I knew we were in trouble when I read the dedication: “For my father, Harve– Sometimes our heroes don’t make it to the end.”
It’s book three of the Grisha trilogy: Alina, the Sun Summoner, is recuperating underground with her merry band of misfits, as the Apparat uses her presence to keep his followers hopeful. Meanwhile, the Darkling appears to have won, ruling over Ravka and forcing those in the middle to humbly submit or face the shadowy nichevo’ya flying overhead. For the uninitiated, it’s the court intrigue of Game of Thrones mixed with the fantasy of Terry Brooks and the emotional triangle (quadrilateral?) of The Hunger Games.
Things are pretty desperate for our heroes (whether you’ve read the first two books or not), and Leigh Bardugo weaves together a tale centered around finding the third talisman that would give Alina a chance of defeating the Darkling, while it makes us consider who would be best for Alina. Is it joining with the Darkling, the only other eternal being in her life? Is it settling down with the warrior Mal, who loves her but boasts humble origins? Or is it the king-in-waiting, Nikolai, the trickster-from-royalty?
I’m not much into love triangles (or squares) but the exploration of Alina’s weighty decisions, the way that her philosophy of life weighs against the ruthless situations that she is put in, that is interesting. The duality of Alina’s gift and her understanding of it with the way she’s deified by others is interesting. The way that Bardugo blends faith and truth, doubt and experience, good and evil makes for a stunning novel that is (in my estimation) significantly better than what I read when I picked up Shadow & Bone a few years ago and dismissed it. I’ll admit it here: Bardugo has spun a tale that bears weightier issues and an emotionally moving tale of sacrifice that shows us that too often, to win, we have to lose.
What does it mean when we quest after something, expecting we’ll never have to work or sacrifice along the way? Doesn’t it mean we have to grow, to learn, to fail, to rise? Looking for faith in the wrong places, and finding it where we least expect it, that’s all part of the human experience, part of what it takes to figure out why we’re here and what we’re meant to do. This is an interesting book, and one I’d expect to see again sometime, maybe with the full-color treatment, starring teen stars at a theater near you.