Reading format: Paperback
Content warnings: death, violence, blood, implied sex
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After the Darkling’s surprise attack at Os Alta, Alina awakes to a life underground in the White Chapel. She barely survived her attempt to defeat the Darkling. Her Grisha army is in shambles. And she’s stuck underground under the protection of her fervent followers and the Apparat. With no news from the outside world, Alina has no idea if Nikolai survived. But she must push on and find the firebird if she has any chance left of defeating the Darkling. Alina and her remaining friends embark on a quest to find the third amplifier, making both happy and shocking discoveries along the way. As she draws closer to fulfilling her destiny, she must make a choice between sacrifice or letting the darkness take over the world.
After reading Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, I was eager to finish the series and find out who wins and loses. As Alina regains her strength in the White Chapel, we see how many people synonymize her with hope. We also see how manipulative the Apparat is, though if you’ve made it this far, you probably already deduced that.
Fear not, we also more time spent with some of our favorite characters, Tamar and Tolya. Throughout the search for the firebird, Alina’s remaining Grisha army and friends become more like a family, albeit with obligatory gripes and grumbling. Zoya becomes more tolerable and I might almost say I’d be her friend. There’s even a female/female love side story to make you feel all warm and fuzzy. And finally, dependable, loyal Mal who will do anything for Alina, even if it means risking losing her to her power.
Like the previous two books, this story moves along at a good pace. I did feel like it became a little slow while they were looking for the firebird. But that’s probably to be expected since they’re trying to find a mythical creature. In all honesty, though (spoiler: don’t read this if you don’t want to know my reaction to the ending), I was a little disappointed with the ending. I felt like it happened too quickly. I also felt it didn’t quite live up to the grandiosity and intrigue of the rest of the story. The more I think about it the more I understand why Bardugo wrote this ending. But that doesn’t mean I have to be content with it. Keep reading if you want to know more, otherwise there are spoilers ahead.
Throughout the last two books, Alina struggled with wanting too much power (e.g., the amplifiers), but also not wanting to give it up because it’s entwined with her being. So I was surprised that the story ended with her losing all of her power. I didn’t mind that her power created many Sun Summoners in order to correct the imbalance created by Morozova. But I expected some of her power to remain. Unless I’m missing something, Alina’s powers aren’t from Morozova like Mal’s amplifier abilities are (because he’s a distant relative to Morozova). Thus, when Alina killed Mal, defeated the Darkling, and restored world balance, I expected some of her original powers to remain. So that was my first disappointment with the ending.
I was also disappointed that Alina wanted to feign her death to live a quiet life with Mal. There’s nothing wrong with a quiet life. I guess after all she’s been through she should get to choose how she wants to live. From a reader’s perspective I had hoped she would, at the very least, stay in Os Alta and become an advisor to Nikolai. I also didn’t mind her ending up with Mal. Nikolai also would have been an good choice, but there was never the written tension between them like with Mal. But, so it is, it’s not my story. Overall, I did enjoy it, but I wish the ending was a little more interesting.
Unrelated to my unimportant complaints about the ending: the entire time I was reading this I couldn’t stop thinking about how many similarities there are to Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. Obviously Bardugo’s series came first. But let me explain. Just like the Darkling appears to Alina and Alina then learns how to appear to him, so do Kylo Ren and Rey. The Darkling remains corrupted up until his death and becomes a softie as Alina watches him die, so did Kylo Ren after he gifts Rey his life. Like Alina fades off to a quiet life with an implied name change, so does Rey. I’m sure these might just be common tropes, but these similarities kept jumping out at me.
If you want to discuss more, leave a comment. I’m always happy to chat with a fellow book lover.