Date Read: June 6th, 2021
Final Score: 9.5 / 10 !
This is one that I absolutely knew I was going to tremendously enjoy and, having now finished reading it, I have been 100% proven correct. It's definitely a delight to read and an extremely worthwhile addition to the Grisha Verse!
The first and most important thing to mention about this book is that it is another example in YA of how to write a war that actually functions like war in real life. It's tragic that so few YA writers seem to do any research at all into that subject matter, especially considering how many YA novels are focused on it, but it's the way things are and I'd like to change it. Which starts with lavishing praise onto writers who take the time to really do the work.
This is an exceptional look at how the process of war, and the threat of it, actually functions as an influence across all levels of society and how it is never, in any circumstances, confined to the powers actually involved in active conflict. You don't need a massive universe with 40 counties all vying for world domination, but you do need to ensure that all the countries that exist in a given reality do something to address the impending turmoil of open warfare. It was even a very accurate look at how certain players, kings and commanders and such, get pulled off the field because to lose them would be to create upheaval that a given force could not adequately recover from (it has nothing to do with them being less useful in battle, or too good a leader to risk losing, it's the simple fact of transitional turmoil that makes them too important to be unstable) and it goes effectively into the personal frustrations that such a thing causes for both good leaders and bad ones.
The one thing that DID bother me a little is almost negligible: it was simply how they kept referring to Nikolai as 'Highness'. It's a thing I had noticed in King of Scars, but he was such a new king I felt it was ignorable, but by this point he should be solidly established as a 'Majesty'... Though I have seen it translated as such in some Russian lit, so maybe it's a Russian thing I'm not familiar with (I has simply assumed that the address translated strangely). Idk.
Anyway, plot-wise, the story developed with some EXCELLENT twists and turns that I was not expecting and yet fit within the narrative as part of a perfectly natural evolution. This one improved upon King of Scars by validating some of the boring bits in that novel without laboriously lingering over the rationales, it simply employed the results of what happened then into a present moment (with just enough recap to keep a reader up to speed, but not so much that the time it took to read the pervious installment felt wasted).
The character development was also top notch. The admissions that anger comes from fear, that guilt is just a need for control, and that love and friendship are not things that can be affected by rationality or attempted decision-making are all wonderful and expose themselves within each and every character individually. Every character has a distinct arc of development that carries them through the motions of the main plot as a slap-dash combination of their individual stories. Zoya's development, in particular, was fantastic. I never really liked her until this one. I stopped disliking her in King of Scars but WOW did she blossom into someone awesome here (I think she's now in my top 3 of character faves for the whole series).
Honestly, Zoya's development in this is just so far beyond exceptional that it truly makes this book a marvel. I know that it's a bit unfair to judge books on a comparative basis, but I just have to point out that Zoya's handling in this book is about 50 billion times more elegant and well-crafted than Nesta's handling in A Court of Silver Flames (which is a review I'll have up in full next week). Zoya and Nesta are both extremely angry characters with razor sharp edges and anger issues that bubble up to cover feelings of inadequacy and a soul-deep fear of pain and loss. They're both grieving lives they used to know, and suffering through a crude and unpleasant adjustment to living with trauma. From their similiar circumstances, they require similar methods to help them heal. Nesta's story follows a perfect guideline of How NOT to Handle a Person with PTSD, and is frankly 700 pages of dangerously irresponsible drivel (that doesn't work) and it wraps up in a last 200 pages with a shorthand version of what happened to help Zoya start to heal scrunched up awkwardly at the end like Maas got yelled at by a psychologist. Meanwhile Zoya's journey takes place at an even-keeled pace across the entire (much more succinct novel) and it starts right from the beginning with addressing what is healthy vs unhealthy in terms of coping mechanisms -- all while dealing with protagonists who are younger (and therefore more entitled to handle things poorly). Bargudo does an EXCELLENT job and that fact has certainly catapulted this book into my top 25 of all time!
Over all, it was extremely well done. I will say that it was not quite life-changing, which several of Bardugo's books have been, but it was definitely one for the top 25 I've read ever, and top 10 for having read in the last decade (or rather it's the one to kick off the new list for this new decade). I am VERY excited about where this is going to lead the Grisha Verse as the series continues to develop!
(One other thing I understand but disagree with: the next one is currently termed Six of Crows #3, and it makes sense why with how exactly Kaz and his crew become embroiled in what must happen for the next stage to unfold, but it's NOT a Book 3... you can't read them in 1, 2, 3 order.... It should be a separate duology or trilogy or something, making title reference to Six of Crows, but not being part of it. Like maybe 'Five of Crows', since Matthias is dead, or perhaps 'Seven of Crows' to make note of Wylan and Hanne's now being tightly involved... honestly, idk, but it's not just Book 3...).