Review: Shadow and Bone Trilogy

The Shadow and Bone trilogy by Leigh Bardugo has been on my TBR for some time now, so I was looking forward to picking up the first book, Shadow and Bone, a couple of months ago. I heard that the trilogy was different from the other fantasy books I was reading (think anything by Sarah J. Maas), so I was excited for a change of pace.

The Shadow and Bone trilogy is part of the Grishaverse, a Russian-inspired fantasy world filled with magic and small science. The Shadow and Bone trilogy is the beginning of the Grishaverse, followed by The Six of Crows duology and The King of Scars duology. And yes, I will be reading them all!

In Shadow and Bone (#1), you are introduced to the Grisha, the magical elite of Ravka, one of the countries in the Grishaverse. The Grisha are known as the Soldiers of the Second Army and they practice small science, manipulating matter for the purpose of battle and healing. There are the Corporalki (Heartrenders & Healers), the Ethereakli (Squallers, Inferni, & Tidemakers), and the Materialki (Durasts & Aklemi). There are also Sun Summoners, members of the Ethereakli who can summon and control sunlight. If you are reading this and scratching your head in confusion, don’t worry; this world is broken down very well in the books and at the beginning of each book. There are lots of intricate maps and a handy-dandy chart.

The books (written in first-person) center around Alina Starkov, who is afraid to cross the Shadow Fold — think a thick cover of unnatural darkness that is infested with dangerous creatures. Who wouldn’t be? When her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes magic that reveals that she is a Sun Summoner. Alina then meets The Darkling, and before you shudder at the corny name like I did, hang tight. He is one of the best characters in the trilogy. The Darkling is a Shadow Summoner and is Second in Command in Ravka. He is feared by all. He is also *misunderstood* and *dreamy*. Think your “bad boy” character, but he is actually quite dangerous. These books can get very dark and graphic real quick (which I loved). After she realizes that The Darkling is corrupt and evil, Alina turns on him, and she goes out with a group of colorful characters to save her storyworld.

I’m not too into breaking down what each book is about and giving spoilers, so I will just give you some likes/dislikes.

What I like the most about this trilogy is that each character is neither “good” nor “bad.” They are all grey characters, which makes the characters (and books) so much more interesting. Alina, especially, is a compelling heroine. She grows in power throughout the trilogy and struggles with wanting more. She sees The Darkling as an enemy, but the power he holds over her storyworld (and her) is alluring. She can’t get away from him, and she’s not sure if she wants to. I certainly wouldn’t.

One thing I loved about these books can be summed up with one name: Nikolai. Nikolai forever and ever. I loved him. Still love him. Bardugo did a wonderful job creating such a witty, colorful character that you won’t forget easily. Nikolai is definitely her first take at creating the colorful, witty characters that you will meet in Six of Crows (which happens to be one of my favorite books of 2021 so far), and he is the reason I kept reading.

While there are things I liked about this trilogy, there were many dislikes. First, the pacing was tough to follow throughout. Rhythmically, I struggled reading this trilogy. The first book was very fast-paced, but the second and third books dragged. While Siege and Storm was definitely my favorite because of the nautical elements and of course, Nikolai, Bardugo rushed through some of the climatic parts, making me wonder if the world-building and unnecessary dialogue/plot points could have been edited out to leave space for the good stuff. The third book, Ruin and Rising, was even slower, and I found myself struggling to finish the book.

Ruin and Rising fell flat, and it all has to do with the ending (which I will not spoil). A large portion of the book followed that classic epic travel trope — lots of traveling, lots of dialogue, lots of unnecessary stuff. But what left me more disappointed was the salient moments in this book (and arguably, the trilogy) were rushed. I felt cheated, because the story and the characters deserved a better ending.

Also, if you are looking for steam, find another trilogy!

Speaking of those who deserved a better ending (and here is where I get a little spoiler-y and use a lot of CAPS … you can stop reading here if you want):

The Darkling! WHY did this happen? The Darkling is the most intriguing character in the series, yet he is the weakest character in the trilogy when it comes to storyline. MAL gets more of a storyline. MAL. MAL!!

I have a problem with Mal. Who doesn’t?

While readers anticipate The Darkling to be a complicated, grey character, these are only assumptions given to readers through Alina’s perspective. Alina knows that there is good in him, but it is not explored otherwise. Other than a backstory provided to Alina when she’s at Os Alta, there are only fleeting moments of his goodness, and that’s where this trilogy fails. I don’t mind “teases” throughout a trilogy, but I do mind a lack of execution. The Darkling was done dirty in this trilogy, and instead of creating an illusion or allure to his character, it shows a lack of structure and attention to a character. And his ending? I won’t get started. What a let down.

So, here is my very messy review of the Shadow and Bone trilogy. I enjoyed it, I won’t read it again, and I will be watching the Netflix show once I finish The Six of Crows duology (which I love much more than the Shadow and Bone trilogy. Bardugo thrives at writing in third-person).

Have you read The Shadow and Bone trilogy/the Grishaverse? What are your thoughts?! Please share in the comments!

Bookstagrammer Highlight: @_hodpatchreads_

This next highlight features the wonderful Holly, who is known as @_hodpatchreads_ on Instagram. Holly and I became friends this past year and let me tell ya – she’s one of the good ones. Learn more about Holly below!

Why did you start a book blog?

I am an avid reader who needs more of me in my life! I love connecting with new people and getting new book ideas. My TBR will never end at this point! HA! 

What is your go-to genre?

Historical fiction is where it’s at for me. Lilac Girls is *chefs kiss*

If you could interview any author, who would it be?

Stephen King. I would love to get inside that man’s head. The ideas he has are just truly terrifying and amazing at the same time. And I want to know where he comes up with all of it.

What is your favorite thing about the book community?

The people! Connecting with people is one of the best things about this place. I have made so many amazing friendships through this community.

Tell me one trend that you just can’t get behind. 

Reels. Too much like TikTok for me. And if I want to make those, I’ll just make a Book Tok. Which I won’t.

What are 5 books on your TBR?

Oh man, where do I start? Grown by Tiffany D Jackson, The Lost Queen by Signe Pike, The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer, The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, and Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth.

Tell me something about yourself that a lot of people don’t know about. 

In addition to reading like a fiend, I also am a HUGE World of Warcraft nerd. I have been playing since 2007 and can’t imagine not playing this game. 

If you could choose 3 characters to have over for dinner and drinks, who would you choose, and why?

Rachel Morgan because she is absolutely amazing. Benji from Beartown cause how could you not? Jack Torrance because why not? Let’s make this interesting.

What makes a 5-star read?

The ones that I can’t put down. The ones that hit me right in the feels. The ones that make me contemplate what I just read. The ones that make me think about it long after I have finished. Those are the 5 stars for me.

Can you list any movies that are better than the book?

Not better but I think Crazy Rich Asians was just as good as the book! 

Follow Holly on Instagram!

Want the opportunity to be featured on my blog? You don’t have to be a bookstagrammer. If you have a small business, podcast, or something creative that you want to share, please email me at kass.readsbooks@gmail.com!

Book Review: A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas

This time last year, a good friend of mine on bookstagram posted about her love for the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas (known as ACOTAR to the fandom), and the description piqued my interest. I never heard of her books, but I love fantasy, so why not? We just entered quarantine and I was feeling scared, exhausted from long hours at work, and in need of an escape.

Enter, Sarah. J Maas. I remember tearing through the series within a month, fully engrossed in the characters and storyline. I loved the examination of trauma, sisterhood, self-love, and healing. The romance wasn’t half bad either. I was new to that type of steam; I’ve read some steamy scenes before, but nothing prepared me for chapter 55 in A Court of Mist and Fury!

After ACOTAR, I read House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1) and absolutely loved it. It’s one of my favorite books. Now, I am almost done with the Throne of Glass series, and I will be sad when it ends.

In February, A Court of Silver Flames (ACOSF) was released, and I was greatly anticipating returning to ACOTAR. I’ll admit; I didn’t enjoy Nesta. I thought she was rude, arrogant, and extremely stubborn. She did horrible things. My skin would crawl when she was in a scene.

When I realized that ACOSF would be in first-person narrative diving into the stories of Nesta and Cassian, I went, “OH, so now I will love Nesta.” Great.

I was right. I found a character that I really connected with. All of the negative self-talk. The self-loathing. The destructive behavior. Pushing away from the ones who love you most because it hurts to be loved. I know those feelings. I experience them daily. I was starting to understand her.

There were things that I loved about ACOSF. There were things that I did not like about ACOSF. Without spoilers, I will talk about them so that others can have their own experience with this one.

But first, I’m going to spoil it a little bit with some trigger/content warnings. They’re important and you should know them before going into this book. I’m not seeing a lot of reviews with these content warnings included, and it’s important we do this as readers and reviewers. Now, while Maas touches on trauma in all of her books, this felt a little heavier than most.

This was a first-person narrative about battling trauma. It had PTSD flashbacks, heavy traumatic imagery, mental illness, suicidal thoughts, r*pe narratives, mental descriptions of sexual assault. It was very, very heavy. A lot of these themes are in SJM’s other books, but trauma is the main theme, and SJM does not pull back. It was hard to read at times, which is the point of this book. It’s not an easy read, so it will be difficult for some who are in different parts of their mental health journeys. I have been in therapy since 2013, and moments were triggering for me. Proceed with caution.

OK, review time (photo featuring my cat’s little body)

High level list of things I loved:

  • Nesta’s journey: As I mentioned, I connected with Nesta so much. As someone who has been in therapy for 8 years, I felt for her as she dealt with her trauma and how to combat it. There is a scene with Cassian that serves as a turning point for their relationship and her own self-awareness and I experienced similar conversations in my own marriage. Nesta is a force. She is power. She is resilient. Is she perfect? No. Does she make mistakes? Yes. But, is she raw and human? Yes.
  • The female bonds: Nesta forms strong friendships with two female characters who have also experienced trauma. I smiled big when Nesta let them in as friends and they grew physically, mentally, and emotionally together.
  • THE HOUSE. Favorite character.
  • Azriel. Always Azriel.
  • That extra Az chapter…

High level of things I did not love:

  • The amount of smut and lack of fantasy plot: Essentially, this book was STEAMY SMUTTY romance with a sprinkle of fantasy. While there were moments of world-building and the fantastic, it was really lacking. I am not a big smut person, and this book was pretty much 700+ pages of sex. Chapter 55, who? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed parts of it, but it got a little old too fast for me. If you love smut, PLEASE ENJOY! No judgment. Just not for me!
  • How the story started and ended with Feyre and Rhys. It doesn’t need to come back to them, or be centered around them. It really bothered me.
  • Not a big Cassian fan. There, I said it.

Overall, this was an average read. There were moments I really loved. There were moments I cried. Most of the time, I kind of read and shrugged. I closed this book feeling unfulfilled.

Did you read ACOSF? What did you think?

Book Review: Beartown

Beartown has been sitting on my shelves for a few years now. When I first picked it up, I thought the book wasn’t for me because of all of the hockey content, but I pushed forward this time and realized it was much more than that.

This book, like all of Backman’s books, is complicated. There are many characters presented within the text who are experiencing different, yet relatable struggles. Whether it is your identity or financial hardships, marital struggles, or internal strife, you find yourself in each and every one of those characters as they experience their separate grief, sadness, and fear. You find peace knowing you are not alone. Beartown is a story about being human. It’s raw and poignant to every reader.

Beartown, largely, is about how a fragile and already violent and complicit community reacts to a tragic moment. It looks at characters who make the right decisions, and characters who make the wrong ones. It is fictional, yet we see this happen all of the time, and it is frustrating.

The town, focused solely on getting its hockey team to the finals, loses sight of morality and humanity in this one important event. I read this book with shaking hands and angry tears most of the time, but Backman does not fully betray the reader. He shows that in darkness, there is light and that there are bears in this community who will fight for their cubs.

There are many “teams” in this book besides the obvious hockey one. Beartown demonstrates the power behind a good team and the strength of small teams. These teams can be husband and wife, lovers, best friends, colleagues, and mentors. Characters were constantly learning throughout this story how to be better individuals so that they can support their teams. I was moved by many of the characters and their loyalty to one another. It was a beautiful, raw, and complicated story.

A few things to wrap up my review:

Believe victims and survivors. BELIEVE THEM.

Have grit and persevere.

Knock yourself into that wall if you need to — full force. Again. Again. Again. You have strength and you have worth.

And,

“Words are not small things.”

Trigger warnings: rape, suicidal thoughts, suicide mentions, sexual assault, homophobia, guns, violence, victim blaming, child mortality (past), foul language.