[Ruin and Rising: The Grisha Trilogy III] Leigh Bardugo

We all die. Not everyone dies for a reason.

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My opinion of this series has changed a lot over the past couple of days. I spent the better part of a day reading through Ruin and Rising in its entirety, even staying up far too late. I was exhausted the next day, but I couldn’t stop reading it when each chapter was filled with action and emotion. Ruin and Rising picks up after the capital has fallen. Alina feels pretty broken, and it’s hard to heal when you’re trapped underground and worried that the Darkling’s forces will find you.

These beautiful illustrations are by Irene Koh.

Beauty was your armor. Fragile stuff, all show. But what’s inside you? That’s steel. It’s brave and unbreakable. And it doesn’t need fixing.

I want to talk about the characters first. I know that this series–and the companion series–has been read and reviewed a lot, so there’s hardly anything new to say. But I’m going to throw my voice in there regardless. I sometimes feel like I’m one of the only readers who likes Mal. I think that his character growth is one of the better things about the series. I’ve heard that readers find him whiny, but I found him very real. He seemed like a real and true person in this fantasy world. He’s presented with so many impossible choices throughout the series and he decides to stay and help Alina, even though he doesn’t know if it will work out for them. He is steadfast and brave even when things are chipping at his resolve and his own emotions. I loved it. Yes, there are better love interests and better characters in other series, but for the Grisha trilogy, I found him to be one of the most changed characters by the end.

You move forward, and when you falter, you get up. And when you can’t, you let us carry you. You let me carry you.

I find them so beautiful. And they capture Alina at different points in her life really well.

Maybe love was superstition, a prayer we said to keep the truth of loneliness at bay.  In the end, maybe love just meant longing for something impossibly bright and forever out of reach.

Alina was another changed character. I do think that her character arc is sped up a bit at times, but it ends up being a good thing in the end. As the main character, we follow the plot through her. Using her as a way to illustrate the world and the problems in it was done really well. Alina is a character you can easily feel sympathy for as she struggles through the changes that are sweeping across Ravka. More so than Mal, Alina has to change how she views the world very quickly. I loved that she struggled with how she had to change her morals in a war situation. That really affected her and I was glad that Bardugo included it.

Find more illustrations here!

I really, really want to talk about Nikolai, but it kind of verges on spoiler territory if I go into specifics, so I’ll talk general. I really loved that he took on a larger role in this final book. I had really liked him in the second and it was great to see him take on a more important role in Alina’s life and the Ravkan war. Nikolai allowed for some true humor to occur in the novel, which I really appreciated. When Nikolai was first introduced in Siege and Storm, I wasn’t sure where his character would go. I’m glad that he was one that stayed in the series as a permanent member. And recently Bardugo announced that she’s going to give him his own series!

The last character that I want to talk about is the Darkling. Oh, the Darkling. I really, really, really don’t like him. And the more reviewers talk about him, the more I don’t like him. I am in a sea of people who love the Darkling and I just don’t see it. He’s set up as a love interest, but I don’t see him as such. I see him as a kind of creepy guy who tries to take care of Alina and her budding powers. The scenes that he and Alina have always give me an icky vibe. There are times when a reader is supposed to be sympathetic toward him, but I just don’t agree. In Ruin and Rising, we’re given more of his backstory–more of why he is the way he is. But for me, it came too little too late. Perhaps if I had been given more in the first books I would have cared about him more. Something like that needs to occur before the third novel. If more of that was in the first novel I think that I would have been more appreciate of his character arc.

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Hope was tricky like water. Somehow it always found a way in.

On to happier things! The plot and the setting was done really well. All young adult novels that are fantasy and feature a rebellion tend to have very similar plotlines, which was also true of Ruin and Rising, but I was engaged the entire time. I definitely remember there being moments that were a bit slow in the first two novels, but I couldn’t stop reading the third. All of the little things that had been building up to the conclusion of the series finally came together. I didn’t really have many expectations when it came to the end of the series, so I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much. There were extremely emotional moments that surprised me because I hadn’t realized I was so heavily invested in the characters and their stories.

The quest that Alina and her companions go on in order to find the third amplifier was wrought with danger. Every time they thought that they had moved beyond the Darkling’s gaze, he was there. I felt his presence as a villain and a threat throughout the entire novel. Pairing him as a villain with the dark setting of the Fold and the forests of Ravka really worked for me. I thought that this novel truly upped the stakes for the characters. There were times when I wasn’t sure where Bardugo was going with the plot, but then she turned around and suddenly it was all clear.

‘You are all I’ve ever wanted,’ he said. ‘You are the whole of my heart.’

In the end, Ruin and Rising and the Grisha trilogy was a very good fantasy novel that deserves the hype it receives. I’ll be rereading this in the future and I’ll definitely be checking out Leigh Bardugo’s other novels. I’m eager to read the Nikolai novel! I’m glad the story is continuing and not going the Nikolai-prequel route.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

There were so many quotes that I loved while reading Ruin and Rising that I wanted to call attention to a few more:



Photos are mine, quotes belong to Leigh Bardugo!

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[The Disappearances] Emily Bain Murphy

 

The Disappearances is a magical-realism, historical novel rich in character and story. The novel primarily follows Aila, whose life has been uprooted following the death of her mother and the deployment of her father. At some point I had forgotten that this was also a historical novel, so that gave it a nice unexpected flavor when I first started reading it. The Disappearances is about a set of three towns that have been struck by strange Disappearances that no one can explain. With a focus on Sterling, the town that Aila’s mother grew up in, The Disappearances probes the events of the past: possible Catalysts, what has disappeared, and how they’ve unlocked some of the secrets of Sterling. When Aila and her brother arrive it’s like the past has come to Sterling; Aila’s remarkable likeness to her mother, Juliet, the only person who escaped Sterling, sets the townspeople on edge. With the next Disappearance coming up, Aila strives to clear her family’s name by discovering where the Disappearances came from. But there are those who may not want the Disappearances to stop.

“We call them the Disappearances.”*

‘The Disappearance affected everyone, young and old, and every thing: fruits and flowers, perfumes and shampoos–even those things that make people sentimental, like the smell of a child’s hair, or scents linked to important memories.’* 

Disappearances. Catalysts. A mystery that has affected Sterling since 1907, with something new disappearing every seven years. It’s something small, something mundane that you don’t think about until it’s gone: the smell of baking bread and flowers, your reflection in mirrors or lakes, the stars. It’s only when it’s gone that you realize what you’ve lost. With the Disappearances affecting everyone for most of their lives or since birth, living with them has become the norm. The townspeople have adopted rules regarding outsiders and the Disappearances, so when Aila and her brother come to live in Sterling with an old friend of their mother’s and her family, it causes problems within a community where tensions are already high. Their mother is called a Catalyst, a witch, and other things,  and it falls to Aila and her brother to deal with the accusations of the townspeople. Aila knows that the only way to clear her mother’s name is to discover the truth about the Disappearances.

Although The Disappearances is a historical novel, World War II is mentioned only sporadically. It reminds me a lot of how parents in England sent their children to the country in order to protect them, the way that the Pevensie children are in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The only problem I had was that Aila and the rest of Sterling are kind of in a bubble. I wish that the world had been cemented a bit more in that time by having members of the community affected more by the war. Most of the story is focused on the Disappearances, but I would have liked to see more about the war. They didn’t seem to want for much, which was a little strange to me considering that there was rationing during the war. What I did appreciate, however, was that Murphy had her characters acting the way they should for the time. There weren’t any odd, modern phrases that didn’t fit. There were a variety of the “high school characters” included, but there were still lines that were not crossed in order to make it more accessible to modern readers. I liked that it remained quaint in a good way.

‘But really, aren’t there bits of magic everywhere we look? We’ve just stopped seeing it that way.’*

The characters were wonderful. Aila is our protagonist, but there’s also Will, the boy next door (although they’re sharing the same house); Eliza, the town darling; Beas, the talented musician; George, the budding scientist; and, of course, the rest of the Clifftons and townsfolk that round out Sterling. I found Aila to be inquisitive and an interesting character to follow around. I loved that she was spunky–she juggled a new town, school, and loyalties all while trying to solve the mystery of the Disappearances. Her friendship with Will, Beas, George–and even Eliza–was so well done. I really enjoyed reading about how she became stronger friends with them as they were following the clues about the Disappearances.

One of the things they worry about losing is the taste of food. With the next Disappearance coming up, people get a little tense as they wonder what they’ll lose this year.

The romance in The Disappearances was another subtle way that Murphy illustrated both characters and setting. I absolutely adored how the friendships and relationships grew in small ways throughout the novel. It never became the focus of the novel, nor did it overtake the plot. The romance was a lovely way to have one more thing in the novel that kept you reading in order to discover how things would turn out for the characters. I thought it was extremely well done.

The Disappearances also had a lovely little connection to Shakespeare. I loved the occasional quote thrown in when they were trying to figure out if the Disappearances had a literary connection. Shakespeare wasn’t the only author or poet mentioned–there was some Browning and Keats as well. I always love when books reference other authors and their work. It makes it more interesting for me as a reader. When Aila goes through the Cliffton’s library with her friends to try to discover clues that may be hidden there, it slowly unravels the mystery and reveals connections that initially seemed unconnected. The way that things are revealed allows the story and the characters to grow and learn. I loved it.

‘We’ll never be able to set it right unless we know which Catalyst was the true one.’*

The Disappearances was an incredibly enjoyable novel. I loved the references to Shakespeare, the magical-realism, and ultimately the way that the story was put together. Although it had a slow start, I was disappointed when it ended. Highly recommend this for readers who like the magical-realism genre, or even if you don’t!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I received a copy of The Disappearances from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

*Quotes are taken from an advance reading copy and may have had changes before publication.

[Siege and Storm: The Grisha Trilogy II] Leigh Bardugo

Anything worth doing always starts as a bad idea.

I came off of reading Shadow and Bone, the first novel, feeling decidedly unimpressed. It was a good novel; I enjoyed reading it, but it wasn’t quite something I was raving about despite the impressive amount of love there is for it. Siege and Storm is so much better. I think it helps that the novel is longer. Bardugo is able to explore her world a bit more, showing readers the corners that hadn’t yet been introduced fully.

Keith Thompson is one of my favorite illustrators. I didn’t realize that he was the one who created the maps! So talented.

After defeating the Darkling on the Fold, Alina has been running and hiding. She and Mal have been trying to make a life for themselves in a strange land, but as the days pass, it becomes more and more difficult for Alina to hide who she is. When she discovers that the Darkling survived against impossible odds and is now more powerful than ever, Alina realizes that she’s going to have to face her past and confront the Darkling and his allies.

Alina came into her power in the first book, which meant that she finally is a character I like in this second book. I found her pretty annoying in the first book, a standard heroine that whines about her powers (or lack of) while doing little to advance herself. Obviously that had changed toward the end of the novel, but I still wasn’t sure of her and the Grisha series. Now I’m pretty eager to finish the series.

 I am a soldier. I am the Sun Summoner. And I’m the only chance you have. 

One of the best things about Siege and Storm was how much Alina struggled. She had been told by the Darkling that Mal, an otkazat’sya–someone without powers–would never understand her and her power. As much as she tried to ignore his words, they stuck with her, barbs that keep pricking at her heart even as she gets closer to Mal. The resulting inner conflict that Alina goes through makes her a much better character. I felt far more invested in her this time around because I wanted to see how she would overcome–or succumb to–this inner darkness that seems to have been planted in her by the Darkling. As the book progresses, Alina realizes that she maybe can’t blame the Darkling for all of the negative thoughts, greed, and thirst for more that has grown in her. I loved that. I loved that she owned up to her feelings instead of blaming someone else for it. She has all of these pressures on her that are personal and political, and sometimes they become too much for her.

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[The Last Magician] Lisa Maxwell

I love the ouroboros element on the cover.

Find the Magician. And stop him before he destroys our future.*

The Lost Magician starts with a connection, though they don’t know it yet. Esta is a thief who uses her old magic to manipulate time, slowing it down and even jumping to the past and present. Dolph is the leader of a gang of Mageus who use their powers to protect those who cannot. And Harte is trying to blend in as a Sundren magician, hiding his Mageus powers in plain sight in a time when having old magic marked you as a target for the Order of Ortus Aurea in their climb to power. Their stories are connected by the Ars Arcana–a book that was thought to be lost. A book that is said to hold the secret to magic itself. A book that they all want.

Lisa Maxwell has created a story full of fascinating characters, a vivid setting, and an interesting plot. At 512 pages, it may seem a little long, but it kept me fascinated the entire time. As the story progressed and the twists began to show themselves, I seemed to read it faster, hurtling toward an end that made me angry–because it was over and I wanted to read more! While I initially thought The Last Magician was a stand-alone novel, it turns out that it’s the first part of a duology. I’m so glad I get to spend more time with the people and places of Maxwell’s Mageus society, even though I’m not happy about having to wait. I will just have to practice my patience.

The bulk of The Last Magician is set in the world of 1900s Manhattan, in the city before it became soaring skyscrapers and cacophonous noise at all hours of the day and night. The Manhattan of The Last Magician is full of the clip-clop of horse drawn carriages through cobblestone streets, the sickly-sweet smell of opium nests, and the thrill of living in a city that looks toward the future. The city has elements of hope and fear as the Sundren and Mageus live together, sometimes unknowingly. For the Mageus, having the old magic means that you have an affinity: power that allows you to manipulate time, know someone’s thoughts, or kill someone without touching. Naturally, the Sundren fear this, because people often fear what they don’t understand. The old magic is palpable in the air, with a warmth and a hum that is so different than Esta’s Manhattan.

In present-day Manhattan, the old magic–the magic that Esta and the rest of the Professor’s Mageus crew have–is nearly dead. The one thing that connects the two times, other than the magic flowing through their veins, is the Brink. The Brink, to those without magic, is nothing. To those with magic, it is terrifying. If they get too close to the Brink, it seems to pull at the magic in them, desiring to take it from them. To get close is to feel like you are losing part of yourself. To pass through means the loss of your mind and certain death. The Mageus have been trapped on the island ever since the Brink was created by the Order. And in 1902, more and more Mageus flock to Manhattan and the promise that they will not be persecuted there like they have been in their old countries, only to find that they are trapped there by the Brink.

A view of the Brooklyn Bridge, where the Brink is located.

Maybe it was because the Order of Ortus Aurea and all they’d done so long ago seemed more like myth than reality. The stories had been so monstrous, but in actuality, the Order itself had always been little more than a shadow haunting the periphery of Esta’s vision, the boogyman in her unopened closet.* 

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[Emma in the Night] Wendy Walker

There are so many pieces to our story, pieces that, if taken away, might have changed the whole course of it. […] And…it took all of us, our flaws and our desires. My hunger for power, which I will get to next. It was all in it, in our story, like the ingredients to a complicated recipe.*

Daughters of Mothers with Narcissism: Can the Cycle Be Broken?*

That is the name of the fictional paper that Emma in the Night keeps going back to explore: Can daughters escape a narcissistic cycle when it’s the only thing they’ve known their whole life? Three years ago, Cass and Emma Tanner disappeared. When Cass comes back this cold case reopens, and with it comes things that Dr. Abby Winter tried so hard to forget. It was the case that stuck with her and now she has a chance to solve what happened the night that Emma and Cass disappeared. Something didn’t add up to Abby then, and it doesn’t add up now. As Cass weaves a story of betrayal, kidnapping, and lost time, Abby has to untangle the truth from Cass’ words. Her return doesn’t mean it’s over.

I think there are two types of people. Ones who have a scream inside them and ones who don’t. People who have a scream are too angry or too sad or laugh too hard, swear too much, use drugs or never sit still. Sometimes they sing at the top of their lungs with the windows rolled down. I don’t think people are born with it. I think other people put it inside you with the things they do to you, or say to you, or the things you see them do or say to other people. And I don’t think you can get rid of it. If you don’t have a scream, you can’t understand.*

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Reading and Reviewing: July Edition

*・゜Currently Reading*・゜

This month is going to be a bit light on the reading because I’m in the process of moving. I’ve fallen behind in what I want to read and review, so I’m going to need to kick it into high gear if I want to finish my goals by the end of the year! I’m hoping that once things settle down I’ll be able to get back into reading two or more books a week.

*・゜Netgalley Wishlist*・゜

I actually got a lot of my wishes granted! Originally I had The Rattled Bones on this list, but as you can see, it moved! I’m hoping I get this last one granted.

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[The Epic Crush of Genie Lo] F.C. Yee

Chinese folklore, action, and the threat of a demon invasion. That is what The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is made of. Epic Crush is the debut novel from F.C. Yee, and combines high school classes and college prep with hunting down demons and learning how to control sudden powers. The gods, goddesses, and demons from Chinese mythology were unfamiliar, but they were integrated into a modern setting in a way that introduced them to a reader who has little to no knowledge of them.

I know nothing about Chinese mythology, so this was my first introduction to the gods, goddesses, and demons. It worked for me and I enjoyed reading a book that also taught me something. Ultimately, I’m not sure if learning about folklore from a YA book is the best because authors sometimes pick and choose, but it was interesting enough for me! I enjoyed that both Chinese names and translated names were used. It was a good choice because had all traditional names been used, I think it would have had the tendency to run together, but if all names were translated, it would have given the book a childishness that the book doesn’t deserve.

I really like books that incorporate an older, mythological setting and characters into a modern one. I like the urban fantasy aspect that it creates for books. While I felt that the modern setting was a bit too vague and relied on the reader to supply what they thought the Bay area looked like, I was able to imagine the world of the gods that existed alongside the modern one through the descriptions given to me in the stories Genie learned about. So while I felt that the normal setting was a bit bland and unrealized, the mythology behind it made it much more interesting.

The main character in Epic Crush is Genie, a girl prepping for college by studying hard, going to an adviser, and generally doing any volunteer activities that will help her get into a college far, far away from her hometown. That’s her main goal. She’s kind of thrown for a loop when she’s suddenly told that she has powers, but they’re not exactly the standard ones. There’s a lot of adjusting, and then there’s even more adjusting when something is revealed that makes her question her whole identity. I thought it was an interesting take on the powers trope. It isn’t something I’ve read before, so I was pleasantly surprised by it.

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