fantasy

REVIEW: Red Seas, Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Audiobook narrated by Michael Page.

This is the second book in the Gentlemen’s Bastard series, the first being The Lies of Locke Lamora, so there may be vague spoilers for the first book.

After barely making it out of Camorr alive, Lock Lamora and Jean Tannen arrive in the city state of Tal Varrar where they are soon planning to take on the legendary gaming house The Sinspire. No-one has ever taken even a single coin from the Sinspire that wasn’t won on the tables or in the other games of chance on offer there but Locke and Jean plan to change that. The course of crime rarely runs smooth and soon Locke and Jean find themselves entangled in the politics of the city and are coerced into setting sail in order to find some pirates

Red Seas, Under Red Skies is almost a book of two halves and I very much enjoyed both of them. The first follows Locke and Jean about two years after the events of The Lies of Locke Lamora as they are putting the final touches to the long con they’ve been pulling. In that half there’s also flashback chapters to see what happened to them in the first few months after they left Camorr. I’m always impressed by the flashbacks in this series. They never bore me and do a good job of actually adding to the characters and their newly changed dynamic as Locke and Jean have been affected by what happened to them in the first book. The second half is the seafaring adventure as they’re forced to learn how to be passable sailors and go searching for pirates to bring back to the city. It’s like the first half is a city book and while the setting is different to where they grew up, Locke, Jean and you as the reader know what they’re up against and how to rig the system. When it becomes a sea/pirate adventure book, that’s when Locke, Jean and the reader are on uncertain ground as no matter how much charisma and smarts they have, there’s things out to sea that you can’t talk your way out of.

It was fun seeing Locke and Jean out of their element when they’re out to see, but really through the flashbacks you see that they haven’t really been 100% themselves since they left Camorr. They relationship has shifted a but and while they still definitely trust and care about each other (don’t think I’ve read about such ride or die best friends like them for a long time) they aren’t always quite on the same wavelength anymore. Locke especially is unsettled and doesn’t always believe in himself and his schemes and it’s interesting to see him doubt himself and work to overcome that.

There’s a lot going on in Red Seas, Under Red Skies with various outside forces having their own schemes that attempt to ensnare Locke and Jean, but I never felt lost or confused when reading it. There are schemes within schemes and it’s fun to see how things unfold and while there’s certainly surprises, when you think back, the groundwork for them was there and pretty much everything was meretriciously planned.

I love the blend of magic and science in this series. You get to see more of Locke’s bag of tricks and how a pack of playing cards can be more than what they seem. Alchemy is the main sort of “magic” but there’s a few instances where mind control and telepathy may come to play, and when they’re out to see there’s clearly some large, deadly and fantastical creatures in the water.

I love the characters, the world, and the whole vibe of Red Seas, Under Red Skies and this series as a whole. It’s a series I want to take my time with as there’s only three books released but even though it’s been a couple of years since I read the first book, I soon found myself immersed in this world again. Locke and Jean’s character development was so good and interesting and the new characters, especially the new lady pirates, were great too. 5/5.

REVIEW: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

When Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) meets America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a girl with extraordinary but uncontrollable powers, he gets pulled into an adventure spanning the multiverse to save her and their universe.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an interesting film and probably one where people may have expected more from its concept. While Doctor Strange does traverse the multiverse, he only spends a decent amount of time in a couple of different universes so it doesn’t really feel like a true “multiverse of madness”. That being said, this is one of the shorter MCU films of late at just over two hours so the lack of extra universes makes a pretty snappy runtime for a film that’s juggling a fair few characters.

Helping Doctor Strange on his mission is his trusted friend and the new Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) and former Avenger Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). Personally, I love seeing Wong’s role expand from one MCU movie to the next. Benedict Wong is a charming guy and brings a likeability and stability to Wong, especially when next to Strange’s more reactive and harsher attitude. Wanda has an interesting arc and Olsen has always been good in the role but it looks like she really relishes showing a different side to Wanda. I’d be interested to know what people who’ve not seen WandaVision (or have forgotten huge chunks of it) thought of Wanda and her storyline in this film and whether her motivations were understandable and if there was enough context in the dialogue to explain what was up with her.

Dr Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) has more to do here than in the first Doctor Strange movie which was nice. In the brief moments we saw of her in the first film it seemed like she was smart and capable at rolling with the magical punches, and in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness that proves to be the case. Gomez’s America Chavez is an interesting one. The Young Avengers comics is one of the few series I’ve read so I did know about her before watching the film and I’m not sure they did the character from the comics justice. America Chavez should have more gumption and confidence in her abilities, which we don’t really see here. You could say this adventure is what helps her become the America we see in the comics than can be a bit of a copout – especially when so often male characters don’t have to go from meek and mild to a confident leader.

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is directed by Sam Raimi but there’s a lot of creepy horror imagery in this film. Raimi directed the original Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy and outside of that he’s best known for his horror films and he certainly brings the horror here. There are jump scares, evil spirits, and some gory and bloody moments too. When you continuously hear that directors can’t put their own unique stamp on franchise films, it’s nice to see something in the MCU that does feel distinctly different.

The score by Danny Elfman is also pretty great and knows how to amp up the tension and add to that unsettling feeling. There’s one fight sequence where music plays a big part and it’s really fun visually and audibly, and shows a different way the magic that’s at Doctor Strange’s disposal can be used.

I think the things people may love or hate about this film are the things that I can’t really talk about in a spoiler-free review. There are cameos and reveals, some work and may have a lasting impact, while others I’m pretty sure are just fanservice. It’s the inclusion of the horror-esque elements that make Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness standout but the problem I have with it, is the same problem I have with Doctor Strange – I don’t really like Stephen Strange as a character, and I much prefer it when he’s part of an ensemble. The start of the film is a bit slower but he’s at least with Wong more who mutes Strange’s attitude a bit. When Strange is front and centre, as he should be as the titular character, that’s when things get a bit shakier for me. A trope I love is “grumpy man adopts sassy teen” and though that’s the kind of dynamic they try and push with Strange and America, it just never hits the mark.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is often weird and creepy but it doesn’t feel like it did enough with its multiverse premise – or there were bigger expectations on it than it ever hoped to deliver. The acting is good, the score’s great, but there was never really enough to allow me to connect with the majority of the characters or to make me really feel anything. 3/5.

Sidenote: if you want a really great multiverse adventure, watch Everything Everywhere All at Once.

U is for Upside-Down Magic (2020)

Nory (Izabela Rose) and her best friend Reina (Siena Agudong) enter the Sage Academy for Magical Studies, where Nory’s unconventional powers land her in a class for those with wonky, or “upside-down,” magic. Undaunted, Nory sets out to prove that that upside-down magic can be just as powerful as right-side-up.

As I near the end of my A-Z Challenge I wanted to watching something that wouldn’t be too taxing and found this Disney Channel Original movie on Disney+. It’s based on a book (which I haven’t read) and it’s almost a combination of Harry Potter and Sky High but that works surprisingly well.

Reina’s power is creating fire and she is good at it but lacks confidence, especially when Nory is no longer with her to be her hype woman. Those two are some of the best tween best friends I’ve seen in media for ages. Both young actresses were great and I really believed in their friendship. Nory’s power is that she can change into a creature, but not just one, she always ends up as a mixture of two or more animals which doesn’t fit in with the neat aesthetic of Sage Academy.

Honestly, the teachers at Sage Academy are the worst. So many of them are super strict and expect perfection all the time that it makes the kids unsure of themselves. Plus, as the sort of moral of the story is embracing all your weirdness and differences, there’s a lot of adults who are against that and the headmistress especially is dismissive of Nory. Skriff (Kyle Howard) is the groundskeeper/teacher for Nory and the three other kids whose powers don’t fit into the neat normal and he’s a bit jaded too to begin with but once he starts to help Nory and the others too, he becomes a lot more likeable.

Upside-Down Magic feels like one of the Disney Channel Original Movies that they actually spent some money and effort on. The young cast are all pretty great, the special effects don’t look terrible, and it’s a film with a good message and themes. The villain of the film is interesting and looks pretty good too, and how they build the weirdness and make a book super creepy is admirable.

Overall, Upside-Down Magic is a fun, easy-watch kind of kid’s film. There’s a lot of great friendships between various characters, like the bond formed between Nory and the other kids with upside-down magic, but really, it’s Nory and Reina’s friendship that’s at the heart of this film. They really are the best of friends. 3/5.

REVIEW: Mortal Kombat (2021)

Washed-up MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) learns of an ancient battle when he’s recruited by Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) to stand against the enemies of Outworld who wish to take over Earth.

Having not played the games I’m pretty much a Mortal Kombat novice. Though that being said, I did watch the 1995 Mortal Kombat film earlier this year, can’t say I remember much about it though so really this Mortal Kombat is a blank slate for me.

The plot of Mortal Kombat doesn’t feature a big tournament, instead they talk about it a lot and it’s more a getting the team together to prepare to fight in the tournament kind of film. So really it feels like a lot of setup for the next film – which hopefully will be made otherwise this one would’ve been a bit of a waste of time.

The majority of the special effects and fight sequences look great. In fact, Mortal Kombat starts and ends on a high as it’s bookended by fights between Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim). Those fights are very entertaining and the second one where what can be amounted to superpowers are involved, is truly an excellent way to bring things to a close. The rest of the fights don’t quite hit that standard and a few seem to end before they have even begun. That said, all the fights are pretty bloody and gory so if you like that kind of thing you’re in luck.

A lot of the characters in Mortal Kombat feel pretty generic and don’t have too much personality. While Lewis Tan is great at the fight sequences, his Cole is the usual chosen one character and is defined by his love of his family and not much else. The rest of the heroes aren’t given much of a backstory or personalities and, for many of them, there isn’t a feeling of camaraderie between them that there should be when you have a team of heroes. Kano (Josh Lawson) almost feels like he’s in another film entirely as his personality is the biggest out of all the characters. He’s loud, brash and argumentative and they way he delivers one-liners just feels out of place as the rest of the characters are quite dour and serious. He does make it so things don’t get too dull but it still feels a little weird.

Mortal Kombat is a bit of a mixed bag but even though a lot of the characters are pretty generic (they’re fighters who all have some sort of special power), the plot moves at a good pace and the fights keep coming so you never really get bored. 3/5.

REVIEW: Eternals (2021)

The Eternals, a race of immortal and powerful beings, have lived on Earth for centuries. Their mission was to protect its people from creatures called Deviants but when a new danger threatens Earth and its people, they decide to take a stand to protect the place they’ve learnt to call home.

Eternals is the latest instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and in some ways it’s different to what has come before, but in others it falls into the general tropes of the MCU. The scope of Eternals is huge and there’s a lot of information to take in about these characters and their history. They are all pretty much demigods with different powers and how they fight together, using those different powers is really fun to watch. And while they are all from the same place originally, they each have experienced different things in their thousands of years on Earth and that along with their general core beliefs make them different to one another.

There are ten Eternals so natural some characters get more development than others but each character gets at least one very cool moment, whether it’s a quiet, dramatic moment or something in a big fight scene. Sersi (Gemma Chan) could be considered the lead in this ensemble cast. She, along with Ikaris (Richard Madden) and Sprite (Lia McHugh), is the one who sets out to find the others and bring them all together to stop this new threat. Sersi is a character whose core values are really love and kindness. She’s always liked and cared for the people of Earth even when some of her companions thought them to be not worth saving or a danger to themselves.

A lot of the comedic moments come from Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) and his human valet Karun (Harish Patel). With Karun, he could’ve easily become an annoying comedic side character but the film knows exactly when to use him to its advantage and he actually has a really heartfelt moment which I did not expect. Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos also has some funny moments but his humour is a lot more subtle and dry and having that kind of humour balances out the more typical MCU-type humour which was nice.

The cast and the characters are what made Eternals for me. These characters have all lived different lives but they all still care about one another. They do often seem like a dysfunctional family and no dynamic between two characters is the same. There are friendships or maybe even romantic relationships between various characters that are stronger than between others but that’s true to life in any kind of friendship group or family. It doesn’t make any of the relationships lesser and instead adds something to the various characters motivations. The chemistry between certain actors was great if unexpected – Barry Keoghan’s Druig and Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari were a standout.

The cinematography in Eternals is often stunning and that has to be at least in part due to director Chloé Zhao and her love of natural lighting and filming in real locations. At times this does make the CGI a bit more noticeable when it is used as the blend of the real and computer-generated doesn’t always hit the mark.

Eternals is a bit more of a serious MCU film as it presents lofty ideas and themes about humanity and the value of life of one species vs another. It’s the kind of film where even though you see the worst of humanity, you can also see the best and its potential. But with all these serious discussions, there’s also spectacular fight sequences where it’s really fun to see these characters work together.

There’s a lot to take in, but overall Eternals manages to be an engaging and hopeful story with fun action sequences and a lot of mythology to get your teeth into – and there’s enough in the film itself and its two post-credit scenes to get you interested in a sequel. 4/5.

REVIEW: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

There may be vague spoilers for the original Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom in this review.

Nikolai Lantsov, King of Ravka, is trying to keep his country from the brink of war and ruin, while battling a darkness that has taken hold inside him. Zoya Nazyalensky, Commander of the Second Army and one of Nikolai’s closest allies, will do everything to protect her fellow Grisha and help Nikolai secure the throne. Meanwhile, far north Nina Zenik wages her own war against the people who would see the Grisha destroyed. Each of them will risk everything to save a broken nation but some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried.

While people said you could read Six of Crows without reading the Grisha trilogy you definitely shouldn’t read King of Scars without having read the five previous books. King of Scars takes place three years after the Darkling’s defeat and there’s a lot of references to past events and knowing what these characters have gone through then, makes their highs and lows more affecting now.

King of Scars is told from the point of view of Nikolai, Nina, and Zoya. Nina’s story does kind of feel a bit like a side quest and quite separate from what’s happening with Nikolai and Zoya. She’s in a different country, she doesn’t even know what’s happening back in Ravka, and while she’s being a spy for Nikolai, she’s trying to confront her demons and her grief over losing the man she loved. Nikolai and Zoya’s stories are more entwined so you get what both characters are feeling about the situations they’re in as they’re trying to protect the future of Ravka. There’s political intrigue as Nikolai, Zoya and their allies (Genya, David, and the twins) try to figure out how to make alliances with neighbouring countries and protect their borders. As well as the politics side of things, Nikolai has to deal with a monster that’s living under his skin. The constant threat of him hurting anyone, or their enemies finding out about it and using it against them, always on his mind.

All three of these characters are struggling. They’re struggling with their guilt, their responsibility, their grief, and they’re all handling (or not) to the best of their ability. Reading King of Scars was a bit odd at times as while I like all three characters (Nikolai was my favourite from the original trilogy), they were all more or less side characters in the stories they first appeared in so to have them front and centre now felt a bit strange to begin with. Though, I have to say while I liked her before, King of Scars made Zoya go way up in my estimations. She’s powerful and mean but she’s holding in a lot of pain and the way her powers and inner strength develop is great to see. I also really liked her and Nikolai’s relationship. While they are close and clearly trust one another, there’s hints at there being something more between them, whether they are aware of it or not.

Though I enjoy it, I don’t often YA fantasy as I’m focusing more on my Read the World Project which tends to be more historical/contemporary fiction or non-fiction, and as I read my sixth Leigh Bardugo book of the year, I was reminded how fun and fast-paced YA fantasy can be. Bardugo’s writing is insanely readable with twists and turns, humour and heartfelt moments, and ends the whole book on a bit of a cliffhanger. I’m not too sure what to make of the ending but I’m looking forward to seeing how it all turns out (and if Nina’s story becomes a bit more connected to what’s going on in Ravka).

It was a lot of fun being back in this world with characters I like a whole lot. King of Scars technically might not be a 5-star read but I read it in a couple of days and couldn’t put it down. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino

When Tess and Eliot stumble upon an ancient book hidden in a secret tunnel beneath their school library, they accidentally release a devil from his book-bound prison, and he’ll stop at nothing to stay free. He’ll manipulate all the ink in the library books to do his bidding, he’ll murder in the stacks, and he’ll bleed into every inch of Tess’s life until his freedom is permanent. Forced to work together, Tess and Eliot have to find a way to re-trap the devil before he kills everyone they know and love, including, increasingly, each other.

I’ve been getting the book-only Illumicrate subscription for the past six months and this is the first book I’ve actually read from them. That’s not necessarily anything against the books from previous months (especially as I’m just generally not reading as much as I used to) but as soon as I read the blurb for The Devil Makes Three and looked at that beautiful but dark cover, I really wanted to read it as soon as possible. Thankfully, for a book I’d never heard of before and had just piqued my interest – I really did enjoy The Devil Makes Three.

The atmosphere in The Devil Makes Three is incredibly vivid. Even before the devil makes an appearance there’s a sense of foreboding and bleakness to both Tess and Eliot’s lives. As the story progresses you learn more about the two of them and how their relationships with their parents are strained for different reasons. Each of them are going through tough times and with Tess especially it’s made her hard and prickly. She’s been betrayed by the people (her parents) who are supposed to care about her and put her and her younger sister Nat first so she now finds it incredibly difficult to trust and rely on other people. This means that she tries to deal with what’s going on with the devil on her own before opening up to Eliot about what’s been happening to her.

The things Tess ad Eliot experience after the accidentally release the devil are truly creepy and terrible. Things they experience blur the line between dream and reality, making events even more unsettling as they (and you as the reader) are never entirely sure what’s real. There is a bit of gore in The Devil Makes Three but it’s not over the top and instead it’s ink that’s used to give you nightmares. Honestly never thought of ink as creepy/evil but the way it’s described here, how it moves and bleeds from pages and almost devours people, it’s really quite disturbing.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a creepy/horror story and The Devil Makes Three was really very good. The ending was a little sudden and I’d have liked to see more of the consequences of Tess and Eliot’s actions on people in their wider sphere who were affected, but overall, it’s a gripping and atmospheric read. 4/5.

REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) has been living a normal life in San Francisco with his friends including his best friend and co-worker Katy (Awkwafina) but that changes when his father Wenwu (Tony Leung) sends his men after him and pulls Shang-Chi back into the world of the Ten Rings.

I have seen Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings twice now (and there’s a good chance I’ll see it a third time in the cinema) and I really truly love it. While almost naturally there’s a big CGI-heavy showdown at the end, that doesn’t lessen the impact of this film, and as it’s a very CGI-heavy showdown that still puts the focus on the characters and their relationships, it works and is still very enjoyable. Plus, it pulls in elements from Asian culture that we just haven’t seen before in the MCU so it doesn’t feel like the typical end of the world scenario.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a story of a family, and perhaps more than that it’s a love story. But not the kind of love story you’d expect with the superhero lead having a big romance. Here the love story is between Shang-Chi’s parents, Wenwu and Li (Fala Chen), and how their love shaped each other and their children. Throughout the film there’s flashbacks to Shang-Chi’s childhood (played by Jayden Zhang as a child and Arnold Sun as a teenager) to see the events that shaped him into the adult he is now. The way these scenes are interspersed throughout the film always feel natural and are complimenting what’s happening in the present. These scenes, while often more family and relationship focused, are just as compelling as the action sequences that are happening in the present. Ever single flashback feels important and adds something to the characters involved; whether that’s Shang-Chi, Wenwu, Li, or Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing (played by Meng’er Zhang as an adult, Elodie Fong as a child and Harmonie He as a teenager).

Having these flashbacks scattered through the film means that the main action and story of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings kicks in very quickly. After a prologue narrated by Li (and all in Mandarin) telling the backstory of Wenwu, the ten rings he possesses, and how the two of them met and fell in love, it’s straight into the everyday life of Shang-Chi and Katy and how they both quickly get caught up in Wenwu’s schemes. The first action sequence is set on a moving bus and straightaway you can tell that this is a film made by people who know how to shoot fight and stunt sequences – and it’s clear that Simu Liu (like other cast members) put in many hours of stunt and fight training because it’s easy to believe that he knows martial arts.

All the hand-to-hand fights are just thrilling to watch and the way they’re choreographed often shows little character moments in them. Character’s fighting styles aren’t all the same and Shang-Chi incorporating a headbutt (something far more American than anything his father would’ve taught him) into a fight is a fun little moment.

The MCU often has a problem with its villains; namely that they’re pretty generic and forgettable. The two main exceptions to this rule are Thanos and Loki and now there’s a third with Wenwu. He is a villain, he is a murderer and a conqueror, but he can love though over time it becomes twisted into something else. He is an understandable and complex villain and his connections to Shang-Chi and Xialing makes him compelling and the conflict between the hero and villain that more impactful.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of my new favourite MCU movies and is definitely one of the great origin stories of the MCU. It’s fun and vibrant with great characters, fights and visuals and overall, it feels like a breath of fresh air in the MCU. Also, I appreciated how the comedic moments were handled throughout the film. Katy is the main comedic character but her jokes and comments are never to the detriment to a dramatic or sombre moment. Plus, she feels like a real character by actually having her own family connections and skills that can aid the hero. I honestly did not expect to love this film as much as I did and I can’t wait for Shang-Chi and to meet other characters in this universe because i feel his dynamic with them would be so interesting. 5/5.

Also got to give a shout out to whoever put together the trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. There is really very little of the movie in the trailer, and of the third act especially. In some ways it’s good as there were so many surprises to be had when watching the film but in others it’s not as I thought the trailer was fine but it didn’t make me desperate to see the film. But maybe that was for the best as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has far surpassed any expectations I may have had.

REVIEW: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Just a little quick backstory on me and the Grisha’verse. I read and reviewed Six of Crows way back in 2016 without reading the original trilogy. I enjoyed it and still agree with a lot of my review but now that the Shadow and Bone TV show arrives on Netflix tomorrow, I decided to revisit the world. I read the original trilogy for the first-time last month and reread Six of Crows on audio and enjoyed that even more than I remembered due to now having a better understanding of the world and the magic system and I got all the little references. And now I have read the conclusion to that duology on audio, which was narrated by Roger Clark, Jay Snyder, Elizabeth Evans, Fred Berman, Brandon Rubin, Kevin T. Collins, Lauren Fortgang and Peter Ganim.

I will try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible but as it’s a sequel events of the first book are likely to be mentioned. Kaz Brekker and his crew may have pulled off the most audacious heist, but they didn’t come home to the fortune there were promised. Betrayed, alone, and weakened they have to pull together to find away out of this mess as criminals, merchants, and officials are all after them. Because it turns out it’s not just their lives on the line, when a powerful drug is the most sought-after tool in the world, the fate of the Grisha world hangs in the balance.

I loved Crooked Kingdom. Much like Six of Crows it’s full of twists and turns and even when you think you know the plan either something goes wrong, or it turns out it was an illusion and the real plan was something else entirely. There isn’t one big job to pull off this time. Instead, there’s a series of schemes to try and keep them all alive and to get the money they were owed.

As events unfold, the crew has to rely on one another even more and seeing how the different relationships, both platonic and romantic, evolve is just incredible. All six of these characters (and you get chapters from all of their points of view this time) have gone through so much trauma. Some of the things they’ve gone through include drug and gambling addictions, surviving sexual assault, parents or family dying or just being terrible people. You get a lot more of Wylan’s backstory and perspective in Crooked Kingdom and it really adds something to the group dynamic.

While I still think you can get by not having read the original trilogy when reading Six of Crows, that is definitely not the case for Crooked Kingdom. Characters from the original trilogy make an appearance (one of which caused me to actually gasp because I was that excited) and a lot more of various countries politics and conflicts come into play here.

The pacing of Crooked Kingdom is just so good. There’s pretty much nonstop action and scheming and even when there isn’t, the conversations between various characters is just as compelling. When characters argue, and some of them are big conflicts, you feel it because slowly you as the reader realise, as a lot of the characters are doing, that these people actually care about each other. They are still liars and thieves and, in the case of Kaz Brekker especially, can be cruel and ruthless, but they’re also growing as people and making connections and even in some small way want to do better.

Crooked Kingdom is a brilliant conclusion to this duology. It expands this fantasy world, gives the characters more development and nuances and does a great job at building tension. All the twists and turns keeps you guessing and it’s just a fun ride with a lot of emotional payoff. 5/5.

SERIES REVIEW: Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

As I said in a recent TBR post, though I read and enjoyed Six of Crows years ago I never finished that duology and I’d never read the original trilogy that started this Grisha’verse. Thanks to the trailer for the Shadow and Bone Netflix show, it got me reinterested in this series and now I’ve read the trilogy for the first time – and plan to reread Six of Crows and then read Crooked Kingdom for the first time. And then at some point I’ll probably also read the other duology in this world that has my new favourite character in it.

Set in a fantasy world inspired by Imperial Russia, Shadow and Bone sees Alina Starkov, a mapmaker in the army, suddenly learn she has a dormant but extraordinary power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. She’s whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling, and soon she learns nothing is what it seems as she may be in more danger than she realised.

Shadow and Bone is my least favourite in the trilogy. I think it’s partly because it’d been a while since I’ve read fantasy, and while it’s still a genre I like, just getting in that YA fantasy mindset took some time. Also because of general internet osmosis, I knew going into it who was the big villain so I was kind of just waiting for that to be revealed too.

That being said, I think it did a great job of introducing the really interesting magic system. I liked the fact that while the Grisha are powerful, they have their limitations. They aren’t all powerful in all types of magic, there’s three different types of magic and they each have the skills for one type. How the magic and the history of this warring country is woven into the story is done well as there never seems a moment where you’re just listening to a history lesson. A lot of the time, you’re learning about things the same time as Alina is. This continues throughout the next two books and it makes the story all the richer for it.

The dynamic between Alina and the Darkling gets more interesting in each book but its here that all that important foundation is set. Their relationship verges on creepy a lot of times in the book before characters intentions are clear, and it gives their interactions an unsettling edge. Their powers compliment one another so they often appear to have the whole two sides of the same coin deal going on.

I gave Shadow and Bone 3/5.

Siege and Storm is my favourite in the trilogy. It feels like almost non-stop action and even when it’s not there’s more political intrigue as Alina learns to navigate the court and starts to become a leader which is just as gripping.

I thought the pacing in Siege and Storm was excellent and how it introduced new characters and new aspects of this world was nicely done. Here you see more of the technology of this country, not only are there pirate ships but also these aircraft which are unlike anything we’ve seen in these books before. The mixture of technology and science/magic in this world is really interesting.

Also, Siege and Storm introduces one of my favourite characters I’ve read in a long, long time – Sturmhond. He is clever and charming but also ambitious and ruthless, and I pretty much loved everything he said. As you learn more about him you see how he’s a man of many faces. He’s almost a chameleon as he can fit in in any social or political situation and often can get people to agree with him. I just loved him a lot.

I gave Siege and Storm 5/5.

Ruin and Rising is a near perfect end to this trilogy. Like Siege and Storm, I read it in two sittings because I was instantly pulled into the story because of the characters and the cliffhangers at the end of each book. While Alina has formed various bonds over the course of the previous two books, in this one there’s almost a family of choice trope happening as Alina and her small band of survivors fight to stick together and to do the right thing. The final act almost seemed to feel rushed. Throughout the book Alina had been working towards one goal but then that changed suddenly and, while there were possible hints in the previous book her original goal had still been an overarching theme, it made the final showdown seem more of a Plan B and it didn’t quite have the same effect.

I gave Ruin and Rising 4/5.

Overall, I really enjoyed this trilogy. Alina is a great and believable heroine. She acts to things how you’d think any sane person would react, she’s constantly learning from her mistakes and evolving into a powerful leader as she accepts and relishes in her newfound power. The rest of the characters are great too. As I’ve said, Sturmhond is my favourite but how some of the secondary or minor characters are allowed to develop is really cool as you see sides to them you wouldn’t have expected to begin with. While Alina’s closest relationship is with her best friend Mal, there’s a lot of good dynamics and friendships between female characters in these books which I always appreciate.

The Grisha trilogy is, on the whole, fast-paced, action-packed, and has compelling characters and a vivid world. I can see why these books have become so well loved and I’m definitely looking forward to the Netflix show.