Girls Don’t Want Boys, Girls Want Malina

Just a couple days ago, I finished reading Ruin and Rising. The reason it took me until now to post a review is only because I needed a minute to process what I just read. Also, I was busy crying. Many times. So let’s start where it makes sense. It’s a five-starrer.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you saw my reviews for Shadow and Bone or Siege and Storm, you already know I’m a fan of these books. But this one was simply ridiculous, in the best way possible. It’s been a long time since a book has ripped my heart out of my chest, crushed it, then put it back in place and made me so happy I can’t stop thinking about it. That is the power of Leigh Bardugo.

Ruin and Rising so exceeded my expectations I can hardly put it into words. Nevertheless, I’m going to give it a fair try.

I’ve never been one for love triangles (or whatever was happening with poor Alina) or much for romance in books at all. I loved Wylan and Jesper in Crooked Kingdom, along with a select few couples I’ve read about throughout the years. But Mal and Alina are it. I have no better way to describe it; they are just it.

For a book boy to actually outdo Nikolai in the making-me-love-them-endlessly department is quite a feat, considering he is practically the perfect character. But that’s exactly what Mal did. And I’m really quite confused over all the reviews from people saying they hate Book Mal. Granted, I haven’t watched the show yet, and Show Mal might be even better. But even in the books, he’s a solid 10 for me. Are we sure we read the same story?

Then, there’s the Darkling. He really put his all into being not only a villain but also a generally horrible individual. He’s easily one of the best bad guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about. I truly hated him from start to finish, which is exactly the point, right? Aleksander carried his weight, for sure.

I know I’ve already doted on her in previous reviews, but Alina is just such a compelling character, I think it’s worth mentioning yet again. Needless to say, Leigh Bardugo has a way with character writing that I’ve seen among very few authors. I instantly develop strong feelings toward almost everyone—at least everyone who’s important. No room for blasé MCs around here.

In favor of complete honesty, I will admit Ruin and Rising took a long time to pick up for me. The beginning, with the Apparat and all the underground living, was so boring I found it hard continuing the book. It felt like it was never going to end. I let the poor thing sit on a shelf collecting dust for I don’t know how long contemplating whether I really needed to read it, and if it would end up ruining the two great books that came before it by being painfully dull.

Fortunately, I did pick it back up, and it more than redeemed itself, earning a five-star rating I give out about twice a year to a very special book or two. And I owe my praise almost exclusively to Mal and Alina. Who would have thought?

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Let me start by saying this is easily one of my favorite books I’ve ever read, and I’m beginning to think I may like the Shadow and Bone trilogy even more than the Six of Crows duology, which is really saying something. I think I could probably go on for a week or so telling you everything this book did right, but I shan’t waste your time. Here is a condensed version of my absolute adoration for this series and, above all, this book in particular.

First of all, I’d like to thank Alina for actually being likable. It is so very rare for me to find a main character I like and feel like I can relate to. They usually feel like too far a stretch from being regular people, especially in the case of YA and fantasy. But with Alina, I instantly liked her. She’s rather ordinary, but not so much that she’s boring. And her thoughts and feelings are always understandable. As much as I like to be confused by a character, it’s sometimes nice to feel like I just get someone.

Then, there’s Mal, another (extremely ordinary but in his own strange way not at all ordinary) gem, and really another thing that makes these books so worth reading. As often as I see complaining about poor writing with female characters in a variety of series (and believe me, I often agree with the critiques), I think there is also so much room for improvement in the writing of men. The Kaz Brekkers of the world provide just the right amount of spice, but the Mal Oretsevs help to ground their stories in reality, which I adore.

I know I have a whole lot to say about the characters today, but can we quick hit on the topic of the Darkling? Because quite frankly, he scares the hell of me. Really, how could I ask for a better villain? While he’s generally horrid in the first book, I like that his utter lunacy and murderous nature are ramped up even further in Siege and Storm. I always like the villains best when they seem truly unstoppable, which is exactly what he appears to be at this point. I can’t even guess where Alina’s headed next to actually take him down. (I mean, I do have a guess, but I’m not going to spoil it because that wouldn’t be very nice.)

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there’s Nikolai. Once I got a bit of the way into Siege and Storm, I suddenly couldn’t even remember what the books were like before he came along. What a boring story the first book must have been without him! (I’m only kidding. I love them both.)

I guess the moral of the story here is that Leigh Bardugo has unstoppable character-writing skills, and we all owe her an immense debt of gratitude for providing us with such an amazing series. I just started Ruin and Rising, so I’ll be sure to leave a review once I finish that one as well. And thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to everybody who talked about these books so incessantly I couldn’t avoid hearing about them (mostly my sister because we’re in the same house). I owe you all big time.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Rating: 4 out of 5.

My most recent reading escapade wound up being a far different experience than I anticipated. After hearing how much my sister liked the Six of Crows duology, we decided to read them for our podcast. Me for the first time, Laura for the second. I ended up loving them, though I must admit I found Crooked Kingdom to be a step up from its predecessor. After that, I decided, since I liked those so much, I might as well read the Shadow and Bone trilogy. Because I loved Six of Crows, I wanted so badly to like Shadow and Bone, but Laura had a feeling it wasn’t going to be the series for me, mainly due to the prevalent theme of romance throughout, particularly the much loved and much loathed Darklina. *collective gasp of love or hatred*

It turns out Laura was wrong on one count but quite right on another. I actually did enjoy (at least the first book, since that’s all I’ve finished so far) much more than I thought I would. Alina is an interesting enough character, thrown into strange enough circumstances, that I kept wanting to know what happened next. I always love to find a main character I like. Even if they’re not the best character in the book, it’s still fun to be rooting for the MC rather than rolling my eyes at them for hundreds of pages (though I sometimes like to go that route, it sort of depends on the story). Shadow and Bone was definitely the type of book where the MC needs more than a few brain cells with which to operate. Thank you, Alina Starkov, for stepping up to the challenge.

Now for what Laura predicted correctly: I really don’t care for the Darkling and Alina’s weird sort-of relationship. Please keep in mind that I’ve only read one of three books, and I know very well this is a touchy subject (as it always seems to be with fictional couples). Nevertheless, I find the whole idea of an ancient fellow of indeterminate age seducing a seventeen year old girl to be…offputting. Plus, Mal is just dependable and kind and has always cared deeply about Alina, so I guess I just understand her feelings toward him a bit more than the lust she felt toward the Darkling. That being said, I’ve heard about people who like Darklina receiving quite nasty messages online, which is a particularly ridiculous thing to hear considering:

The books and characters are fictional.

And I should note that the Darkling is actually a fantastic character, if you ask me. He’s thoroughly creepy and untrustworthy, and I just might put my life into the hands of a volcra before him, but I completely understand (part of) Alina being drawn to him at first. I can’t say I wouldn’t want to know more if I met such a peculiar individual. I guess I just wouldn’t let the guy feel me up in a dark room.

I digress.

Let’s talk about Genya though. What a great character! I know she doesn’t have a huge role, but I love her friendship and dynamic with Alina. I always love to see a well-written female/female friendship that doesn’t seem forced. Their conversations feel genuine, despite the unrealistic setting and circumstances. I think that’s the sign of a good (or at least enjoyable, for me) fantasy book, when I can see real people inside the characters of the story. Genya is sassy but that isn’t her only personality trait, something I see too often in the books I read. I hope to read a lot more of Genya in future books. I love to see a character with a bit of sass and also a bit of class.

All in all, I did like Shadow and Bone quite a lot more than I expected, and I totally understand the heated debates I’ve seen online (though I have absolutely no interest in joining in). I like what I like, I dislike what I dislike, and I encourage you to do the same!

Did you read Shadow and Bone? Did you like it? Will you watch the spinoff series on Netflix?

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