My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Needs more Darkling.
Yes, in short my main feeling coming off this novel was that I needed more of the Darkling. This is largely because he is one of my favorite characters in the series. I was however introduced to a new favorite. Overall, I really enjoyed this story, but that’s not to see I didn’t still have problems. Much of the problems I had were carry overs from the first novel.
Let’s begin with the standing problem. I don’t like Mal. Okay, let me clarify. I don’t like Mal for Alina. There was always something about him that just felt wrong. He felt too caught up and not in the same place as Alina. It made the relationship tough for me to buy, much less invest in. That said, watching Mal come to the realization that their relationship may not be solid was interesting to watch. His spiral and his reaction to being held up, kept from what he loved most was heartbreaking. Well, it would have been if I liked him.
Then there was Alina. She’s an interesting predicament. On one hand I really like her, especially in this novel as she began to come into her own. She made decisions and gained agency. She did things not always because she should, but simply because she wanted it. It was a very interesting turn for her character. Watching her progression as a character from the last book to the end of the second was interesting. That said, following Alina could be tedious at times. Sometimes I wished I could reach into the book and just smack her.
One thing I wasn’t particularly found of, but still found interesting was the focus on the political mechanations going on. Alina is stepping into a tough situation in which the country is on the brink of upheaval. Her very presence is enough to tear people apart. There are those who follow her, those who don’t trust The Darkling, and just distrust of the royalty. It is a tough landscape for her to navigate and defintely needed to be explored. However, so much time was spent on it that the middle of the novel lagged. The same points were repeated in slightly different ways. That grew tiring.
That saggy middle was particularly disappointing following and preceding the excellent beginning and ending of the book. Both were shrouded with both action and really intriguing character development and situations. It made for a great first 150 pages and great last 50 pages. The rest was good and no more. Seriously those sections were phenomenal and had me constantly wanting to know what happened next.
I’ll be honest, I was disappointed that there wasn’t more Darkling in this book. Thankfully, his appearances were well done and impactful. In a way not using him as much made his brief appearances pack that much more punch. I found myself craving for him. The Darkling has all the flair, malice, and allure that he did in the prior books. It was particularly interesting to see by the end of the book how many similarities Alina had to the Darkling.
I was given possibly my favorite character in the series in the form of Nikolai. He’s not my type to be honest, however there was something about his swagger that drew me in. He was quick witted and charming. In many ways he reminded me of a good version of the Darkling. The two shared a number of similarities, yet I was drawn even more to Nikolai. He has so many traits and skills that it’s interesting to seem him put them to good use. I’m looking forward to more of him.
I have to mention Tamar and Tolya who were fantastic additions to the cast. Between the two of them I was filled with this sense of fascinating characters brewing just under the surface. They were strong both mentally and physically and proved to be interesing elements dotted through the narrative. The reveal later in the story worked particularly well for the pair of characters. I believed that twist whole-heartedly and it made sense for who they were and how they’d been portrayed. While, I’ve been referring to them largely as a them, they did have distinct, if not, similar personalities. I grew to like Tamar a bit more, mainly because she spoke more frequently than her brother, and we got a better sense of who she was. The silence in no way took away from Tolya’s character who was able to convey so much more with his actions.
So, yes, I really enjoyed this book. It was fun and dark and grim.