Published: 4th June 2013
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.
The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.
This second book in the trilogy takes everything that was good about the first instalment and becomes something even better, with the help of some excellent new ideas and concepts. It was a massively enjoyable read from pretty much start to finish, with a narrative that greatly enhanced the world of Ravka, integrating darkness and light in more ways than one.
The introduction of interesting and entertaining new characters, along with discovering what lay in store for the ones we had got to know in Shadow And Bone, only deepened my connection to this series. Here the writing was terrific and contained some delightful humour, which acts as the ideal contrast to a more thorough exploration of complex themes, and Ravka’s murky political hierarchy.
A lot of the action in this book takes place in the beginning, before reigniting again in the closing chapters. I certainly was not expecting so much to happen early on, but it was thrilling to read and the events that took place meant that it acted as a kind of turning point in the series, bringing great anticipation for what was to come.
Although the pace slowed down noticeably during the middle part of the book, it never became dull and there was always the sense that something was about to happen. Here it focused more on how Alina’s power as the Sun Summoner was shaping her thoughts and her relationship with Mal, as well as shedding more light on Ravka and its politics.
It was all building up to a dramatic ending, which led to the deaths of several characters. The battle scenes rattled along at a ferocious pace, barely pausing for breath as something monumental seemed to take place in almost every sentence, and it all took a bit of time to take in. On the whole this book has an unconventional structure, but it was absorbing nonetheless.
I think that Alina developed fairly well as a character here, becoming more assertive as she adjusts to her new status. Her insecurities are very strongly conveyed, such as her shame in admitting that she is rather fond of her power and would never relinquish it, or when a series of dark visions cause her to think she is going mad.
My one problem with Alina is that she is the eternal pessimist, always assuming that the worst is going to happen. The words ‘Alina Starkov’ and ‘positive attitude’ can rarely go hand in hand, which is a shame because otherwise I actually quite like her. As for Mal, it was good to see his character explored slightly more, but he still lacks depth.
In fact, it is the supporting characters who are arguably the most interesting. The Darkling returns very early on in the book with a new weapon at his disposal in the shape of carnivorous shadow creatures called the nichev’oya. Unlike in Shadow and Bone, his actions here are nothing but pure evil as he battles not only for control of Alina, but to conquer the Ravkan throne.
It was good to see all the characters from the previous book return, as well as the main setting of the Little Palace. I appreciated getting to know more about the likes of David and Zoya, whose motives were unclear in the beginning. Meanwhile, the most tragic character of them all is Genya, who I spent the whole book silently imploring to choose the right side.
Early on in the book we are introduced to Sturmhond, a privateer who also seems to possess a questionable moral compass. He turns out to be a lot more than what he first appears, as do his comrades Tolya and Tamar. All three of them are truly memorable characters, who really help to give this trilogy a thrilling new dynamic. When the story threatens to drag around the halfway point, it is they who keep it afloat.
There are many adjectives that can be used to describe Sturmhond, or his alter ego. Indeed too many to list, but for now I shall settle for enigmatic, shrewd, tactful, calculating, charismatic, cavalier, scheming, and totally unpredictable. Every one of his scenes was fun to read, and I loved his dialogue with Alina, which often made me laugh out loud.
A significant amount of the book takes place at sea. The descriptions here are never short on detail, and nautical terms that I was not aware of before. It is here where we learn that there are not one but three Morozova amplifiers, which I am now referring to as the Deathly Hallows of Grisha.
Overall, while this book has a structure that is a little out of the ordinary, it is highly enjoyable and I loved the vividness that the new characters and settings have brought to the trilogy. The author has an excellent grasp of her audience and her writing made this one hard to put down. From here, it will be interesting to see how the trilogy is going to end.
The first book in the trilogy was good, but this one improved upon that, courtesy of great writing and fantastic characters. The middle may have been slow compared to the beginning and the end, but it was an exciting read.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐