In terms of the actual writing and my engagement with the characters, I enjoyed this book so much more than the original trilogy, though not nearly as much as the Six of Crows duology. You can tell she’s improved as a writer, but for my personal taste, this book relied too heavily on older storylines and characters, and I wish she wouldn’t have done that as much. Obviously, I also appreciate continuity and character arcs that feel authentic, so if she’s going to keep writing about these characters and this world, events from previous books have to be taken into account. But I just think it went too far here. (This reaction is definitely being exacerbated because I didn’t really love that first trilogy.)
Note: this review won’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t read all the previous books in the Grishaverse, and I’m not even going to try to correct that. Also, there are some major spoilers below.
The book is split in two: Nikolai’s story, and Nina’s. I forget how much time has passed since the original trilogy, a couple of years I think, and like six months since Six of Crows (I think, my memory is poor right now, and the book is back at the library). Nikolai recently has been dealing with the recurrence of his dark magic symptoms, which are getting worse, to the point he has to be locked up at night when he sleeps, lest he go on a murder spree. He has to keep this a secret from all but his closest advisors, and somehow work to find a solution, as this can’t go on. He can’t rule and beget heirs if he has to be chained to his bed.
Nina is working undercover in Fjerda as a spy for Nikolai’s government, secretly working to gain information, but also to get Grisha out of Fjerda. Currently she’s stationed at a basically a Fjerdan nunnery, and in the nearby town there is a factory, and girls have been disappearing, and the river is poisoned. Nina is also dealing with her very fresh grief over Matthias’s death.
Of the two storylines, I thought Nina’s was better, just because it did what I wanted it to do, which was acknowledge things that had happened, but move the story forward without retreading ground. Nina’s grief felt very real to me, as did her newfound mission to help Grisha in Matthias’s home country. Her relationship with one of the girls she meets was also very promising, and SPOILER it looks like there will be a f/f romance in her future END SPOILERS.
I really enjoyed a lot of Nikolai’s story. I loved all the characters, even this terrible religious character who has a very dark obsession. I also came to appreciate Zoya in a way that I hadn’t before. But for me, this story went too far retreading ground, sometimes literally. I’m going to have to talk spoilers now.
SPOILERS The fucking Darkling. I fucking hate that guy. I mean, I don’t even like him as a villain, and I felt so much enormous relief that I would never have to deal with him again, and this whole fucking book was spent in his shadow. I knew as soon as the Darkling’s voice came out of Nikolai’s mouth that that fucker was coming back and I’m so pissed about it. UGH I don’t like it! Bad story choice! I don’t care that so many people are in love with him or whatever, I think he sucks. Much better to just deal with his specter and the consequences of his actions than to deal with actual him (Zoya’s emotional state, and the weird cult surrounding him would have been good on their own). I feel like I’m alone in these sentiments and it makes me angry END SPOILERS.
SPOILERS IF YOU DEFEAT THE BAD GUY HE SHOULD STAY DEFEATED END SPOILERS.
But really, complaints aside, I did like the book, and I’ll definitely be reading all her future books.
[3.5 stars, rounded up]