Rating this book has been a very challenging activity for me. On one hand, this is a very good YA fantasy series, it has the right amount of fight, struggle, passion, adventure and lessons and the writing skills of Leigh Bardugo are just impressive. I could not put the book down and I never needed to read a sentence a second time to understand it. On the other hand, the book simply missed on important plot links and it was too centered on the love triangle between Alina, Nikolai and Mal.
Let me spell out the issues I have with the plot, let's call them, leap of faith. Alina ends Siege and Storm not being able to draft. She actually feels like a part of herself is missing because she cannot call light any longer. This book starts on the same premise, Alina's struggle seems real. Yet, when then plot needed her ability to draft, suddenly Alina can call light back. Not only she can call the light but she does it in a spectacular fashion, unexplained too. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of books that live of this opportunistic use of abilities but I was hoping for something better, especially in light of the premise and the amount of time and effort spent to describe how difficult Alina's life was without drafting. Another moment I was skeptical about was the ability of Alina to be slow student when taught and an extremely advance drafter when she would be alone. Which one is it? Is Alina a genius or is she just talented but incapable of understanding how magic works?
The very last thing I had some concerns about was the love triangle. Provided that I have never liked them, I can understand they can be effectively used to better develop a character and make a character better than he or she is. Yet, I still have to see any such ability in a YA novel - although Leigh Bardugo is the closest attempt to it. In essence, I did not hate her take on the love triangle but was it really necessary? I really do not think it added any depth to Alina's character and it was not even entirely useful in the plot. Actually, to allow the happy ending story, Nikolai needed to become a monster so that Alina could focus her love on Mal. To be disappointed and later on rejoice in resurrection.
Yet, the book was emotional and it conveyed particularly well on the pain and mourning aspects. The Darkling had an amazing couple of moments, one when his mother dies. It looked like the Darkling really was affected by it. And at the end, his death was a death I really sympathized for.
Probably this is the book in which Alina shines (yes, the pun!) the most. There is so much character development and changes and realization of the change that I really liked her. It is Alina at her best!
I loved the side characters, pretty much all of them! I really liked Tamar - and her LGBQ aspect although it almost felt like it was a last second addition to the book to be able to tick the diversity box - and Harshaw and Oncat. I genuinely felt connected to both these characters. Here I also want to spend a second on Leigh Bardugo's ability to introduce new characters and make them so likable and lovable that make a difference in her writing style. So, well done Leigh!
One last note goes to the ending of the story. It could have been a "boring" last second ending but this quote is worth the whole book: "They had an ordinary life, full of ordinary things - if love can even be called that." Maybe a bit cheesy but I loved that this is one of the last sentences in the book. It really gave the book a more uplifting ending. And it makes me smile every time I read it. Yes, in the end, I might be a hopeless romantic (but please deliver it without the love triangle!).
As for the series itself, I can only say I truly enjoyed it. It was refreshing and new - and I particularly enjoyed the Russian setting! This is a series that I really recommend and it is a really quick read, you will be amazed by the Grisha and you will know that you need it!