The capital has fallen.
The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.
Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.
Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.
Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.
I finished this book Sunday night and immediately wrote a review where I ranted about everything that rubbed me the wrong way. I published it and decided to rewrite the review now that I’ve calmed down a bit and can make it sound less ranty and more constructive.
- I wish we could’ve seen more of Nikolai in this book — he was absent for a majority of it, which made no sense.
- I still don’t see the Darkling as a villain — this goes far beyond the fact that I really enjoy his character. We don’t see enough of him to justify his villain status (if anything he’s vastly misunderstood).
- Mal had some nice character development, but it was too little too late — I still didn’t like him by the end of the book.
- Alina’s powers were continuously undermined, especially when she fought the Darkling.
- The third amplifier wasn’t at all what I expected — this was not a pleasant surprise for me and felt incredibly forced.
- The final battle between Alina and the Darkling was anticlimactic.
- The “epilogue” or “after” was a little cliche for my liking and didn’t feel like it fit the series.
That’s a brief summary of my thoughts, if you want to know more of my in-depth thoughts (with spoilers), keep on reading!
Vacant Characters and Late Character Development
Missing: The Too-Clever Prince
Alright, so the first thing I’m going to discuss is the seemingly random absence of Nikolai in this book. The story picks up just about where Siege & Storm left off with Alina and Mal underground and Nikolai’s whereabouts and/or survival unknown. That I somewhat understand because he was separated from the group and Alina was forced to live underground for a while. However, what I didn’t understand was her doubt that he’d come back to help if he made out alive; aside from the small stint where he was Sturmhond, I don’t understand the distrust with him. I thought he’d proven himself loyal to her on more than one occasion.
Once we found out that he was very much alive and fortifying his army, we only saw a glimpse of him before the Darkling showed up and foiled their plans (yet again). I loved his banter with Bahgra because it was reminiscent of the times Alina trained with her in Shadow & Bone and gave us some lighthearted moments.
“Well, she did almost die trying to rid us of your cursed spawn.”
This was short-lived though because once the Darkling arrived, Nikolai was turned into this weird almost-volcra creature. He kind of disappeared, but made occasional appearances because he was ‘tracking’ them through the mountains as they searched for the Firebird. Once he turned back into a human, we didn’t learn anything about his experience because he “didn’t remember much.” I honestly don’t see any point to that part of the plot then. Instead, I feel like it was a wasted opportunity to give Alina a strong ally that I think would’ve given them a better outcome.
Also Missing: the Misunderstood Villain
Nikolai wasn’t the only one missing from the story; as per Siege & Storm, the Darkling was only there in a few scenes. This goes beyond me ‘falling under his spell’ and loving the mystery of his character; he remained a mystery because he wasn’t there! Every time we saw him, it seemed to humanize him a bit more and/or deepen the little bit of sympathy that I felt for him. After we heard Baghra’s story about being Morozova’s daughter and her telling the Darkling that he’ll forever be alone, my final opinion of him was that he was just incredibly misunderstood. All he wanted was to find someone who understood the power he wielded.
“For all his crimes, the Darkling loved Ravka, and he’d wanted love in return.”
Alina saw past the darkness in him and somewhat understood that in the grand scheme of everything, the Darkling was scared and lonely. I mean, despite blinding Baghra, he refused to fight her and his face as she plunged to her death haunted Alina.
“How could he be so cruel and still so human?…I knew wherever he was, he was grieving.”
So no, after everything he did and the few times that Alina fought him, I did not feel like the Darkling, or as we learned, Aleksander, was a true villain. Cruel? You bet, but also deeply misunderstood. I think I would’ve much rather had a cliche ending where he turned out not-so-evil, than have him die by a mere dagger and then burned on a pyre.
Too Little Too Late
We finally got to see some character development in Mal that made me almost like him. Almost. It took Alina almost dying for him to get over himself and be a little more understanding of the pressure that she was under.
“I was afraid of losing you. The girl you were becoming didn’t need me anymore…”
A lot more communication happened between the two of them, which was much needed for both my sanity and the sake of their relationship. Both of them had a tendency to keep things inside. Once Mal was revealed to be the third amplifier (and basically the Darkling’s cousin) I had to put my kindle down and shake my head. Having Mal as the end-all once again felt like an easy out, and it made him a martyr. In other words, we had all of this character development happen just because he found out that he was going to die at the hand of Alina. *sigh*
Undermined Talents and Unimpressive Finale
Not Good Enough
I think the hardest pill for me to swallow was the fact that when it came down to it, Alina’s powers were not strong enough to defeat the Darkling. She spent all this time looking for the amplifiers, and even though she had all three, it wasn’t her powers that defeated him. In fact, once she killed Mal for power of the third amplifier, she lost her powers. Alina was no longer a Grisha; she was a normal girl again, just as she had wished. That was frustrating because we literally had read three books following her and watching as she struggled with the responsibilities that came with her powers, and she simply lost them. I couldn’t help but feel like I had wasted my time by that point because the ‘After’ that we got could have happened without the entire series. The ending felt like a huge slap in the face to Alina and practically justified her feelings of not being good enough. I could’ve stabbed the Darkling (I mean, I wouldn’t but it’s the principle of the matter).
By the time the Darkling had foiled Alina’s plans for the last time, I had expected it because nothing she did was good enough to defeat him. At least, according to Leigh Bardugo it wasn’t. I’d also accepted the fact that the Darkling wasn’t a ‘good’ guy and that his death was imminent. When the time came for them to battle and finally test their powers against each other, it turned out that Alina wasn’t strong enough (no shock there). So instead, she loses her powers and stabs him with a dagger made of Grisha Steel. It was…anticlimactic to say the least. I mean, the Darkling literally took the words right out of my mouth.
A single laugh burst from his lips, and a fine spray of blood settled over his chin. “Like this?”
The weirdest part was how Alina comforted him as he died, and then mourned both his and Mal’s deaths. I got the sense that Leigh really wanted us to view the Darkling as misunderstood at that point, which I liked because that’s how I felt without all the fluff.
“…in this moment he was just a boy – brilliant, blessed with too much power, burdened by eternity.”
In the end Alina did not hate the Darkling, so why should I? Alina got to live her life just as she wanted; without the burden of Grisha powers, married to her best friend, and bopping around an orphanage telling stories. A little too cliche if you ask me. She should’ve married the prince. 😉
This book was frustrating because we got a lot of conflicting information. We were supposed to hate the Darkling, but pity him at the same time. Alina was all-powerful, but not powerful enough to defeat the Darkling. Despite her powers, Alina was destined to be ‘normal.’ Mal got a second chance at life just because. I like the series as a whole, but what little plot there was, was blown to smithereens in this book. I think Leigh needed to development the plot and the characters more to have a stronger finish to the series. It felt like a lot of easy cop-outs just to finish everything up.
Would I recommend the trilogy? Yes, because I think this is one that everyone should read and make up their own minds about whether or not they liked it. Having read Six of Crows, I think Leigh found her footing with that series. Now that I have this one under my belt, I’m ready to dive into Crooked Kingdom because I really do enjoy her style of writing. Regardless of everything, she paints beautiful pictures and creates funny moments that make me laugh out loud.