Loved Shadow and Bone? Read These Next.

Since I’m a bookseller, an ex-librarian, an avid reader, and a book blogger I thought it would be fun and potentially helpful to offer some recommendations based on popular #booktok books. #booktok has great taste. I adore almost all the biggest trending books that I’ve read and have been thinking about the next step. What do you read right after you’ve finished the titles on the top of the popularity lists?

Thanks to the Netflix adaptation, Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone has been flying off the shelves. For good reason: Bardugo is easily one of the best YA writers out there right now. Her Grishaverse novels are stunning, and the TV show adaptation is excellent. You can always tell when an adaptation was done by someone who loves and respects the source material, and that is definitely the case with Netflix’s Shadow and Bone. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably sprinted through both the show and the Shadow and Bone trilogy by now, and you’ve probably got a bad book hangover. The Grishaverse will do that to you. If that’s the case, here are some suggestions for what to read next to fill the hole.


Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I hope you’ve already read Six of Crows, because it is the world’s most obvious recommendation as it is both a sequel series to the book Shadow and Bone and an integral part of the TV version. That being said, it doesn’t go entirely without saying. Six of Crows usually outsells Shadow and Bone pretty significantly, but since the show, Shadow and Bone has started to outpace it. That makes sense, because Shadow and Bone shares its title with the show, and a lot of people aren’t aware that Six of Crows is also a big part of it, assuming that everything shown onscreen is part of the original trilogy. I suspect more than a few readers will be surprised to finish the first book without having run into the bastard of the barrel or his magnetic associates. Even if those characters weren’t in the show, their adventures would still be well worth checking out. I’m far from alone in preferring Six of Crows to Shadow and Bone. Leigh Bardugo herself will say–and has said–that her writing improved vastly as she went. Shadow and Bone is great, but it does hinge on a few tropes that have fallen largely out of fashion: the chosen one, love triangles, etc. (For what it’s worth, it does complicate those tropes more than many other novels written in the same era). It is also pretty straight and white, and the books diversify a lot as they go. If you started with the show and moved to the book, you probably noticed that the show updated the source material to better reflect different kinds of people. Six of Crows takes the already great world that Shadow and Bone created and makes it even better by opening it up to more interesting, more damaged characters and dousing it in intrigue and moral ambiguity. Plus, it’s absolutely hilarious!


Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Unlike Six of Crows, Ninth House is not a part of the Grishaverse. It is Leigh Bardugo’s first adult novel, and not as many people know about it. It’s more like Six of Crows than Shadow and Bone in that it is darker and deals with serious subject matter like institutionalized discrimination, classism, and violence–particularly sexual violence–against women. Despite this dark subject matter, it’s not a doom and gloom book. While it doesn’t have the zany hijinks or swoony romance of Bardugo’s YA fare, it’s an engrossing, addicting read with a compelling mystery and fascinating magical subculture at its heart. If you liked Shadow and Bone you have to keep reading Bardugo’s work, because she has only gotten better since then. I’m in a book club with a bunch of ladies with whom I normally disagree and this book is pretty much the only one we universally liked. That’s saying a lot.


Infinity Son by Adam Silvera

This is probably the best comp title on this list if you want something that is like Shadow and Bone but isn’t Leigh Bardugo. Infinity Son is a great fantasy novel with a really interesting system of magic and extremely complicated characters. There are a lot of interesting overlaps between Infinity Son and Shadow and Bone, and probably the most striking one is the reflections on power. Both series have a chosen one of sorts, and both series let that character struggle with that title as they’re tempted by power. Both series are interested in the way that power can corrupt even those with the best intentions, and provide villains/antagonists who initially had good intentions. So there are thematic similarities. There are also plot similarities. Throughout the Grisha trilogy, Alina is faced with the reality that the only way she can increase her power is by killing innocent by magically significant creatures. This question both troubles and drives her. In the Infinity Cycle, magic can likewise be acquired by sacrificing magical beasts, and the choice of whether or not to do it causes significant conflict. Despite this very specific overlap, though, the magical systems aren’t overall that much alike. If anything, the biggest similarity is that they’re both fresh, creative systems that feel entirely unique.


The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

To be entirely honest, I don’t entirely understand why fans of the Grishaverse love the Raven Cycle so much. Maybe it’s just the crow/raven thing. Maybe it’s because the tight knit group of protagonists in The Raven Boys recalls Kaz’s crew. All I know for sure is that most people who loved the Grishaverse love the Raven Cycle even though they’re actually quite different. Stiefvater’s world is much lower fantasy (I wouldn’t call the Grishaverse high fantasy, exactly–or in any case, not until King of Scars–but the Raven Cycle definitely has fewer fantastic elements) and decidedly less plot-motivated. It’s a very good series with immensely lovable characters. I can’t put my finger on why this is a good recommendation. I just know that it is.


Sabriel by Garth Nix

This is a less obvious recommendation. It’s more about the vibe. If one of your favorite things about Shadow and Bone is that it bases its universe on Russia, you might be looking for other interesting fantasy worlds with their roots beyond England. Sabriel is Australian, and therefore feels really different than traditional, LotR-esque fantasy. Nix’s series is also extremely feminist–as is Bardugo’s, of course–fascinatingly dark, and full of complicated political conflict. If the Ravkan war and the danger around the borders caught your interest, Sabriel will probably keep it. Plus, Sabriel is a necromancer, and that’s pretty darn cool. How often is the necromancer the hero?


Warcross by Marie Lu

I don’t want to get too deep into why I’m putting Warcross on this list, because the main reason I’m including it is somewhat spoilery (both for Shadow and Bone and for Warcross). Just know that it has to do with late in the game twists and is related to Alina’s relationship with the Darkling.


Bonus: This is cheating since it’s not a recommendation based off Shadow and Bone, but if you love Jesper (either from the show or Six of Crows) you should definitely read The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee, because protagonist Monty has the same chaotic, bisexual energy and makes decisions that are just as charmingly bad.

What do you think? How did I do with my recommendations? Which have you read and which did you like the most?

What books would you recommend to Grishaverse fans?

Which #booktok books should I make recommendations for next?

How It All Blew Up (Book Review)

A few weeks ago, I was shelving some YA when I came across a book that had been blurbed by Angie Thomas, Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera, and Adib Khorram. I’d be interested to read a book recommended by any one of those amazing writers, let alone one recommended by all of them. I bought How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi without a second thought, because you’d be hard pressed to find a group of writers whose opinions I value more.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

What’s it about?

When eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi argues with his family on a flight from Italy, he is pulled aside for questioning. In three different interrogation rooms, Amir, his father, and his mother and sister explain what got them to this point.

What’d I think?

I love the first few lines of How It All Blew Up: “First, let me get one thing straight: I’m not a terrorist. I’m gay. I can see from the look on your face that you’re skeptical, and I get it. People like me aren’t supposed to exist” (1). We open with an all too familiar scene: a young man has been detained because of the color of his skin, but Amir immediately challenges the scene: he is not the generic Hollywood terrorist. He’s a normal kid. Too often, when we see Iranians in fiction, they are terrorists and Amir knows that the people who detained him have that somewhere in their heads. He’s not the racist first assumption a lot of people make. In fact, he’s the opposite of what a lot of people would expect, because people don’t generally think of Iranians being gay. In fact, “they hate gay people” is often one of the rationalizations people give for being racist towards Muslims. Right off the bat Amir is saying, I’m not your Muslim stereotype. These lines also sum up the main conflict of the novel, although not exactly in the way you’d expect. It is not, as I suspected, Amir versus the TSA. In fact, I liked that Amir’s security interview is all about Amir getting to tell his true story, rather than Amir having to beat back the assumption that he’s a terrorist. His interviewer, who is never named or identified in any significant way, could be anyone. It could be the reader.

No, Amir’s story is not about combating racists. It’s about struggling to reconcile the two parts of him, because his family and his culture are very conservative. Knowing that his parents aren’t queer friendly, Amir runs away when a classmate threatens to out him. He goes to Italy on a whim and finds a group of queer people (mostly, but not exclusively, gay men) who become his found family. How It All Blew Up is about a young man getting to truly be himself for the first time in his life, and his fear that he will not be able to have both his original family and culture, and the new one he has found.  

A lot of queer books are focused on romance. I don’t know that I’ve ever read one that centers on the queer community like this. Even beyond queer lit, YA usually gives us epic love stories and couples that will apparently last forever. It’s a surprise when Amir says that he and his high school boyfriend both know that their relationship will not last, and that while they love how they feel about themselves when they’re together, they don’t necessarily love each other. When Amir goes to Italy, I expected him to have a swoony foreign romance, and while he kind of does, that relationship is not the point. More important is the community of loving gay men he finds there, a community that embraces him with open arms. Amir finds true friends who don’t judge him for being gay or for being Iranian. One of those friends is another gay Iranian who is proud of both identities and who shows Amir that he doesn’t have to choose one side over the other.

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We Begin at the End (Book Review)

In preparation for the upcoming Shadow and Bone Netflix series, I reread Leigh Bardugo’s fabulous Grishaverse books from start to finish. Six of Crows is my current #1 favorite book, and it goes without saying that I LOVED that reread. I knew that the first book that I read after finishing it would have a tough shake. Some fictional worlds are too much fun to leave, and Bardugo’s Grishaverse comes with a nasty book hangover. I was going to lightly resent anything I read right after, and unhappily for We Begin at the End, it was next on the docket. Still, I was lightly optimistic. I’d heard good things about this one, and I saw it selling fairly well. “Selling well” isn’t a foolproof measure of quality, but it is often a decent indicator. Right now, some of the top sellers are They Both Die at the End, The Song of Achilles, We Were Liars, and Shadow and Bone. So… people have pretty good taste.

My optimism was short lived. I had to force myself to the end, and I only managed that by flipping to the back and reading the extremely spoilery discussion questions to reassure myself that the book was actually going somewhere. I’m bewildered by the high number of four- and five-star reviews We Begin at the End got on Goodreads, because it was a total swing and miss for me.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

My overwhelming reaction to We Begin at the End is that the writing is bad. It’s choppy and ugly, and it does nothing to distract from the parts of the plot that doesn’t quite work. Most of the plot fails to stand up to close scrutiny. Better writing might have closed the holes, or attracted my attention enough that I didn’t mind them. Multiple times, I stopped and thought if this story had been written by someone with any writing skill, it might have been good. The narrative tells me one thing but shows me another. It fails to evoke emotion, despite the near-constant stream of tragedies.

Seriously. I spoil most of the major plot points.

One of the most basic rules of writing is to vary sentence length. Too many short sentences in a row and you’ll lose the reader. Or long, I suppose. Short sentences are the culprit here, though. Almost the whole book is written in clipped dialogue. There are lots of info dumps when one character reports his findings to another. Whitaker also seems to have an objection to proper nouns, because he avoids them whenever possible, causing confusion occasionally. He opens scenes with “he” for Walk and “she” for Duchess, which is fine… until he unexpectedly opens a scene with a “she” that is not Duchess. It isn’t bad enough to be confusing, but it is bad enough to be irritating.

I did not connect with or care for any of the characters. The two main characters are both emotionally stunted and unintentionally toxic. Walk is a police chief stuck in the past. He actively blocks any forward progress. His idea of good police work is shielding his friends and family from the law, whether it’s by neglecting to turn them in for arson or by straight up perjuring in court. Duchess is a thirteen-year-old girl who tries to sound tough by cursing awkwardly and unironically saying “I’m an outlaw” whenever she takes a break from escalating already-bad situations or gaslighting her little brother (the number of times she tells him “I’m the only one who can take care of you” or “I’m the only one you can trust…). Whitaker corrects some of this towards the end by acknowledging that his characters aren’t as perfect as he initially tried to present them, but it comes as too little and too late. It also comes across like it’s supposed to be a twist of sorts, but no. You can tell me that someone’s a great guy until you’re blue in the face, but forgive me if I stop believing you when he pulls a gun on someone unprovoked. Yeah, the guy was a dirtbag, but when Walk shoved the gun in his face he was being unhelpful at worst. Rogue cops aren’t the plucky heroes so many content creators think they are, and I thought the collective world was finally catching onto that.

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The Trials of of Apollo #5: The Tower of Nero (Book Review)

I’ve always liked Rick Riordan. Lots of people, me included, have called his Percy Jackson books the Harry Potter of this generation. His novels are tons of fun. They’re marketed towards young readers, probably because of how young the protagonists are in The Lightning Thief. But we’re a lot of books past The Lightning Thief, and they’ve evolved. I was a little late to the PJO party. I found the series right as The Last Olympian came out. Twelve years later, I’m twenty-seven and I still buy the newest Riordan book. I don’t always get to it as quickly as I did a few years ago, but I’m still a loyal reader. Honestly, how could I not be? They’re fast-paced fantasy romps full of sassy characters and genuinely creative modernization of classic Greek mythology. (Is there anyone who didn’t love their Greek mythology unit back in elementary school? That was the best part of my education. I still remember Greek Day, when everyone was assigned a character from myth. We dressed up and gave a presentation in character and it was massively fun. I was Echo. I had a karaoke machine to give my voice an echo effect and everything. Man, I miss elementary school.) Anyway.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What’s it about?

The Tower of Nero is Riordan’s newest book. It’s the fifth and last book in the Trials of Apollo series and sees Apollo (in his human form, alias Lester Papodopolous) and his demigod master Meg fighting to free the last oracle by taking on their final—and most dangerous—enemies, Meg’s abusive stepfather Nero and Apollo’s longtime nemesis Python.

Do you need to do a full reread?

No, not really. I didn’t go back and reread the other books before diving into The Tower of Nero, which is always a mistake, but it didn’t bit me as badly as usual. There’s a fairly good recap at the beginning of the novel that reminds the reader of all the pertinent plot points. So while it’s definitely always the best call to do a reread if possible, you’re not going to be totally lost with The Tower of Nero. As long as you know generally who everyone is you’ll be fine. Apollo does a good job of briefly recapping who Nero and Python are, what’s at stake, and what he and Meg are attempting. Jason’s sacrifice is still a huge emotional beat, so if you’ve forgotten about that you might be in trouble, but other than that you should be good to go.  

What’d I think?

What do you think I’m going to say here? That I didn’t like it? Of course not. Of course I liked it. If there’s a complaint to lodge at Riordan it’s that after a little while his books start to feel a bit repetitive. But darn it if I don’t even care. Yeah, there’s a snarky little bastard in the lead who has to save the world against impossible odds. Yeah, he has a team of demigod friends around to support him and mock him in equal measure. Yeah, there are mythical monsters appearing in disguise before being unveiled and defeated. Yeah, a lot of the characters have been around since the early PJO days. But it’s still all fun. It still all works.

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Rule of Wolves (Book Review)

As a major Grishaverse fan, this has been a very exciting time for me. I’ve been looking forward to the Netflix adaptation since it was first announced, and it goes without saying that Rule of Wolves was one of my most anticipated new releases of 2021. I didn’t get this review out particularly quickly, but I read the book as soon as it was released. Like as soon as. I’m in charge of setting out new releases at work, so I unpacked the box of Rule of Wolves first thing on March 30 and then bought one on my break.

Warning: There are spoilers for every preceding Grishaverse book, but particularly for King of Scars, Crooked Kingdom, and Ruin and Rising. There are also spoilers in this review for Rule of Wolves, but they are all clearly marked in advance and distinguished by gray text.

What’s it about?

King of Scars changed everything and nothing. Even though Zoya and Nikolai defeated Elizaveta, accidentally raised the Darkling, and respectively absorbed Juris’ power and partially conquered an internal demon, Ravka is still threatened by war on multiple sides. Even though Nina and Hanne successfully released the parem-doused pregnant women in Brum’s factory, Fjerda is still full of anti-Grisha vitriol and preparing to invade the increasingly vulnerable Ravka. Now, our three leads are desperately scrambling to save the country they all love. Nikolai has to continually balance Ravka’s needs with his own hunger for power and desire to keep his demonic secret. Zoya likewise struggles with dragon within, and Nina imbeds herself into Brum’s inner circle and works to combat Fjerda’s deeply-ingrained racism from the inside. 

What’s the series order?

Rule of Wolves is a great book, but you should absolutely not pick it up first. It is the second book of the Nikolai Duology, which is the third series of the Grishaverse. While you can read the Grisha Trilogy and the Six of Crows Duology independently of each other, you must have read both for the Nikolai Duology to make sense. Here’s the correct order:

  1. Shadow and Bone (Grisha Trilogy #1)
  2. Siege and Storm (Grisha Trilogy #2)
  3. Ruin and Rising (Grisha Trilogy #3)
  4. Six of Crows (Six of Crows Duology #1)
  5. Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows Duology #2)
  6. King of Scars (Nikolai Duology #1)
  7. Rule of Wolves (Nikolai Duology #2)

What’d I think?

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

It’s Leigh Bardugo. It’s the Grishaverse. Nikolai and my beloved crows are back (albeit briefly). Of course it’s a great book. Of course I raced through it and loved it. That’s absolutely no surprise, because Leigh Bardugo is a fantastic writer. Admittedly my top spot shifts all the time, but right now, as I’m writing this, Leigh Bardugo is my #1 favorite writer, and Six of Crows my #1 favorite book. Do you know how many people I’ve sold it to in the past two years? So many. I’m so enthusiastic about the Grishaverse that at this point my blog is basically a Grishaverse fan site. It’s on pretty much every one of my top ten lists and I compare just about everything I read to it.

I liked King of Scars, but I prefer Rule of Wolves. Nikolai is more himself here, and when I say ‘more like himself’ I mean ‘more like he was in Siege and Storm.’ Obviously I understand that Nikolai was intentionally a shell of himself in King of Scars. That book was about Nikolai going through the motions because he was losing himself. While not everything went exactly to plan, he still did enough to gain back some semblance of control, and with that control he was able to return to the quick-witted too-clever fox who always has a dozen schemes and inventions up his sleeves and who stole the heart of every reader when he first speared on the page. I missed the old Nikolai just as much as Nikolai missed the old Nikolai, which is to say a lot.

This is the Nikolai Duology and Nikolai is the king of scars. He’s the only Grishaverse character with a novel named for him, let alone a whole series. Even Alina never gets to be eponymous, despite her near sole narration duties for the whole trilogy. Having finished the Nikolai duology, I find it interesting that it’s titled this way; as central as Nikolai is, this feels more like Zoya’s story than his. But there’s one thing that can’t be argued: Nikolai is the draw. People love Nina and Zoya, obviously. How could you not? I love Zoya and I LOVE Nina. It’s impossible to read Six of Crows without falling in love with all six crows, but I did a casual google search and it confirmed my general impression that most people picked Kaz, Inej, or Jesper as their favorite when asked to pick one. As for Nikolai… I knew before I started reading the trilogy (from general internet chatter) that everyone’s favorite was introduced in book two, and within twenty seconds of Sturmhond being on the scene I was like, this is him, isn’t it? It was. I don’t know if everyone would have read King of Scars and Rule of Wolves if the series had been named for Zoya. Hopefully, yeah, but Nikolai is everyone’s boy. Did you see the online despair when we all realized that he (and Wylan) wouldn’t appear in season one of the Netflix adaptation? People are starved for more Nikolai.

Having Nikolai back to something closer to his original self is a major reason I enjoyed Rule of Wolves as much as I did. He’s such a fun, dynamic character and loosing him on the unsuspecting Fjerdans was a delight. And speaking of fun, dynamic characters… we got to check in with the rest of the remaining crows. Was that stopover in Kerch necessary from a plot perspective? Probably not. Was it fun? Absolutely. I’ve missed scheming face, and I love that Kaz has no qualms about extorting a king. I was a little worried that the crows’ magic would be diminished, because sometimes authors struggle to get the tone back when they revisit characters from a previous project, but that was an entirely unwarranted concern. The short exchange when they go to pick up Jesper and Wylan is all babe, stop doing crime and then everyone dunks on Jesper for his crappy Fabrikator skills is too good. I missed my boys, and I love that–even in this brief cameo–we can see that they’re still their old selves, but that they’re moving forward in life and as people. When we left them at the end of Crooked Kingdom, they were different than they’d been at the start of Six of Crows. They’d developed as people, as we can see that here in Rule of Wolves.

We can all agree that Jesper/Wylan is the supreme Grishaverse couple, right? I mean, the rest of them are fine. Kaz/Inej, good. Genya/David, also good. Nikolai/Zoya, fine. Nina/Hanne, sure. But Jesper and Wylan are the chaotic couple that all other couples should aspire to. I can’t believe that the shippers haven’t yet glommed onto “I believe in all kinds of things. Ghosts. Gnomes. True love,” as the successor to “maybe I liked your stupid face.”

And Inej! It’s good to know that she is out there terrifying slavers and kicking butts all over the place. I would expect nothing less of her. Kaz, of course, is exactly as you’d expect him. I love him, and I’m torn between being excited to see him again down the line (as the ending teases another series with Kaz return in a potentially major capacity) and wariness because Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are so perfect. The ending is exactly what it needed to be, and I’m not sure I wouldn’t prefer to leave Kaz and the others’ stories there. It’s not that I don’t trust Leigh Bardugo. I do, but the character development across those two books is so good that I don’t know if any other ending could match, and there’s something to be said for leaving a perfect ending alone and moving onto other stories, even if everyone misses the characters from said perfect ending.

On that note, let’s talk about Nina. She’s an integral part of the Nikolai duology. Kaz, Jesper, Wylan, and Inej could all be cut out of it with ease, but it is Nina’s story as much as it is Nikolai’s or Zoya’s. I mentioned above that I adore Nina. She’s wonderful. She’s bold and brash. She’s powerful, flirty, and feminine. She owns herself and her sexuality in a way that few female characters get to. While there are other characters like Nina out there—Isabelle Lightwood from The Mortal Instruments comes to mind—more often I run across stoic, boyish, not-like-other-girls girls. Obviously girls don’t have to be girly. I’m not traditionally girly. But femininity has gotten a bad rap, and it’s often used as a shorthand for cattiness in fiction. The heroine is often the doesn’t-know-she’s-beautiful type (like Alina) and her rival is often obviously pretty and vain (like Zoya as she originally appeared). So I loved Nina in Six of Crows. Especially in tandem with Inej, she showed us that there is no correct way to be a woman. So it was a little painful to watch Nina transform herself into Mila Jandersdat. Again, that was the point, but urgh. Fjerda sucks, yo. There are not enough Matthiases and Hannes to balance out all the suck. I did not like it that Nina had to bow and scrape and make herself less than she is so that she could stay alive. The scenes where she pretended to swoon and shake in front of Brum were agonizing (as they were meant to be). I wanted nothing more than for her to finish her work in Fjerda and return either to Ravka or to Kerch, restore her features, and get to be herself again.

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A Conjuring of Light (Mini Book Review)

Well, it’s official. This trilogy officially ranks amongst my favorites. V.E. Schwab has created something unique and riveting with her multiple Londons and colorful characters. In my review for book two, A Gathering of Shadows, I predicted that it would be my favorite of the series. Now that I’ve finished it, I can attest that I was correct. A Conjuring of Light is fantastic, but it is more plot-driven than the novels it follows. There’s still a lot of great character work, but A Gathering of Shadows has more space for it, and doesn’t have the same restraints. Book two of three can open a story, and while a finale can do that to some degree it is also responsible for tying things up.

A/⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I’m going to just skip the summary. I usually put one here because that seems to be the convention for book reviews, but there’s not really a point. This is the final book in a series. Anyone reading this review knows what’s up, and I noticed in general that summaries of this series tend to be a little off. The back cover blurb is so abbreviated and generic that it seems like whoever wrote it wanted to keep any actual specific details on the downlow. That’s not a judgment, by the way. One thing I particularly appreciate about these books is that they tend to put character and universe ahead of plot, so the actual story doesn’t kick in until you’re a significant way in. Any summary that tackles the main plot is going to describe things that don’t get underway until, in some cases, a third of the way through and that’s just no good.

I preferred A Gathering of Shadows to A Conjuring of Light, but only by a bit; this whole trilogy is fantastic. The main question of any final book (or final episode or final installment, whatever) is did it stick the landing? A brilliant ending can’t necessarily save a work that is shaky elsewhere, but a crappy ending can certainly retroactively destroy a work that had up until that point been good. This novel nails it. The storylines and character arcs are given appropriate weight and are concluded satisfactorily. It’s a great book, but more than that it’s a great finale. Finales are hard to get right, but Schwab absolutely did it.

There are a lot of characters in this one, and for the most part I think they’re balanced well. I was ambivalent towards Lila in A Darker Shade of Magic, but she really grew on me as the series progressed. She easily could have become a Mary Sue as she develops a magical gift very quickly, and rapidly becomes more powerful than people who have known magic for their whole lives, but her arc is actually much more nuanced than that, and her internal journey is deftly and maturely done. It’s less about how powerful she is and more about the responsibility that comes with that power. I continue to love Rhy and Kell’s connection, which has been the highlight of this series from the start. It only gets better as the story progresses. One of Schwab’s talents is tying together character arcs and tangible magical processes. Kell and Rhy’s lives are literally tied together, which affects them in different ways, and Kell’s magic is tied to others as well. This allows the novel to move the plot forward while deepening character development at the same time. Every scene does at least two things, and it’s wonderful.

Schwab even manages to balance the romantic plotlines well. I’ve found that romance is often a sticking point. Lots of otherwise excellent novels trip on their romances, overemphasizing them to the point that they become irritating. The only balancing misstep, in my opinion, is Holland. In retrospect, I think one reason I like A Gathering of Shadows the best is because Holland takes a backseat. He’s a good character, and he’d probably be a standout in a lesser series, but here he’s by far the least interesting character. It’s important to keep track of him, but I found that any time I reached one of his chapters I’d sigh a little and hope to check back in with Alucard soon. I mean, I get it. In the bonus material, Schwab writes that Holland is her favorite character, so I suppose I can’t fault her for giving him a lot of pagetime, but I’d have preferred a little less Holland and a little more of any of the others.

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March 2021 Wrap-Up

I was hyped for March 2021, because not one but two of my favorite authors were releasing new novels. Adam Silvera started the month strong with Infinity Reaper on March 2, and Leigh Bardugo closed with Rule of Wolves on March 30. I’m always looking for an excuse to reread my favorite titles, and I decided I needed a refresher for both, and I decided to set aside this whole month for just these two authors. It was easy enough to prepare myself for the Infinity Cycle as Infinity Reaper is only the second book there, but working my way back through the Grishaverse took a bit more time… but was so worth it, especially with the show dropping next month (April 23). I’m so excited. I’ve already written about Six of Crows on this blog a thousand times, but you can look forward to even more excited screaming, because I have not been this excited about an adaptation in a decade.

I stuck to just Adam Silvera and Leigh Bardugo this month, which made this wrap-up post essentially turn into full-series reviews of two of my favorite series. If you want to skip The Infinity Cycle and jump straight to the Grishaverse, you can do that here.

The Infinity Cycle by Adam Silvera

I’ve always been a fan of Adam Silvera, but his books are emotional. They’re amazing, but they will destroy you. The Infinity Cycle, though, is a little different. It still taps into deep emotions, but it’s a fantasy series. That means that it’s a little more plot-dependent than his stand-alones, and while there is still grief and loss, they’re not the main ideas. I would’ve been sold on the Infinity Cycle merely on ‘Adam Silvera wrote a fantasy series.’ Then I found out it is a queer fantasy series, that there are multiple characters of color, and that the main relationship on which the whole series hinges is between a pair of brothers. There’s a shapeshifter! There’s relevant sociopolitical commentary! There’s a rumination of the morality of power! The main character is essentially a human phoenix! It’s just super, super cool, and I love the characters. Infinity Son held up to the reread, and Infinity Reaper is a worthy sequel. When the final book comes out–hopefully next year–I’ll see if Silvera can stick the landing, but I suspect he’ll nail it because this series is intense, thoughtful, and emotional at all the right moments.


The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

Man, I miss these covers. When I first read this trilogy in 2017, they had these gorgeous, subtle designs (the Russian architecture! The amplifiers! The shadows!). The new covers aren’t bad, and in fact I think I would’ve liked them a lot if I hadn’t seen these ones first, but I wish I’d purchased these before the switch.

(My copies look like this, as this design is the only one readily available nowadays)

The first time I read the Grisha trilogy in full, it was after I read the Six of Crows duology. The Internet told me that Six of Crows was better, so I read it first. (Well, sort of. I read Shadow of Bone first but then mostly forgot about it. Then I read the duology, adored it, and went back to read the whole trilogy.) I wouldn’t say that was a mistake, exactly, but it didn’t give Alina’s story its best chance, because in truth… the Internet was correct. Six of Crows is better. It’s wildly inventive and has a storyline and a cast of characters unlike any other that I’ve encountered. The trilogy is decidedly more straightforward, traditional. It follows a Chosen One, features a love triangle, and is literally a battle between dark and light. I liked it back in 2017, but I’ll be honest: I was a little let down after the utter brilliance that is the Six of Crows duology. But with Rule of Wolves and the joint trilogy/duology Netflix adaptation on the horizon, I decided to do a full, chronological reread. I loved it so much more this time around. Alina and Mal are sassier and more fun than I remembered, and of course Nikolai and Tamar are wonderful. Also, when you don’t read it right on the heels of its sequel series, you see the ways in which the trilogy is not typical of YA fantasy. It’s darker. The world is Russian-inspired. The Darkling challenges both the love interest and the villain roles, and Alina’s relationship with power is complicated. I remember being disappointed in Ruin and Rising the first time I read it, likely because I love Nikolai in Siege in Storm so much that he felt barely-present. But reading it a second time, I don’t know what I was thinking, because it’s a great book… and Nikolai is definitely around. I still wish that that a certain sacrifice had been more permanent, but I really liked this series when I first read it, and when I judged it on its own merits rather than forcing a comparison with Six of Crows, I loved it.

The Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo

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