What can be said for middle children? Trilogies of books often have the terrible trouble of overcoming the over detailed monotony of the second book. Paired with your baited breath for what comes next, le deuxieme livre can stop you right in your tracks.
(There may be some spoilers here, so if you haven’t read the first book, Shadow and Bone, you may want to check out my review of it here. You can also start on Bardugo’s Six of Crows – review here – without even having to have these background stories. But if you become spoiled, please accept my heartiest apologies in advance.)
Alina and Mal have escaped Ravka across the True Sea and are trying to live a normal LOLJK they are free for about 5 pages before they are captured again and heading back across the True Sea to do the Darkling’s bidding. I feel like the Darkling should have thought up a better name for himself, since he’s the only one of his kind. Darkling just sounds like the cutest widdle bad guys ever OH LET ME SNUGGLE BUGGLE YOUR FLOOFY FACE
*ahem* I’m sorry. So as this journey is happening our heroes realize that they aren’t sailing west, but north towards the Bone Road (hey baby, want to take a trip down the bone road? OMG I COULDN’T HELP IT I’M SO SORRY) where the Darkling plans to capture the second of three amplifiers, a sea serpent whose scales will further amplify Alina’s powers beyond the stag antler collar he had fastened around her neck at the end of the last book. But lo! The pirate the Darkling hired to sail the ship and make the journey double crosses him and has a secret Grisha crew and they rescue Alina and Mal and sail away to claim the sea wisp as their own. So now she has two amplifiers, which most Grisha theory says is a no-no. Only a third remains: the firebird, and she obsesses over this for the rest of the book but we never go to look for it.
Alina follows the pirate back to Ravka and he reveals himself as the younger prince that has been away for a long time, and so book two gives us Love Triangle Part 2: Prince vs. Pauper. She decides to run the Second Army and brings the Grisha that didn’t go with the Darkling and instead remained in the capital city under her command. After a bit of time passes, the stupid, arrogant, older prince whom our younger prince Nicolai has been trying to trick into getting out of the way, does something that makes everything take a turn for the (predictably) worse. Alina discovers a new power that changes everything, and we find ourselves in a place that we are not sure we can recover from.
This book is SO BORING until it slams its foot on the gas through the last 7 chapters or so. I mean, if I had known the ending was so exciting and nail-biting, I probably wouldn’t have complained so much about slogging through the descriptions of war council meetings, sparring practices, and the construction of large glass bowls by David the introverted Fabrikator.
I’d like to take the end of this review to lodge a complaint. It’s a complaint I have about all the superhero shows on the CW that I want to watch and love and can’t, and for lots of young adult stuff in general: WHY CAN’T YOU BE UP FRONT? Alina is basically hallucinating the entire book but it’s actually the Darkling appearing up in her life in real time for only her to see BUT SHE NEVER TELLS MAL. I mean, I get the drama of “I can’t tell him, he might not love me anymore” but my complaint is with the constant moaning of “I’M SO ALONE NO ONE LOVES ME I HAVE TO DO THIS ALL BY MYSELF” over. And over. And over. No one ever learns from the terrible consequences that come with it. No one ever increases their trust for anyone. Mal never gives her any reason to doubt that he would listen if she told him she was worried or scared but she doesn’t confide in him ever.
So my complaint is this: please try to balance teen drama and angst with some actual lesson learning and growth. It doesn’t have to be a huge change, but behavioral psychology says that if we do things with positive results, we are probably going to repeat them. These characters aren’t even teenagers anymore, they are adults who have served in the First Army and been through a lot together already. I’m just saying that people walk out on each other and throw everything away awfully easy in these shows and books sometimes. I think that maybe we are underestimating our young adults’ ability to learn and grow and maybe we shouldn’t keep feeding them the same shit expectations for their behavior through the media (and because it creates plot holes and it makes me lose respect for the characters). So this complaint it more about my enjoyment of the books and less “think of the children!” but kind of both?
I’m anticipating a thrilling, satisfying third book. Slog through this one and the ending won’t disappoint. Try to hold in your frustrated yells when people act 14 instead of 19-20 years old. You don’t want to bother the neighbors.