Darkness never dies.
Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.
The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.
Oh, how I missed Alina and Mal and especially the Darkling. I missed these characters, and this is one of those series where I don’t feel I need to reread before starting the next novel. I remember it so well. Shadow and Bone was one of the best books I read last year, and I had really high hopes for this one too. Aren’t these covers gorgeous? I’ve never been so attracted to YA covers in my life! We begin, and I hope this isn’t spoiling anyone (you couldn’t possibly think they got away at the beginning of the second novel, could you?), with Mal and Alina’s recapture. The Darkling has been “gifted” with a terrible new power due to his time in the Fold, and he is off on another search for Morozova’s amplifiers. This time it’s the “sea whip,” also called the ice dragon. There’s also a really sad reunion between Alina and Genya, who was Alina’s only friend in the Little Palace. And while I have accepted that Alina wants Mal, I am still sort of rooting for her to lose her morals and go back to the Darkling. I love him so, even if he is this weird twisted shade. I can’t say that I wouldn’t want to be his Sun Summoner queen, to be honest.
Bardugo continues to be really good at pulling my heartstrings, especially when Alina jokes with Mal while still locked in irons and the mournful song of the ice dragon. And I still really liked it when Alina stopped freaking out long enough to be sarcastic with Mal or my new favorite character addition, Sturmhond. Sturmhond reminds me a lot of Prince Kheldar, or Silk, from the Belgariad and Malloreon. But what I really like about the beginning of the book is the sort of melancholy that comes over the romance of Mal and Alina. Before, Alina was nothing and thought Mal would never notice her. Now, Mal is the one being overshadowed, and he’s insecure about where Alina’s rise to power will leave him. It’s heartbreaking and understandable, and they’re still just teenagers anyway, despite how much they’ve seen. Mal is just afraid. So, I understood, but it also bugged me that Mal was allowing his insecurity to undermine Alina’s feelings about what she had to do. Alina feels a duty to her country, which far exceeds Mal’s need for her constant companionship. And part of the problem with the first half, for me, was Mal. We don’t know him and I don’t feel chemistry between him and Alina. He just seems surly and stubborn, though Alina is no politician herself. I found Mal’s constant glaring annoying, not to mention how he doesn’t seem to get that Alina can maybe take care of herself now. He should find a hobby that isn’t “worrying about Alina’s safety.” Oh, the angst, and not the kind I usually like, but it rang true anyway.
Half of this book is what I like to call a “walking story,” because Alina and Mal are traveling to Os Alta with Sturmhond and the plot unfolds as they travel. There’s a twist I didn’t expect in the first half, and it just reinforced my earlier thoughts about a certain character. There’s also a fair amount of politicking and the like, which I find interesting when we actually get to know what’s involved. Alina is not brave like Elisa, who I see as a kind of counterpart to Alina, but that’s okay. She doesn’t really have to be. She has a personal guard and a power so huge no one else can touch it. Except the Darkling, of course. We get a reintroduction to Grisha we met in the first novel, and it was fun to get to know them better, even if they’re not the most fleshed-out characters. I missed Genya though, no matter her motives, and it was nice to see some callback to her interactions with David in the first novel.
Being in Alina’s head can be really gloomy, as she’s a pessimist and she seems a little depressed to boot. When I imagine Ravka, I see this grey place, a world of muted colors, because we only see it through Alina’s cynical eyes. When I read Bardugo’s short story set in the this world earlier in the year, I loved it, because it felt rich, like mythology, to me and made Ravka come alive. Not really so much with Alina, even though she’s the Sun Summoner. One thing she said around the 3/4 mark stuck with me, partially because it’s so Alina, partially because in this world, it’s true: “We do our best. We try. And usually, it makes no difference at all.” I also found I couldn’t really stick to the ship of Alina/Mal, for reasons stated above, and I found Alina’s swooning about Mal’s smiles and hand touches eye-roll inducing. However, I’m not sure I ship Alina with the Darkling anymore either. I really couldn’t get into the romance until the last 20% of the novel and I can’t detail it because I don’t want to spoil anyone. It wasn’t Mal though.
In all, I enjoyed this one, but I don’t think it was quite as good as its predecessor. I absolutely cannot wait for the next book in this series, even if that means waiting an entire year.