Oooooh. So much no.
I enjoyed Shadow and Bone and oh I did not like this. My review for the first part over here: Shadow and Bone.
SPOILERS FOR SURE
Seeeeee. We left Book 1 with Alina and Mal on the run from the Darkling who wants to use Alina’s powers to gain power. Book 2 starts with them on the run. And let’s face it, the Darkling is the only source of tension for Alina. So the couple gets caught pretty early on, like within the first twenty pages. Holy. What I really cannot stand is Alina and Mal. Ohmygawd. I cannot. I mean it’s all very dramatic, the Darkling threatening to kill the other if one of them mess up. But ohhhh do I so hate that trope. I would have loved it more if Alina or Mal at least tried to plan their way out of the Darkling’s clutches, but no, they just allow themselves to be taken prisoner. God. The best part of this entire book is Sturmhond and/or Nikolai< spoiler: they’re the same person. But anyway Nikolai is the best character around because he’s smart. He’s rational. He does wonder about his feelings about his parentage but does not let it come between what he needs to do. Alina, Mal and the damn Darkling they are all swayed by emotion. Annoying.
Anyway, the plot of this book: Alina and Mal with the help of Sturmhond escape from the Darkling and make their way back to Ravka’s palace. The Darkling is now known to be on the opposition side of the kingdom, some of the Grisha have followed the Darkling, some have stayed to fight for the Ravkan King. So…. Alina is going back to the Kingdom to get herself an army to fight against the Darkling, who’s creating an army of his own, but it’s not so easy and she doesn’t have much support.
I don’t know. I’m confused. Who was the Ravkan Kingdom’s First Army and the Second Army fighting against in the first book? Because now the Ravkan army is fighting against the Darkling? The Darkling is still pining away for Alina. Because yes. I understand he needs her or to be specific he needs her powers but I think he wants her too anyway. But after the initial fight with the Darkling, the guy doesn’t appear for the rest of the book until the end where shit starts to go down which was all that I was looking forward to for the 300 pages in-between that the Darkling went missing. Because the Darkling is Alina’s ONLY source of actual tension. And so Alina’s hallucinating about him in the 300 pages, which creates strife between her and Mal (which is tiring at this point). But I also have something to say about the Darkling being the main villain in the second book. His participation in this series has been dragged far too long. I personally do like him cause he’s edgy and mysterious and all. And I like his motivation. He’s been through crap and he wants vengeance against the Kingdom and claim power. I wish his motivation was explored more because it just reads like all he wants is to screw Alina instead of using her. And it doesn’t help that he doesn’t offer anything new. First of all, I can’t feel for a villain who only does something intimidating in Alina’s hallucinations. I know he’s strong and that he’s preparing for an attack, but no matter how grand his attack is at the end… it just feels underwhelming and especially underwhelming because of how short his attack lasted. He doesn’t want to kill Alina. He’s never going to kill her even if he gets his hands on her and he has no way of controlling her. There is absolutely so little he can do with her. His only way to get her to do her bidding is by using Mal and one, I’m tired of seeing the same method being employed, two, the Darkling doesn’t seem like that much of a threat anymore.
Next, Sturmhond is Nikolai and Nikolai is the second prince of the Ravkan King. Nikolai is a saving grace of a character. He’s funny, he’s charming, he’s smart. He too wants to take over the Kingdom. He seems to be a better guy than the Darkling though I think? At least his version of peace is having the Grisha and the normal people work together. The Darkling’s version is for the Grisha to overpower the normal people. But Nikolai has to compete with his older brother for the throne. So anyway, there’s that conflict. And Nikolai has his eyes on Alina as well because she’d make a powerful Queen, which only creates more strife between Mal and Alina.
And I bloody hate that strife between Mal and Alina. With that let’s talk about damn Mal.
A Goodreads reader said they wanted Mal to die AND I WANT THAT TOO. Like I was actually ready to say goodbye to him in Book 1. If he’d died in Book 1, I’d have been sad because he really did care for Alina and she for him as well. And his death would have caused such a character change in Alina. It would’ve made the second book a whole lot more serious. Increased the stakes. Given Alina an option to actually choose her loyalties and her purpose in the Kingdom instead of spending so much time and effort on her love life struggling to make it work with Mal. She doesn’t even know if she wants to protect the Ravkan Kingdom and it’s people. If Mal had died in Book 1 we could’ve have moved on to a problem between Alina, the Darkling and Nikolai and furthered the conflict or the war. But now it’s really like Mal is stopping Alina from achieving her full potential, from choosing to do what’s important because he’s afraid of her powers. He’s afraid of how she’s coming to terms with her powers. He’s afraid that she’s becoming someone of power within the Kingdom. She’s meant to be a leader and Mal is just preventing that. The Darkling and Nikolai can both offer her more and show her more than Mal can even think of. But Mal only makes her flounder unable to choose between the world or love.
Which makes Alina really ridiculous. The fact that she has no aims has me irked. Nikolai wants to bridge the Grisha and the normal peeps and try to get the neighbouring kingdoms to work together. The Darkling wants the Grisha to lead and take control of all neighbouring kingdoms. They both need Alina. But what the hell does Alina want? I cannot stand her in this book. She keeps saying she doesn’t want to be a pawn in other people’s moves but that’s all she is. She’s almost died a couple of times now, taken prisoner many times, I don’t understand why she still has time for love. I don’t understand why her hate for the Darkling isn’t more than it is. She’s so irresponsible. I mean I can understand she’s trying hard to make the Darkling’s words not come true, because the Darkling did say she and Mal will never work out. But you know… SHE AND MAL WON’T WORK OUT. And she just doesn’t seem to get it. MAL OBVIOUSLY CAN’T UNDERSTAND HER POWER. So many people have died for her and yet even by the end of the second book, she doesn’t seem to get it. I don’t get it. She doesn’t care about the Ravkan people. She just wants to kill the Darkling so that she and Mal can lead a peaceful life or something. Irresponsible.
In all honesty, I can understand. I can understand her desire to be normal. To just be with Mal in peace. To not be embroiled in all this mess. In fact, I actually think the story is plausible the way it went. The strife between Mal and Alina, I hate it, but plausible. Alina trying to lead the army, trying to understand her powers, I get it. The Darkling’s obsession over Alina and her inability to overcome his advances, I get it. Nikolai suggesting to make Alina his Queen, I get it. Book 2 flows pretty fine. The story makes sense.
But. At the end of the day, this is a fictional fantasy book and I just wanted more from Alina. I wanted her to be strong. To have principles. To be a more grounded person. To have goals other than getting with Mal. To be someone strong enough to know what she wants. To use her powers to actually lead instead of just being the right-hand woman of some other person, be it Mal, Nikolai or the Darkling.
I don’t know how I feel about this book. The first book was good. This book was just… okay can, if that’s what happens, sure.
Writing wise, you can get through this book. Leigh Bardugo’s writing is quite fun. But I did skim-read a lot of parts. Sometimes there was too much description and my brain can’t imagine all of it. It’s fine, I got the action down. I got through it in a night. Read it if you liked Shadow and Bone. I still recommend Shadow and Bone. But before I recommend this, I’ll read the next book. Something better happen in the next book.