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!

May Hopefuls

This month is going to be one for the books hehe (is this thing on??), because it is the first month where I have no graduate work to complete.

I submitted the thesis. I did the thing! I’m ready for nothin’ but my job and free time on the weekends!

Alright, alright. Let’s talk books.

I have plans to read six books in May, and I look forward to finishing up a couple of series that I have been working through. There is a good balance between fantasy and fiction, and there’s even a nonfiction, self-help book on the list!

Let’s get to what I plan on reading this month!

Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass)

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This is it, folks. The end. The very last book in Throne of Glass. Look at Aelin on this cover. The badassery, the flowy hair, the armor. So coool. Kingdom of Ash is nearly 1,000 pages, so I am very optimistic in thinking I will get to five other books this month. We shall see. Once I finish, you best believe a series review will be posted on this blog of mine.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Six of Crows)

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I have already started this one, and I enjoy this book more than I enjoyed all of the Shadow and Bone books combined. Don’t @ me (you can if you want).

I think Bardugo thrives in writing third-person narratives, and this premise is just too fricken cool. I love the representation in this book, from race and abilities to gender, and it’s giving me real Sherlock Holmes, Gangs of New York, Pirates, thievery vibes. I just really enjoy it. That’s it. That’s the tweet.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo (Six of Crows)

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…Because I’ll need to know what happens next!

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

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She’s back! If you did not already know, I discovered Kristin Hannah the end of 2020 and love.her.books. This one came out in February, and I can’t wait to read it. I heard it’s amazing, and unsurprisingly, will make you sob. Perfect!

Your Time to Thrive: End Burnout, Increase Well-being, and Unlock Your Full Potential with the New Science of Microsteps by Marina Khidekel, Thrive Global

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So this will either be a book with tips that I’ve already read 100 times, or it will be revolutionary when it comes to managing burnout and stress. Time will tell. I do look forward to reading this one because I enjoy Thrive Global and its platform. Even though my thesis is over, I still work in a very demanding, fast-paced industry and need some help when it comes to prioritizing self-care. I am hoping this book and “the new science of microsteps” will help me in this journey.

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

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Fredrik Backman has become one of my favorite authors. I read A Man Called Ove a few years back, and in 2019, I clutched My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry while sobbing on my couch. THEN, in 2020, I laughed AND cried again while reading Anxious People. AND THEN, this year, I read Beartown and Us Against You and they are two of my favorite books EVER. SO … enter Britt-Marie Was Here … my last Backman.

What are you reading this month? Share in the comments below!

Check out these posts to see what I’ve read this year:

January Wrap-Up

February Wrap-Up

March Wrap-Up

April Wrap-up

Book Blogger Highlight: @AllieMikennaReads

Hello!

Welcome to the inaugural “highlight” series, where I will feature bookstagrammers, influencers, and just really cool people who are doing cool things.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself in the past year, it’s that I love to meet new people and learn about them. It must be the journalism major in me. I am interested in people and their stories — why they do what they do and why they love what they do!

I joined Bookstagram in July 2019, and it was the best decision I have ever made. I have read so many incredible books and met some awesome people.

Including Allie!

Allie was one of my first friends on Bookstagram, and she is also a budding blogger building her brand (alliteration!). You can learn more about Allie below and through this link to her “Meet the Bookstagrammer” post!

Why did you start a book blog?

I started my bookstagram back in August of 2019 because I had been mostly posting books to my personal Instagram for a while. I had been following a few bookstagrammers and I just felt very drawn to the book community and realized it was the section of Instagram that brought me the most joy. Then I met some amazing bookstagrammers in my local community and made the switch to a book account for good. I have always been a writer and I used to write for an online magazine. I stepped back for personal reasons a few years ago, but I was missing that outlet for writing about lifestyle-type content. So, at the start of 2020, I built out my blog and decided to give a blog of my own a whirl! It’s still very much in the early stages but I’m excited to dedicate more time to it this year. 

What is your go-to genre when you pick up a book to read?

If you’d asked me this two years ago, I’d have said young adult fiction. But lately, I’ve been really drawn to contemporary romance and young adult fantasy. 

Do you have any childhood books that you have kept all of these years? What about favorite editions? Can you share a photo if possible?

I’m a very sentimental person, so I do read a lot of books from my childhood, but sadly, I didn’t have the foresight to keep my original copies. I did hunt down a copy of my favorite picture book, Two Cool Cows. I also collect editions of Alice in Wonderland and have since high school. This post has the spines of my favorite copies! 

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

Ooh, this is a tough question for me. Rhysand from A Court of Mist and Fury mostly so I could look at him, but I would prefer to be invited to his place for dinner because Velaris sounds so stunning. I’d also say Alex and Henry from Red, White, and Royal Blue because I loved their banter in that book, and I think they’d make for really fun dinner party guests. 

What can people expect when they visit your page?

On my blog, they’ll find a mix of book reviews, book-themed gift guides, bookstagram tips, and assorted lifestyle content — hiking, crafting, and more. On Instagram, I try to keep a bright, clean feed but I like my photos to still look pretty real life. I take them all on my phone, and I do a little minor editing, but don’t really use filters or presets that drastically change the look. Although some of my favorite accounts have more themed aesthetics! I post about current reads, reviews, and usually host a few fun book photo challenges with friends throughout the year. 

What is your favorite thing about the book community?

Honestly, the friendships! I have met so many cool people, thanks to bookstagram. The book community helped me reconnect with an elementary school friend I hadn’t talked to much since moving away when I was 13, which was so neat. I found a lot of other Iowa bookstagrammers when I first decided to switch to a book-only account. I really connected with a group of them, and that group has become some of my closest in-real-life friends over the last year. We used to meet up in person pre-COVID, but we’ve stayed connected through virtual book club chats.  They’re all some of the most genuine, nice, and supportive people and of course, I love having people in my life who share my love of books. 

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

So I enjoy watching Tik Toks, but you will not find me appearing in one. I am trying to learn to embrace Reels this year, but I don’t love showing my face or talking on camera, so I am definitely very late to the party and still figuring out what will work for me. Maybe that means I’m officially not “hip with the teens” (I don’t know that I ever was though). 

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

I have two different colored eyebrows and always have – one is brown and the other is very blonde/ has no pigment. Once you notice you can’t unsee it! I’m too lazy to pencil it in ever so I just embrace it. I also enjoy writing in my spare time but don’t talk a lot about it on Bookstagram. I used to write a lot of poetry and have a couple published poems in small/ local publications. I also have planned out a romance novel that I’m currently neglecting writing. 

What makes a book a 5-star read?

I’m a pretty generous reviewer — I give most books I read 3-5 stars, but that’s also because I know what I like and don’t really spend time reading books I don’t think I will enjoy unless it’s a book club pick. And even then, I’m notorious for not finishing the ones that aren’t working for me. I usually save five stars for books that I think will be “forever favorites” of mine. These are typically books I’ll read again in the future and would recommend to most readers. 

What are your other hobbies or passions?

This year, I have recently discovered a love of a new hobby – making miniatures! I bought a kit to make a miniature model house. It brings me so much joy to make all these tiny books and plants and accessories. It’s also been a great stress relief during the pandemic this year. As soon as I finish, I’m branching out to redo a dollhouse from scratch. I’m also making a miniature model bookshelf and, as I finish books this year, making miniature versions of them. I think that may be cool to see at the end of the year! I may have to add a mini-book cart too if my reading pace keeps up!

Follow Allie on her blog and Instagram!

Review: ‘The Broken Earth’ Series

I did not know what to expect when I started The Broken Earth series, but I was not disappointed. The series started popping up on my Bookstagram feed (@keepitkassual) in the late spring, and I knew that it was something I needed to get my hands on!

The glossy Hugo Award pictured on each cover is more than well-deserved. Author N.K. Jemisin presents some of the best storytelling that I have ever read with shifting points of view and poetic, poignant prose. You are constantly on the edge of your seat as you read, concentrating on every word as you learn about Essun and her story.

 

Orogenes are a specific race within the Stillness with a power called sessapinae, giving them the ability to control tectonic activity within the earth. Also referred to as the derogatory term, roggas, orogenes are oppressed, feared, and hated beings; they are seen as the “Other” within the Stillness. Essun, an orogene herself, kept this secret from Jija. She believes that Jija has taken Nassun somewhere to kill her, so she sets forth to find them and seek revenge on Jija. That is the premise of the story. Essun’s quest to find her daughter. What readers are presented with is so much more, however.

What I liked about The Broken Earth series was that the books shed light on many important social topics, including environmentalism (the Earth seeking revenge on the beings that destroyed it), systemic racism, and classism. The books aren’t just limited to those themes, however. They also explore individualism, resistance, LGBTQ relationships, and gender equity. These topics are important, and they are impeccably intertwined throughout the books.

The first book was my favorite, for it seemed the most organized.  I enjoyed the shifting points of view. Essun’s story is told in the second point of view, so, you, the reader, are Essun. You are the protagonist. The Fifth Season also follows the stories of Damaya and Syenite, two other orogenes. The ending of the book will leave you feeling exhausted and duped … but in a good way.

The Obelisk Gate has the one thing that a reader of the fantastic enjoys: world-building. Hundreds of pages of it. So much that it almost came across as disjointed and hard to follow. This might be because I don’t enjoy lengthy world-building, but it’s high fantasy, so I should have been prepared for it. I do read and enjoy Tolkien, don’t I? He loves to talk about trees. 

The Stone Sky, the final book, can be read quickly because you don’t want to put it down once you start. Jemisin’s writing is entrancing. The mother-daughter struggle is profound as you discover that Nassun’s powers go beyond what Essun could have ever imagined. This difficulties that they face stretches to the very end. The finale is truly heart-wrenching and fast-paced. You’ll finish feeling heartbroken yet satisfied. You will find yourself experiencing a complex array of emotions. That’s because it’s such a complex series.

In The Broken Earth series, Jemisin presents readers with the following question:

What are we willing to sacrifice to avoid positive change?

The Broken Earth series is a profound glimpse into our present and our future. It’s important now, more than ever, to have conversations about climate, race, and human rights. We must make sustainable change. We have to save our world.

. . . . .

N.K. Jemisin was the first writer to win three consecutive Hugo best novels awards for science fiction and fantasy. As a Black writer within the fantastic genre, her books feature strong Black characters struggling and combating important social issues. 

You can learn more about N.K. Jemisin and her work here.