And just to throw that out there; being an antihero doesn’t make the character a villain. I’ve seen many people get confused and throw them into the same pot if they clearly shouldn’t be.

Let me introduce you to my barrel rat, businessman *cough* thief *cough*, Kaz Brekker aka Dirtyhands. He appears cunning, tough and ruthless but if you look any closer you’ll see a sentimental and broken boy who has clawed his way of of the slums and has become a legend among all of Ketterdam; and he’s only 17 years old. But his greed for money is an undeniable fact and if you’d ask me to step in his way in order to save all the money in the world I wouldn’t do it! Not a single person would even think about such a thing, at least no one with common sense, that is. He always manages to have something up his sleeves, no matter how tricky the situation. And I can’t talk about Kaz without mentioning his Wraith, Inej, of course. Her story wrenched my heart open. Ravkan-born and trained Suli acrobat, Inej was captured by slavers and sold to Tante Heleen who forced her to work in the Menagerie, a pleasure house. As the name Wraith already suggests, Inej is Kaz’ spy and with that a skilled assassin. She was the character I could relate most to, for it was her quiet and, yet, funny nature that drew me in. The same goes for Jesper, a Zemeni-born sharpshooter with dark skin. And here I have to thank you again Leigh – but I warn you for it won’t be the last time – that you involved diversity into the story. I don’t want to add too much but this diversity isn’t only displayed in different ethnicities but sexualities as well. Jesper is this optimistic and light-hearted guy you just want to keep you company on a heist. He always manages to brighten up the mood but he is just as troubled as the others even if that may not be visible at first glance.

Nina Zenik, a Grisha – more specifically heartrender which falls under the category Corporalki – works in another brothel in Ketterdam but her loyalties lie with the Dregs, Kaz’ gang. Her history is a long one and intertwines with Matthias’ long before she met the other characters. I don’t want to go into more detail as to how but let me tell you that with every revelation your heart will be nothing more than a puddle at the end. As for Matthias, he’s seems to be a cold and brutal warrior from the north. His hatred for Grisha is consuming his common sense and his drive to kill them due to certain events mentioned in Six of Crows is rather strong. But again, his character is, just like the others, of complex and nebulous nature. Last but not least, and somewhat of an underdog, we got Wylan. The sweet, who-couldn’t-kill-a fly-if-it-came-down-to-it and who-will-get-them-all-killed Wylan – Think again! He is deeply underestimated by his crew members but proves his worth time and time again.

Leigh Bardugo created a work of art; her writing combined with great characters, a rich world and plot-like eventful story takes the reader on an unforgettable journey. The Russian traits make the story so much more vivid in all its facets and enwrap the events in a dark atmosphere. This novel is most certainly nothing you want to miss out on.

Rating: 5/5

Review: Empire of Storms / Sarah J. Maas

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Disclaimer: This review contains minor spoilers so beware! Major events won’t be part of what I’m discussing but there are definitely things that will spoil you if you haven’t already read the book.

The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don’t.

As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.

Aelin’s journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down?

My heart skipped more than only one beat after finishing this chunk of a novel. To be honest, I was sobbing and crying ugly tears even before reaching the finish line but this post-traumatic undergoing was to be expected for the author whose name is Sarah J. Maas finds pleasure in torturing and tantalizing her readers; this is common knowledge and everyone who witnessed this one of a kind experience understands exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ve quite taken my time for school was squeezing out all the energy that was left inside of me; not a pretty sight. So I thought I’d give this work of art the appreciation and credit it deserves and that would explain why I didn’t review it right away but honestly, I wasn’t in the position of expressing all my thoughts and opinions regarding this installment at that time either for I first had to process all that has happened and sort my feelings. Believe me, it must have looked chaotic in my head…

“The world will be saved and remade by the dreamers.”

We have come a long way from book one and Sarah displayed this striking distance with what felt like perfect ease. With this book she ignited an explosion of all things plot-related; but it was not only the plot but the world building itself that underwent quite the enhancement. Her previous books focused a lot more on each character and its development so it was nice to see that Sarah wove in a new cord and tied it up harmonically with the other writing tools as well.

The second book syndrome (aka middle book syndrome) which often refers to a bridge book within a series is a common issue but I assure you Empire of Storms was very far from that. It was a gripping and all-consuming read, to say the least. The tendency for a second-to-last book in a series to be such a filler is rather high but fortunately that wasn’t the case here. 

Whereas the main settings in book 4 were the Fae continents most of Empire of Storms took place beyond those lands, in places such as Skulls Bay and Ellywe. The Assassin’s Blade, a bind-up of all the novellas that tell the soul-stirring story of Celaena and how life shaped her as a person, picks up on all of these places as well and gives the reader a better understanding as to how it affected our protagonist as a person. I, for my part, highly enjoyed this bonus content and hopefully you’ll put your remaining qualms aside and experience her highs and lows for yourself… But to get back to the main topic at hand; SJM directed the attention on not only the major characters but brought back secondary characters as well and even did as much as spice them up. I was hoping to wander the infinite and magical lands of Terrasen but under the given circumstances that wasn’t possible; but instead we were gifted with long walks through a kingdom with many new scars to show. SJM also showed us just how exotic the world of Erilea truly is by visiting the islands of a pirate lord and his crew. Lysandra even challenged my beloved wyverns for the legendary-myth-contest since her shape-shifter abilities finally seemed to establish and thus it was that we got to see many underwater battles as well.

It is one of those series where you know right from the start that all the semi-demonstrated schemes and intrigues won’t be uncovered until the very end, or as close to the end as the author dares. And Empire of Storms offers us just that with a prologue to leave the audience craving for more and more answers, even though that’s just what we were fed with. The only problem here is that it’s barely enough to keep us well fed for the hard winter months to come so that we will surely keep stirring on the edges of our seats for a “little” while longer. But with each riddle unveiled new questions raise to the surface and a dark web of mystery opens up in front of us, ready to claim all our souls. From what I’ve gathered so far I’m pretty sure that the next and final book in this series will be a safe haven and hazard at the same time; with many shattered hearts in its wake. SJM introduced new players and devices to the plot that will be a big game changer and, in my opinion, alter the course considerably.

Even though SJM focused on the plot and world-building above all else, the character development didn’t get the short end of the stick and was crafted smoothly into the story. Our main protagonist Aelin, the fire-breathing bitch queen herself, finally arrived in Terrasen but since her lords wanted to see a real queen and not a young, reckless and power-hungry princess she had to earn both their respect and loyalty first. More than ever her will to claim what is hers by right raises to the surface and drowns out everything else. In this book her wits and strength, both physically and mentally, went hand in hand. It felt like she showed the world just what she is capable of but still has so much more to offer. We know Aelin as a ruthless, bold and charming but selfless and good-hearted woman; it wouldn’t be Aelin otherwise but underneath she struggles with herself and maintaining her powers. It seems like her powers know no bounds and are ever-growing and even though how much of a danger they pose, Aelin is more comfortable with them and finally accepts her fiery heart as a part of herself. We have seen her grow and become the confident young woman she now is; she proved time and time again just how much she wants her throne and with that a better future for everyone in Erilea. She is still learning how to be more open with her court, though, but I liked her sort of incapability in this regard for it makes her so much more relatable. Everyone, no matter whether human or fae or shape-shifter or witch, has their own flaws and her being the mastermind behind not only one but multiple explosive, risky plans is hers.

Her cousin, Aedion, and his development was shifted into focus, much as Aelin’s. SJM gave us an insight as to how it looked inside of him, his way of thinking and even gifted us with information about his background. We got to know The Wolf of the North as an attractive, brave and heroic figure but with this installment the spectrum regarding his character widened up immensely. There are so many more layers to him than the dauntless knight aspect and we got to see a darker side as well. He suffered a great deal of pain and losses, again much like Aelin, but instead of breaking him and giving in to the pain it only made him stronger. I liked how he opened up about all this to Lysandra and found in her a counterpart whom he could confide to. His relationship toward his father – Gavriel – was delved into more than ever and it was nice to see, for a change, just how much this rocky road they’ve went affected him as a person. He didn’t make his resentment toward the Lion a secret but still had to admit that they’re both two sides of the same coin.

Rowan, the snarky, brooding Fae prince, on the other hand, surprised me the most in the matter of character growth. His passion and devotion was given expression as never before. He came to the aid when no one was able to and managed to ward off all evil – well, not all evil, but I won’t say no more – by showcasing utter commitment. Rowan opened up in a way I couldn’t believe possible if I haven’t experienced it myself. He offered sanctuary for not only his queen and lover but everyone who was in deep need of a hug or advice. The snarling “brute” became the caring leader of a nation who’d do anything to keep his people safe no matter the cost – traits I deeply admire. At the end of the book his behaviour and the circumstances in general reminded me a lot of some events that happened in A Court of Mist and Fury and that awoke an explosive feast of feelings inside of me. But, nevertheless, I’ve heard many people ranting about Rowan’s incapabiltiy regarding expressing emotions and his seeming cold and ferocious but in Empire of Storms there was to be found no trace of such characteristics at all – save for his enemies; the ever-present warrior.

Chaol, Nesryn and Evangeline got a bit lost in the shuffle, much to my dismay, but I bet Sarah will create a comeback that will make up for their disappearance in the finale and it will shatter the world. Speaking of the Captain of the Guard; Dorian – only just an emperor and all of a sudden a refugee of a lost kingdom – is marked by scars and brute force. His character was revamped and we got to see a very different but not unpleasant side to him. All that he had to go through did leave its marks upon him and changed him in a way no one could foresee but was necessary for something as huge and course-changing as this wouldn’t leave him unnoticed. He had to change for the sake of war and himself. Dorian was literally drifting in darkness and pure evil and I loved how it only made him stronger and made him even more devoted to the cause. First I was a bit skeptical about his being with Manon, especially since this direction was obviously foretold in the previous book, but looking closer at it, they’re perfect for each other. Manon teached him a bit of wicked thinking isn’t a bad thing at all and Dorian, on the other hand, proved to her that revenge and brutality isn’t the only way. He believed in her when no one would listen and helped blend in to the court.

As for the other minor characters I’ve mentioned; Captain Rolfe, Ansel of Briarcliff and the Silent Assassins, if only a bit later, made an appearance in this book as well which was nice to see, for a change, for it only widened up the world of Erilea and played a part in contributing to the world-building and plot, likewise. SJM even introduced the Cadre – Maeve’s army of Fae warriors – and it was as intense as I imagined it to be. Besides that we even got a glimpse of the Whitethorn and Ashriver houses by reaching the near end. It was such spectacle to behold!

The fifth installment in the Throne of Glass series, Empire of Storms, lives up to its title; vividly-portrayed battles scenes, ancient riddles and intrigues, new alliances and enemies are your constant companion throughout this book. I can already tell by the direction the plot will take that the finale will leave multiple shattered hearts and shed tears in its wake; but I’ll leave it to you to experience this one-of-a-kind story for yourself. But brace yourselves for Aelin’s journey is a wild ride and will surely sweep you off your feet!

Once again, thank you Sarah J. Maas, for this beautifully crafted tale…

Rating: 5/5

Review: The Rose & The Dagger / Renée Ahdieh

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The darker the sky, the brighter the stars.

In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad is forced from the arms of her beloved husband, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once thought Khalid a monster—a merciless killer of wives, responsible for immeasurable heartache and pain—but as she unraveled his secrets, she found instead an extraordinary man and a love she could not deny. Still, a curse threatens to keep Shazi and Khalid apart forever.

Now she’s reunited with her family, who have found refuge in the desert, where a deadly force is gathering against Khalid—a force set on destroying his empire and commanded by Shazi’s spurned childhood sweetheart. Trapped between loyalties to those she loves, the only thing Shazi can do is act. Using the burgeoning magic within her as a guide, she strikes out on her own to end both this terrible curse and the brewing war once and for all. But to do it, she must evade enemies of her own to stay alive.

The saga that began with The Wrath and the Dawn takes its final turn as Shahrzad risks everything to find her way back to her one true love again.

Just a few hours ago I finished the Rose and the Dagger and, still, I feel like I might tumble into an abyss. I’m reeling all the same and my mind just won’t do me the favor of coming to rest from all that has happened. This was the first book I finished in months due to an ever-lasting and all-consuming reading slump, not to forget, hard school days. But here I am, raising from the ground and standing tall. This was a tad bit over the top but hopefully you are well acquainted with this burden and thus know just how I felt. And even though I was in a reading slump and fell victim to all its side effects I try to review this book in a healthy balance when it comes to subjective and objective aspects.

The Rose and the Dagger was, first and foremost, an enchanting tale and retelling of One Thousand and One Nights. Albeit, it was also the story of two lovers in the time of war with not only an upcoming battle to worry about but a curse that might shatter them all at the end. Besides that and most shocking of all, it had many plot twists to offer and was therefore an utmost surprising read. Renée followed the loose ends of the first book and managed to weave them into something quite different with a unique undertone to them. Magic, which we only got a glimpse of in the Wrath and the Dawn, shifted into focus with this next and final installment of the series. We not only got to see Shahrzad learning to control her special abilities but we were even gifted with a new set of characters who brought their own bits to the story and were, in my opinion, a rather pleasant addition. Aside from that, Renée expanded not only the cast but rather the whole world of Khorasan and its neighbor kingdom Parthia. We already knew of Salim’s jealousy and hatred toward Khalid but with this book we could see how these traits took shape and grew into something quite bigger and more crucial for the storyline.

After reading book one and two it felt like that – all the decisions that were made, all the directions the characters went – led up to this one moment and this very moment was dripping with intensity. Surprisingly, the Rose and the Dagger didn’t suffer the second-book-syndrome (aka middle-book-syndrome), needless to say I was rather pleased with that for many sequels lack that certain something that makes them keep up with the first book. For it is the first book that invites the reader into a new world with yet another cast of characters and it is rather hard for the second book to compete with this innocence. But, fortunately, that wasn’t the case here.

“For it was easy to be good and kind in times of plenty. The trying times were the moments that defined a man.”

Right up from the beginning Shahrzad striked me as a blunt and impulsive, but also just as determined and ambitious girl. She was a sly dog through and through and this fact hasn’t changed in the finale either; Shahrzad isn’t the type of girl you ever want to mess with under any circumstances for she seeks and gets her revenge no matter the cause. I deeply admire her for all that she has to offer for this side is only one of the many facets to the girl we used to know. And even though life was not always fair to her and she acted in an impulsively manner every so often she not only came to terms with her best friend’s death ; she also learned to forgive and let go of all that thrived her anger. Her strong feelings toward Khalid were proof of that. This very moral alone is what turned this book into a philosophical showpiece. But it was not only the act of forgiveness itself but her character development throughout this series for it was such a magnificent and bitter-sweet thing at that, to behold. Shahrzad may seem like an arrogant woman at first glance but there’s so much more to her than that. She is just as arrogant and hot-tempered as she is passionate and selfless. I loved the way how all characters had their own individual flaws for it was this fact alone that made them seem human and made me, as the reader, relate to them to this very extent.

As much as I’d like to keep on talking about Shahrzad I also want to address the other characters for these had just as many layers to them as she did. Khalid, the brooding and seemingly ever-cold boy-king of Khorasan…. The king of kings… So many names for this one man. I have to admit his distant nature took some getting used to but over the course of this series and especially in the second book he finally grew on me. Khalid opened up in so many ways and I loved how behind this “monster” was also a very vulnerable side that he tried to hide as best he could. Tariq and Rahim seemed to amaze me once again but in very different ways. It was Rahim I liked best of the two friends. I don’t want to go into detail as to why but even after all Tariq had to go through he became deeply absorbed in his anger and failed in what Shahrzad accomplished to do. Artan is introduced as a whimsical and pretty much sarcastic and loyal magician who easily crept his way into my heart. It was hard not to love him in an instant but I wish we would’ve seen so much more of his character for whenever he came up he lightened up the story with what felt like perfect ease. What is not to love about a sardonic, sassy but ultimately good-hearted sorcerer?! It is only understandable for me – and I think I can speak for all of us – to want more…

“Love was something that did much to change a person. It brought joy as it brought suffering, and in turn brought about those moments that defined one’s character. Love gave life to the lifeless. It was the greatest of all living powers.
But, as with all things, love had a dark side to it.”

It was not only the story itself, nor even the characters or the world but Renée’s writing that made the ultimate difference between a good and an excellent novel. The way she crafted word after word and how she literally treated the reader with smoothly generated sentences directed all attention on what she had to say. Her writing style left no place for worries, it was home; as weird as that might sound. The Wrath and the Dawn and the Rose and the Dagger might not look like much (when it comes to size – not the covers for I think we can all agree on how stunning they are) but her phrasing made it all the more fluent and mesmerising; and it was these sentences, these fluently crafted phrases, that took me to a place far away, to a place full of wonders and magic.

Fierceness, betrayal, passion,… Brace yourself for these and many more things will be inflicted upon you in this final installment. Renée Ahdieh opened up a spectrum of emotions that not only affected the reader in a mental way but rather took him or her on an empowering and sentimentally oozing voyage where dreams don’t seem all too far away. A vibrant atmosphere are your constant companion and there’s suspense at all times. Consider yourselves warned…

Again, as much as I wished to give this book all the five stars I just couldn’t make myself do it for my conscience wouldn’t let me. I don’t know in which ways my reading experience would differ if I hadn’t read this book in times of my slump but I have to see the things for what they are and nothing else.

Rating: 4.25/5

Review: Uprooted / Naomi Novik

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“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I went into this with very high expectations because a lot of people have constantly been raving about how magical and unique this novel is and that’s indeed exactly what I got. But it probably wasn’t the best time for me to read it for I’m in a, what feels like, everlasting reading slump. No joke! According to Goodreads I’ve been reading this book from July 25 to August 10. And it’s not like you could call this book a tome. It’s barely 400 pages long which I would consider average. But well, there’s nothing to be done about it now so let’s get ahead with the actual review.

As I’ve already said I was highly anticipating this book for all the recommendations I got and the fact that this is a fantasy standalone. Yes, you heard that right! It’s a fantasy standalone. Even though I love my series to bits I just can’t resist a good, old standalone from time to time but that would be my first in the genre of fantasy. I’m eager to read a lot more than just this one and to dive into the world of standalones because, obviously, there are some serious differences in writing style and pacing between the two that need to be discussed further.

But before I start: Can we just take a moment to appreciate the glory that we refer to as a book cover like this? It’s breathtaking in every aspect! The spine, the deckled pages and don’t even get me started on the dust jacket. I love all things old and vintage and this cover just looks the part, let’s be honest about that. I know you’re probably going to go all “Don’t judge a book by its cover” on me but come on! You can’t avoid falling in love with this design and if you, in some miraculous way, do just that, then tell me, are you a robot?

And the story resembles the cover to a certain extent. Namely that both things remind me of a fairytale in some way. The author, Naomi Novik, was inspired by Slavic mythology and Polish folklore such as Baba Jaga. You’ll find many traces of these inspirations of hers in the book. I really liked this aspect to it for it gives the book its very own character and makes it unique, in a very good way. Actually that should be enough to make you want to read it immediately. At least, that’s what it did to me. I mean, who isn’t intrigued by mythical creatures as such and to see their typical traditions come to life? I know that I am! I love Greek, Roman and Norse mythology so much and now I just have to add Slavic to the list as well.

As for the characters, this story doesn’t include a dragon even though it’s said to be. Sorry, to disappoint you there. No, “the Dragon” is the nickname of a wizard who plays a big role in our protagonist’s life, Agnieszka. Agnieszka is this cute, clumsy mess for a girl who gets her dress dirty with what felt like perfect ease. The dirt just seemed to crawl its way up to her feet and onto the fabric of her dress. I’m not kidding, I swear! She isn’t the typical beautiful and flawless heroine you usually get in a story and her clumsiness just made me warm up to her in an instant.

So, the story starts off with her being chosen as a tribute to the Dragon for some mysterious reason even though she normally would’ve been the least likely choice. After everyone seemed to catch their breaths again she went with him to his Tower where she is supposed to spend the next 10 years with him. And that’s when things start to go downhill for real…
I have to say I went into this with next to no knowledge about the actual plot which made it all the more intriguing and that’s why I won’t tell you anymore just yet.

The world was, well, how could I best describe it? It had a very strong, magical feeling to it that made the world feel special and, I won’t lie, like home. But here’s a reason why I couldn’t give it 5 stars: It was very complicated to sort of locate all the cities and places and to ultimately tell them apart because they often sounded very much alike. It would’ve been better to have an actual map for this book. I know you can’t blame the author for not creating a map, that’s the publisher’s job. But maybe, Novik, could’ve tried more to create this map with the magic of so-called words. It’s not like she didn’t and perhaps you’ll see it completely differently but for me it didn’t work out well.

The writing style and pacing, as I’ve already said, differs a lot from those in a series but I think that should’ve been obvious right up from the start for it’s only one book and not many where things could be stretched out a lot more. But here, I often got distracted and drifted off to other things. I told you I was (or better still am) in a reading slump and that may have been the cause for my slow reading process but I’m sure that was not the only reason. And when I think back to that time when I’ve been reading this book I struggled with myself every once in a while because I wanted to know how the story continues but I just couldn’t bring myself to actually get the book and read it. What a misery that was! I think it was because I just couldn’t properly connect with the writing or characters or whatever. For all I know her style of writing wasn’t exactly my type but don’t get me wrong! It was by no means bad or something of the kind. It had a magical flow to it which I actually really liked.

And here’s a little advice on my part: Read this book with Viktoria’s (@seelieknight) playlist in the background. She picked so many beautiful songs that fit the story and catch its atmosphere perfectly. Here’s the link if you want to: http://8tracks.com/seelieknight/uprooted

Well, I can’t think of anything else I might want to add so let me call this a day by summarizing my thoughts again. This intriguing book, based on Polish folklore, takes you on a mesmerizing journey with a lot of twists and turns. Self-discovery and finding one’s strength play important roles in this book. Add a hint of magic to the mix and this unique story is almost impossible to ever forget.