Updated: Jan 3
WARNING: While I always make sure not to include spoilers about the book I’m reviewing, it is impossible to discuss this book without revealing spoilers about the first two books. If you haven’t read books 1 & 2, you may not want to read any more of this review. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for ruining the story for you.
The Darkling has taken control of Ravka. The fate of the nation rests in the hands of a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.
Hiding 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.
Alina is paying the price for her actions in the final scenes of Siege and Storm. She’s weakened, and has no choice but to follow the directions of the Apparat. It sounds an awful lot like an abusive relationship — he’s distanced her from the few allies she has left, and left her solely dependent on him for every little thing. She’s under armed guard around the clock, and has become so weak that her powers are non-existent. She’s forced to perform daily for the cult that the Apparat has encouraged to spring up around Saint Alina, and he controls every movement she makes. But if you’ve been following this story at all, you know that Alina isn’t weak or stupid. She and her friends are warriors, survivors, and most importantly, they’re smart. Alina clearly absorbed a lot more of Nikolai’s lessons than she had let on in the last book, and uses that information to her advantage throughout the book.
Although Alina has not had an easy road in life, she’s forced to make more difficult choices in this book than I’ve seen her make in previous books. She has to choose who to trust, and she comes to rely on people that she struggled with in the past. She’s got Mal by her side the whole time, even when she’s been so focused on finding the third amplifier that her personality changes in negative ways. How far is she willing to go to find it, and can she handle the consequences of what finding it can do?
While I’ve been a fan of Mal since the beginning, this book really highlights who he is at his core. I know he also made some poor choices throughout this series, but think back to when you were 17 or 18. I made some really terrible decisions at that age, and I’m willing to bet that you probably did too. Maybe that’s why I’m willing to forgive him for his, but I also think that Alina really sees who he is, even if he hasn’t always treated her the way she deserved to be treated. Mal may not like what Alina does, or how she acts, but he’s got her back.
The other major player in the story is the Darkling. I think it’s hard for a lot of the Grisha to resist the lure to his power, including Alina. This was especially true for her in the beginning, but she started to see who he really was long before the others did. Even after his true nature showed, she still struggled to fight against his magnetic lure. But the Darkling was still a person. I’m always fascinated by where things go wrong, what makes people turn from being a regular guy (or girl) into such a dark force of evil, greed, hate, and all those factors that make villains so utterly fascinating. The aspects that make me gasp and, want to close my eyes and not read about their horrible deeds, while simultaneously being unable to turn away from the page as my mouth falls open in shock.
While I raced through the other books in the series, this one gave me pause. I had to stop reading at times, and take some deep breaths to compose myself before being able to resume reading. This was the first time I had read the final book in a Leigh Bardugo series, and I was not prepared for the emotional turmoil I was experiencing as I read. I still found funny parts, especially in the banter between Alina and Mal, and the other characters as well. I wasn’t expecting the funny bits between the other Grisha as well, who had been catty at best, vicious at worst, but had found a way to form a sort of alliance in the face of overwhelming odds.
I was surprised at how much each of the characters had grown. Most of all, I was surprised at how sad and emotional this book made me in many places. Some parts of the book brought me to tears, a few happy tears, but more sad tears. This line in particular hit me right in the feels:
“This was what Ravka did. It made orphans. It made misery. No land, no life, just a uniform and a gun.”
Because how true is that in many parts of our world today? While we don’t have Grisha, we have misery in abundant supply throughout our history and we don’t seem to have learned anything except how to kill on a larger scale.
While this was a rollercoaster of action and emotions, I loved how the story was woven, and how everything came together. I was enchanted with Alina and Mal, the Grisha, Nikolai, and yes, even the evil of the Darkling. The people who fought for a Ravka that they didn’t think could be fixed. And while I wasn’t prepared for the ending I got, I wouldn’t change a single word of this book. So read it. It’s a good one. I promise. And if you don’t love it, come back and leave me a comment about how much you hated it.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn't an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 20
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars