This book has been my most anticipated release of this year and you all can bet that despite this review being posted today, I actually did read and finish the book on the day of its release because I couldn’t imagine going to sleep without knowing what happens to my darling Nikolai. And I’m so glad that this book lived up to all my expectations and more. Definitely going to be one of my top reads of 2019.
I am completely in love with the world that Leigh has created and it was so much fun to be back in Ravka. This is a different kingdom now, still ravaged by the failures of the previous king and the destruction wrought by the Darkling. The author gives us a tale of a young king trying his best to give his kingdom peace, of the people who are so desperate that some would rewrite history to project the Darkling as a Saint, of the Grisha and the first army within the country trying to develop their defenses to protect their country from multiple enemies, while the spy network is trying to protect the Grisha who are oppressed and killed in the enemy states. But what astounded me the most was that the author took everything that we knew about the Small Science and completely upended it. The implications of this new reality are staggering and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out in the later books. We also get a much deeper look into the culture and the brutality of the Fjerdans and some history of the Shu royal family and it was great to know about them. And we obviously get more of what Leigh is best at – sassy, funny, sarcastic and extremely quotable dialogues between the characters and I absolutely fell in love again with the banter.
Nikolai my bae is back and I loved reading his POV. However, he is not the same man anymore and the stress of running and protecting his country while the coffers are empty and trying to control the monster in himself is totally stressing him out. This book is essentially his journey, him figuring it all out; how to be the King his beloved Ravka needs, how to vanquish his enemies without trying to plunge them into an all out war again and making the journey to the Fold – back to where it all started and decide what he is ready to sacrifice. We have mostly known his sassy and strategic side before, but in this book we get a more vulnerable side to him, someone who loves his country more than anything, a prince who never liked being idle and always wanted to be productive, who despite being the King and knowing the political reality, longs for true friends and companionship. He really is such an amazing character and even seeing him bare all his insecurities, I can only love him more and I can keep talking about him all day 😂😂
We get to also read from both Zoya’s and Nina’s POVs and they truly were revelations. Nina is drowning in her grief and survivor’s guilt and is trying to live the only way she can – protecting the Grisha who can’t defend themselves. We see more of how the new powers are affecting her and they play such a huge role in her journey. She, Adrik and Leoni are unwittingly thrown into a huge secret plot of the Fjerdans which would drastically affect the future of Ravka and in their efforts to destroy it, they are helped by a Fjerdan girl (possible LI for Nina). I loved this development of friendship between Nina and the young woman, it’s tentative and sweet but also full of secrets and lies … and when the truths get revealed, they are explosive and I’m awaiting with bated breath as to what their decisions will lead to.
Zoya was never written as someone who we’ll like instantly because she can be very abrasive. But being in her head is a revelation. Despite showing the world her mask of the King’s General, she hides a traumatic past and uses all of her grief and the lessons she has brutally learned to move forward, to protect her people and her King. Her friendship with Nikolai was the best part of the book for me and there is so much push and pull, their feelings quite intense but they never tell each other because their duty to their country comes first. However, they do share some of their truths and fears and insecurities and it was great getting to know more about them and both of them trusting each other so much. Zoya is also tested more than anyone and I totally came to admire her strength and drive and immense resilience in the face of adversity. She never backs down from a fight and I can’t wait to see more of her.
I knew I was gonna love this book even before I started this, so my rating is not going to be a surprise. Obviously if you have read and loved any of Bardugo’s books, I highly recommend this one. I have seen many discussions around if this book can be read without reading the Grisha trilogy and my strong opinion is that it’s not possible to feel the magic of this story without reading both the original trilogy and the SoC duology. This book is full of little references to incidents and characters from them which made me insanely happy and I think the knowledge of the universe makes the reading experience of this book much better. This may not be as action packed as I probably expected, but the writing is wonderful as usual, the plot is engaging, the revelations and the ending are spectacular, completely blew my mind and I would give anything to read what happens next.