honestly would LOVE to hear your thoughts on the nikolai duology because i really only see blanket praise or blanket hate for it whereas I see a lot of wasted potential. Bardugo's actual writing was beautiful as ever for the most part, but the choice of the plot/beats feels baffling to me. I love Nina, but her parts felt so separate from the rest of the book until the very end, and even that felt off. I liked the first 2/3 of KoS enough, dealing with the monster, political tensions, 1/2
and even the cult of the starless saint was at least interesting because dealing with people trying to rewrite the narrative of their greatest enemy (who hurt these young leaders in deeply PERSONAL ways) was really compelling (making him literally come back was. a choice) but I feel like somewhere in the last third, KoS went in a wholly differeent direction, and RoW has this vibe of feeling like she definitely wrote it after reading the show scripts or even seeing some footage. idk. 2/2
I will try to be brief (1/12)
Hey anon! Thank you so much for asking this even though it took 38756588247834 years to answer this I’m so sorry !! The Nikolai duology was good—wonderful too maybe because of the myriad of themes and topics it discussed and explored, all in addition to how beloved these characters are. For me, it’s the end of KoS as it is for you, and the entirety of RoW in particular that irk me the most.
I have very little issue with KoS, and I agree with everything you’ve said. The political tensions, the sort of urgency in trying to secure a country at the cost of personal reservations, preparing for a war that seems unforgivably near the door, etc. was all thrilling. After all, it is the first installment in the duology, and it’s supposed to set the course for the upcoming books.
KoS managed to introduce the stakes and the circumstances, lay the rails for what the characters will face and what it might mean to a vast set of entities connected to the events. And it’s hardly out of sense to expect Rule of Wolves to pick up where the previous book left off and carry forward the themes and plot points introduced in the first book.
Except, RoW failed spectacularly in that aspect.
Rule of Wolves: the second book, and the supposed finale to the Grishaverse and the Nikolai duology; it fails to continue the other number of threads that KoS set up for it, effectively compromising the characters, their characterizations, the themes and other political tensions and stakes. The due importance that should be given to the heavy set of topics that get brought up in the povs are not through, nor are the small details that Leigh added to the conversations evolve into something worth talking about, which are the actual points that could have been given some more page time to explore than just making them facts or points of nostalgia for the characters.
If you take a step back and analyze the whole timeline, events, characterization, objectives of the arcs and the plot points etc. etc., all the way from Crooked Kingdom to Rule of Wolves, there’s so much that is left out and tied in, quite haphazardly, which leads me to believe that Leigh wanted to attempt writing a duology that is more plot-driven than it is character driven. And we know that Leigh writes character driven stories brilliantly, and SoC, CK and TLoT are testament to the same. Heck, even TGT has more consistency than whatever TND has.
So, objectively? Plot possibilities? Characterization? Potential? Personal goals? Addressing the very serious themes it brought up, in little or major light, but give no proper elaboration about them?
The lost potential readily compromised the characterizations of many characters, and it all amounted to their arcs being very underwhelming.
I’m dividing this into four parts and here’s the basic outline.
Writing and Plotting
The Plot, Possibilities and Potential.
Characters, Characterization, Character Potential.
Remedy (what I think would've worked better to tie this all up)
This can get very looong, so be forewarned.
I. Writing & Plotting
Now, Leigh Bardugo’s writing is exceptional, no doubt. The sentences are short and flowy, and convey the tone, psyche, environment and the setting and its effects on the pov character marvellously. It's also immersive. It’s the same in Rule of Wolves, except, a little or a lot weaker.
The two main parts of this is that one, that Leigh slightly overdid showing a lot more than telling, and two, that the RoW (and perhaps KoS too), was more plot driven than character driven, the latter of which is actually Leigh’s strength.
In Rule of Wolves, Leigh’s writing seemed very choppy and snappish. The descriptions were lacking, or maybe that’s just me wishing for more internal conflict and dilemma, and going back and forth in one's own head for a bit. It felt like she showed more than she told.
Example being how Zoya ‘snaps’, ‘drawls’, ‘scoffs’, or ‘scowls’ less, and even if that’s supposed to be show Zoya beginning to be a little less unpleasant than she usually is, the tone in those chapters was not strong enough to distinguish how and why the character was acting a certain way. Nor pinpoint an explanation on what brought that change about. (And there were many instances like this with many other characters), which resulted in the characters themselves feeling so off to me.
Leigh’s characters are important to the story. They carry tremendous weight and actively contribute to the plot. Except, by focusing a lot more on the plot, some parts of these characters’ relevance was not up to the mark. It is greatly due to how weak the plotting and pacing of the book was, tbh, more than just her writing.
Consider: Mayu Kir Kaat. She is integral to the story, but she is thrust into responsibilities, and that doesn’t give us much time to see her as a person, and then as a person with a duty, like we see with most other characters. Whatever parts of her we did see were very circumstantial and timed, which is probably the reason why not many we’re unable to appreciate Mayu as much as we should. (Maybe fandom racism also plays a part, so, well,,,).
Like, we know from Six of Crows and with The Language of Thorns, how great care went into describing the characters’ state of mind, which further heavily influenced their choices and decisions. This time though, I think she wanted it to be more plot driven, hence the whole crowded feeling of the book and general worry about oh my god too much is happening, how will all this be solved and all that.
And this, I think, greatly hampered Leigh's writing, leading to unsettling and rather unsatisfying character arcs. Not to mention that there was quite little space given for the characters to develop or let them grow in a satisfying way which touches on most of the elements and themes that get brought up with regard to their powers and potential,,, and when it was indeed brought up, it was all in vain since they were never followed through.
That's one of the biggest problems for me in RoW: Plot points brought up in KoS were not brought forward in RoW.
II. The Plot, Possibilities and Potential.
Phew. Truly buckle up because this train has too many coaches. And to discuss them all, let’s keep the starting point as Crooked Kingdom.
Now, by the end of Crooked Kingdom, we know some important things about the parem.
It's dangerous asf for the Grisha who have to sacrifice their will and capabilities for a short time superpower high that they didn’t even ask for
Which means they are more often than not forced to consume the drug
Shu Han is the creator of the Parem and are also creating a new kind of soldiers called Khergud (who additionally require Ruthenium, but we’ll talk abt that later)
Fjerda snatched the formula after kidnapping Bo Yul-Bayur, keeping him away in the Ice Court and in their possession, and used the Parem to further their own heedlessly heinous agenda
I think it’s easy to understand how KoS started off on the right track, considering that Kuwei Yul Bo is mentioned, the antidote and jurda is brought up and so come the political tensions alongside it (what with the impending war, the demon, the lack of funds in the coffers and security and peace for the country alongside safety for the Grisha).
The point is, parem is a character of its own. CK was its inception, and its fate was decreed along with its lifespan and its doom. Ideally, by the end of RoW, parem should have been vanquished while addressing its nature as a deadly drug, the addiction and aftermath, and the key person who will guide the plot: Kuwei Yul Bo.
Parem is a political tool that pitted countries against each other, making one another their allies or enemies. (Though parem is not the only one factor). Ravka doesn’t yet know about Kerch’s neutrality. The Shu made their move to assassinate in the end, just as Fjerda cleared the air about their goals.
Point is, parem is weapon, a new kind of warfare that keeps getting alluded to in KoS. The first book gave a glimpse of how the Shu and Fjerda are using parem, thereby exploiting, prejudicing etc. the Grisha in their countries. Khergud whose humanity is washed away with parem + ruthenium, and the Fjerdan Grisha (are targeted) drugged and exploited while be subjected to torture, training and imminent death, parametres of these outcomes being severely gendered.
Ravka too wanted to weaponize it and create a usable strain that would still give the Grisha their powers but at a minimal cost, until Nikolai’s conversation with Grigori convinces him out of it and to use only the antidote for the Grisha.
And when are the contents of this conversation brought up again?
Another aspect of parem (that the conversation also covers) is this: that what was once merzost, parem is its strange cousin. Parem parallels breaking the bounds of Grisha norms unnaturally, while merzost takes it a step further to break the bounds of nature itself, which comes with a heavy price. They're both the same with little differences. Amplifiers are in tune with this discussion, hence the conversation between Zoya and Nikolai about how, and whether or not the abomination in him, the parem, and the amplifiers are tied together. This gets brought up again in the conversation with Grigori.
Parem parallels the superpowers, something that Zoya too manages to achieve once the corruption of the amplifier business is resolved, which makes her realize how in tune with nature the Grisha must be, and how limited the Grisha powers until then had been. And why the amplifiers were a corrupted piece of magic.
Zoya was supposed to be the conduit in that sense that she reversed the Grisha norms and understood the importance and nature of small science. This is alongisde parem getting abolished or resolved in the least, be given a redressal.
Yet instead in RoW, we barely see any of Zoya’s powers, nor even her experimentation and hunger for power which would give her protection. We don't see how she begins to realize that while power was indeed protection, it was also a responsibility. Not clearly, anyway.
So like, not only is this entire discussion thrown away in Rule of Wolves, but no matters are resolved either. Parem did not reach its end like it was supposed to. Merzost with regard to parem would have been an excellent thing to address, with or without the Darkling being present, because the blight is there. But that doesn’t happen.
What happens instead? We get one chapter of Grisha getting the antidote during the face off at the start of the book, the women in Fjerda are not brought up again and instead we jump to Shu Han. Kuwei is also conveniently forgotten because hey, the Zemeni are here so it’s all sorted!
RoW could have (should have actually) sought to address both the political and medical (?) aftermath and implications. Maybe it did succeed in showing the political side of it, with regard to Mayu, Ehri, Makhi and Tamar’s storylines. But that’s only in Shu Han, whose state of affairs we had NO idea of until RoW. No idea, so much that it was completely out of the blue.
And what we did know (get to know about in KoS) is Fjerda and the affairs there remained… unsolved.
b) Grisha Powers
Re: From the conversation between Nikolai and Grigori, and Juris and Zoya, about how parem and the amplifiers are parallel to each other in terms of being abominations, a corruption of Grisha powers. Now the theory of it is not entirely explained, but we do know that the parem and whatever Zoya learnt from Juris was meant to move along in the same direction.
But we don't see another mention of it, except maybe we could dig a little deeper and realize that it all adds up because Zoya is the Grisha Queen of Ravka, Summoner, Soldier, Saint, all of it rushed and unnecessarily magical in a war so dire and realistic in RoW.
c) Spy business
Just… genuinely what even was Nina up to in RoW? A spy, sure, but only to garner information on the pretender?
Why couldn’t there have been two responsibilities for her to uncover: the lies or truths about the pretender while the Apparat causes hindrances, and Nina trying to seek out more documents of the locations and labs where the Grisha women are being tormented and the other Grisha being weaponized? It could have been a leverage to discredit Fjerda in front of everybody in the Os Kervo scene. Imagine if Nina whipped out the documents of Grisha labs and brought the truth of the exploitation and killing and kidnapping etc. in front of the convention of all nations. All of it together would have upped the political tensions by quite the notch.
Even then, there’s a possibility that it wouldn’t matter either because the Grisha aren’t exactly valuable to all the nations. But killing and exploiting is still wrong so maybe it might have worked? Or see, even if it wouldn’t have, the slow and sluggish realization of Mila’s identity by Brum, and alongside writing it as a tragedy where Nina’s efforts seem to have gone to waste, or where Nina is telling Zoya about not accounting for Prince Rasmus’ word and she informs her about the documents she has snatched? Something could have been done here?
The point is, KoS focused on Fjerda and its unraveling, and it wasn’t continued with and through in Rule of Wolves. Instead it sought to find the problem in a whole new country, Shu Han, and fixed it within the same book leaving the other country as it is.
d) Ruthenium and the Blight
Ruthenium, the metal that is an alloy of regular metal and Grisha made steel, could have been utilized more significantly in the books.
I mention it in association with the blight because while on one hand it is true that the blight is an area full of nothingness, ruthenium as a metal could have been utilized to show the effects of rushed industrialization that is leading to the ground losing its essence. This is supposed to be advanced warfare after all. Besides, Makhi loses someone very dear to her. Perhaps ruthenium is more dangerous in Shu Han because the Shu use it to create the khergud, so the constant manufacturing of it has been leading to the metal leeching the lands of their fertility, along with the blight.
And so also to broker peace, Ravka could have provided aid in some ways. :
1) The Darkling sacrificed himself, as a result of which the blight vanishes. While the blight took away her niece, the possibility of a blight persisting despite the ending of RoW could be attributed to ruthenium.
2) Ravka could provide the reversing effect to the alloy of ruthenium and metal using Grisha and otkazt’sya engineering and ingenuity to replenish the lands.
All in addition to whatever will be Shu Han’s policies to bring lushness to their lands.
e) Women and War:
Holy fucking Shit, where do I start with this?
Whatever we saw in Fjerda was haunting, and we see it from Nina’s chapters. There’s literally no resolution for it, nor is it ever brought up again, at all. In Zoya’s chapters, we see through her eyes the brunt that Grisha faced with the war, and in a country that has refused to recognize Grisha as the citizens and considers them expendable.
Add to it her own narrative of how the women are never mentioned, let alone the ones that she has lost or has known to suffer, at the hands of the war, at the Darkling's torture and powers. The description of these women suffering, often being forgotten and thrown aside as mere casualties… where or when was it ever going to be brought up again?
Like, switching between such horrifying things happening in Fjerda to whatever was happening with Zoya and Nikolai and Isaak is such a contrast, horrifyingly demeaning and insulting, even more so when it failed to align with the importance of parem and offer a solution to both these problems.
Now switch to Rule of Wolves, where the Tavgahard women immolate themselves on Queen Makhi’s orders. Not only is that such a cheap and insensitive thing to do, it gets treated a simple fucking plot point in the book, and it barely gets addressed afterwards. Women in Asia have a vastly complex and complicated history with fire, and this is a serious criticism that culturally affects readers in personal ways. And what gets done about it? Fine, Zoya feels baaaad, sorry oops why would the women do that?!?!?
Where is the adequate sensitivity to the topic? Where is the continuation of the pain Zoya feels for many people, despite them being the enemy? How does she honour them? Where is all that dilemma and pain? Why does she not think of them or just get a line or two to talk about them?
Where is the due importance for this suffering given? Structurally and culturally?
f) Soldier, Summoner, Saint / Yaromir the Great
We never really get any explanation for why Zoya deserves to be the Queen, and why she is the best. But we do get to see why Nikolai isn’t the one supposed to be on the throne, and it’s not just because of his parentage but also because of his failings and doubts and the need for acceptance with the secrets he carried.
Here's the thing though; it’s not just about her showing mercy. It’s very subtle, and in good sense, should actually have been given a little bit more importance that be loosely brought up at random times.
Keeping aside the fact that Zoya is representative of Ravka—a woman, a Grisha, a Suli girl who changed the course of war and who knew what it was like living in poverty, being as an underprivileged person of the society in addition to the trauma from then and the state of living at her aunt’s place—which is meant to be covertly apparent, the other reason tracks back to Yaromir the First, who with the help of Sankt Feliks of the Apple Boughs—the one who raised the thornwood—lead Ravka at that time into the age of peace.
The Darkling testified that in his POVs, that while Feliks and Yaromir worked in tandem for Ravka, Aleksander worked for safeguarding the Grisha. In one sense, Zoya is supposed to reflect that moment in history in the present moment, except she is Queen and Sankta, and Grisha, all three at once.
It is brought up in one of the Darkling’s POVs and once in the conversation with Yuri in KoS. Other than that, we never actually get any more hints of this explanation in the text, which is the reason why the entire ending felt so so rushed, and like a fever dream, that even if it was a plot twist, it was kinda very baseless when it should have been more ohhhhh sort of a thing.
g) The Starless Cult and Saint Worship
This cult had immense potential to blossom into many things, some of which were indeed touched upon in KoS when Zoya says that she saw a bit of herself in Yuri, and brings up time and again how easily she’d been led and had not been aware enough of what’s right and wrong, just as she supposes Yuri is too. And to some extent, there is truth there, because in the Lives of Saints, we do see why Yrui comes about to hail the Darkling and how it parallels Zoya’s, of being helpless and ten being saved by a different power/ their own power, respectively.
That’s where it forks, that Zoya is older and realizes the path that Yuri has chosen and understands that it won't happen until he realizes it himself because the Darkling’s crimes are so obvious.
Even then, there’s still more potential: This cult could have been the mirror that would make Zoya reflect on the questionable methods of the Darkling, and the ways in which she might be mirroring them, despite or not it is the necessity because of the war. How she is training soldiers too, just as the Darkling did, and while the need to take children away from their homes just as soon as they were discovered Grisha was abolished, it was war, and they needed soldiers.
So like, there’s quite a big narrative going on here, how mere children are pushed into one path of becoming a soldier and the whole system that was that the Darkling followed to train the Grisha and all of that. All of this in addition to the juxtaposition to the Grisha being seen as elite despite them being hunted, and the people who are not Grisha frowning upon them. This is also the work of the Darkling, which actually paves the way to see how there can be a world where the Grisha are not feared or seen as abnormal, despite or not they are given a Saint-like narrative.
This cult could also have been the segue to discussing Yuri and his brainwashing, and the sort of cult-ish behaviour of believing in something firm when you couldn’t believe in yourself, or not seeing the magnitude of the crimes of their supposed Saint, alongside always staying focused on becoming a soldier only and never actually thinking beyond what is told.
Some of these are very subtle and some are brought up, but never given too much of an explanation.
Genya brings up another good point in the funeral chapter, about how Fjerda seemingly taking into the whole Saints thing could mean that if the Darkling moved there, he could very well sprawl his influence there to bring in supporters. Which leads to another discussion that gets brought up towards the end of the book: about Nina telling about the Ravkan Saints to Hanne and therefore to the Fjerdans,,, which doesn’t exactly sit right with me. It’s still a very nascent topic, and I think SoC3 will explore this path of faith and personal beliefs etc. but leaving it just there, while talking so much about Saints in both the countries,,, don’t exactly know how to put it into thoughts here.
But regardless, the cult of the Starless had different potential to talk of (blind) worshipping of an ideal without critically examining why the person must be put on the pedestal in the first place (and if it is simply power, then there is actually a narrative right there, which RoW gets right, about the people valuing the power still, as a result of which the monarchy still persists at the end of RoW. Even then, there’s more discussion awaiting there).
Not sure if any of this makes sense, but I’ll leave it at this here for now.
edit: 05/07/2021 | I think what I was trying to say here is that we do not have any kind of narrative evidence to seeing how and why it seems right that the Fjerdans will worship Ravkan Saints; is it merely because they are all Grisha? Or is it because of the segue explore this path of faith and personal beliefs and all of that, of the talk of the monastery and the Grisha there being of all identities, that a monastery is in Shu Han, that it has Djel's sacred Ash tree so far away from Fjerda... much to think about.
III. Characters, Characterization, Character Potential.
Mostly going to be about Nina and Zoya, but I’ll bunch up the rest of them at the end.
*head in hands*
I severely mourned how poorly Zoya was written in RoW, but then I realized that more than Zoya, it’s Nina whose potential was severely undermined and wasted. On one hand, I’m glad she uses her powers and quick thinking,observation and her own tactics to analyze the population and opt for the best way to make them see the truth she wants to show them (eg: making Leoni and Adrik and Zoya saints and also showing that the Grisha are the children of Djel via people’s belief to Joran and Rasmus’s mother).
But then, it’s like you said; her parts were so offbeat and outpaced and completely disjointed, when in fact, Nina is the thread that ties all the characters, their plotlines and potential, together. Nina is connected to Zoya and Hanne, two equally important characters and main characters of the duology. Whatever scope Nina has, they are greatly in parallel to Zoya and Hanne. And it’s all literally there, in the text! What a waste.
Though keeping aside these parallels, Nina’s own journey from Ketterdam to Ravka to Fjerda, while is spoken about, doesn’t touch some other parts that I see potential in. Or this is just meta.
Nina has grief not just from Matthias’ death but also from the loss of her powers as Heartrender. So much of the Second Army was built on being a soldier, and perhaps the Darkling was not outright disdainful of racial differences in his army, yet he still stripped every part of the children away until they weren’t children anymore in his view. They’re all soldiers… (albeit his soldiers, preparing them to do his bidding because hey, give and take right?). Nina was a soldier, and she is a soldier still under Zoya’s role as a General, but an ‘other’ of a soldier. That’s her only identity, and the loss of her powers means that she’s a different kind of soldier.
I imagine that this entire time, some small part of Nina longed for normalcy, or whatever settled as normal for a life like hers. In the sense that she wants to go back, but what is back and where exactly did she want to go back to? What was the before and after and where did things go wrong or change? There’s tragedy in the realization that whatever you were before what you became is not a place you can return to, and that’s a different kind of loss that she has to bear, and all by herself. She has powers over the dead now, a strange power she learns to grow to, but all the places she has been, all the lives she has led and people she had been, everything might seem like they’ve all been locked away in some strange place leaving her barren and indisposable.
She’s off to Fjerda as someone she isn’t, figuratively and literally. In KoS, Nina brings up many times how odd she feels as Mila and in some capacity longs to be Nina Zenik again. This ties in with the previous point of returning to somewhere, but where?, but is also a segue towards body dysmorphia, the thing that Nina and Hanne’s storylines parallel and connect too with in a small way. It’s a great line to follow to discuss what her discomfort with her body means to herself while it means something entirely different to Hanne, who is also not entirely comfortable being who they are. (This discomfort further which leads to gender dysphoria, while for Nina, it will be about learning to accept her powers. I’ll add on to this in a bit,).
I'm mourning the lost potential of that experience being a parallel to Hanne’s own feelings, of a discussion between people being uncomfortable with their bodies, something that can mean multitudes to each person and on their own accord.
In parallel to Zoya, I like to draw it from the fact about Nina wanting to go back to who she was, while Zoya actively tries to lock her past away and drown it somewhere or throw it to the storm, never to hear of it again. She has no identity other than being a soldier, and that’s enough for Zoya, because who she was before she was a soldier is not pleasant. But moving from being just another expendable shell of soldier under the Darkling’s rule, Zoya becomes the one third of the Triumvirate, and then the King’s general, all of which bring self-awareness of Zoya’s capabilities and challenges that are bound to excite her. But all of these also compel Zoya to be many other people to others as she slowly grows to realize that power is not just protection but also a responsibility, and it will inadvertently mean confronting her past of her lost identity, realizing the how of the Darkling, and how harmful it was. As Genya puts it perfectly in Rule of Wolves, that they were all taken away when they were young kids, not even barely children, and then thrust into responsibilities that didn’t allow them to be anything else other than what the Darkling told them to be.
Back to Nina; a few other great parts about Nina’s arc could have been about her connection to languages, as language being a mode of strengthening identity, in addition to growing to her powers. In RoW, there’s this line that goes ‘how sweet it was to speak her language [Ravkan] again’, and the feeling of homesickness. Like, Nina is trying to connect to Ravka through what she knows best—language, and then stories. In that, Nina realizes a part of her identity, which could also act as a segue to Zoya reclaiming her own heritage and ethnicity. Not only that but Zoya and Nina’s stories are literally so intertwined that it’s hard not to see how their choices and line of thought affect one another’s arcs, in the grief they have and how they choose to treat it, and also show why Zoya is particularly protective of Nina (and keeps wishing that she doesn’t become the monster Zoya had become, in the sense that Nina is more mature in handling her grief than Zoya was and the entire mercy plotline ties Nina, Zoya and even Genya together. More meta, haH).
And that’s why the ending doesn’t make sense. Even though the part about her not being comfortable as Mila is not brought up many times in the continuing chapters (and that’s why perhaps naming Nina’s discomfort as body dysmorphia may be wrong), there’s still the part of Nina readily accepting to be who she was a Mila and remain in Fjerda that seems iffy to me. Especially when Nina and Hanne literally a few chapters ago think about running away (it may be just another alternative they might be fantasizing about, but I think it still means that they both want to be their true selves without hiding any parts of it away). So her staying as Mila… well, it doesn’t exactly add up.
I’d also add the part of Nina’s story mirroring Leoni’s, and how she is from Novyi Zem and being a part of the Second Army meant that she had little to no connection with her past, her culture etc. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part that Leigh went for that arc.
edit: 05/07/2021 | I don't agree with my point anymore about Nina not having the kind of ending I assumed she might have, considering that it is very well possible for Nina to treat her identity as Mila as a fresh start, as a Grisha with a command over the the dead and begin a new normal that is suited for her. You can read more here.
For one, white passing Zoya is not canon to me. I simply pretend I do not see it.
See, her race was handled very badly. Making her half-Suli was supposed to show the struggles and the trauma that the ridiculing of her identity by other people has caused to her. Except, not enough time nor text is given to thoroughly discuss it. Not to forget how problematic of a narrative in itself it is to make Zoya white passing.
It would have made more sense to make her dark skinned and predominantly Suli-looking than whatever yt bs she was put through. Her not being white-passing would have led to conversations about tokenization, or people caring little about her and not giving her any respect because she is Suli. Or being called beautiful to the face and praised just for it or a harmless tumble in their point of view.
So like, instead of making the ‘mistake’ of seeking for acceptance, seeking appreciation and love, from her mother at first and then the Darkling, Zoya instead makes herself someone to be feared, if respect was not what she deserved. The iciness is a part of her and has always been, but all of it soon became a shield, an armour that she vowed to harden her heart with. Just the sheer impact of this narrative and her reluctance, and seeing Nikolai love her for beyond who she thinks she is… if all of this was canon, I’m pretty sure I’d have built a shrine for this duology.
Let’s now talk about her grief, and...
Okay it’s not for me to point fingers at how Leigh chose to write about grief because there’s no one way or one proper approach to go through that pain, and if that’s how she chose to write about grief for Zoya, fine! But I really wish we’d have gotten a little more into her head to see how the trauma has affected her thoughts and how she struggles against why and what exactly it is that Juris wants her to do. That enough time and text was dedicated to Zoya’s feelings and the mayhem it caused her, as a result of which the dragon’s eye took its cue and made things more unbearable to her because she was the only one to bear them all.
Like, I feel like Zoya was overwhelmed throughout the book and in between she had some skyhigh responsibilities to discharge and it’s all so inconsistent and poorly woven,,, it completely dissolved her character from KoS and made it 10000000x more miserable for me to read her POVs. And honestly, what even were her assignments that the Kirkus review mentioned? Never an inch of text in RoW is given to decipher her complications of her mind, the muddled sense of hopelessness and fear that grips her time and again. Why overwhelm her so much that you fail to do her mental state and capacity any justice?
I’m not going to be harsh about how much David’s death bothered me-- no actually fuck that; what’s the point? Fine, he died. All because you wanted to make his death a plot device to make Zoya reconcile with loss and deal with it? Where was Genya’s grief? Literally no point of having a death in the book at all, and it didn’t even achieve anything. (I’m still trying to wrap my head around why David’s death was important and maybe if I find some straws, I’ll consider…)
There were so many other ways around it; could have brought back Lada and killed her off, or have the Darkling piss her off so badly or just. Something. Instead of whatever happened with David. I think this is too harsh and insensitive of me to say about Leigh, but still… there’s a myriad of other ways to have gone about it. Helping Zoya deal with her grief with Nikolai at her side, to understand that the rage that was fueled from her loneliness, like it had been in the past, could now be a weight that Nikolai was willing to carry with her… Helping someone with their grief, staying and choosing is also a love language you know?
So in that regard, I won’t regret saying how flat the garden scene was to me. Zoya’s lines, though tinged with grief, were so out of what I would expect KoS Zoya to say. Maybe it’s also because of how bitter I was reading about David's death, despite that part being spoiled for me.
The cost shouldn’t have been David’s death, especially not when his death too wasn’t properly handled at all, and Genya’s grief was never spared a second thought beyond bringing Titanium.
Now let’s talk about how Out of Character Zoya was throughout the book. Her punchy attitude was missing, and even if she was warming up to her friends, we see little of the iciness she continues to retain. Another part of this is about exploring her relationships, particularly with Nikolai and her growing feelings for him. I wish we’d have seen them grapple with more of their confusion and propriety, if only for the yearning™. Besides, no matter how cute their scenes were, they were mostly (like maybe some. 70%) awful to read them, simply because it felt so odd to see Zoya be so open with Nikolai, all of a sudden.
A part of this definitely has to be the fact that we don’t know just how much time has passed between the end of KoS and the start of RoW, and we never, never see any description of they regarded their feelings for each other and how they understood it themselves. I don’t actually know how exactly I can put this into words in a manner that will make sense, but the only scenes where I appreciated Zoyalai were in the Ketterdam chapters, ONLY. The rest was… bleh lmao. Their scenes were so cute and brilliant, and if only we’d seen more of the internal conflict and had given some more time for them to practically approach their feelings but still end up in the puddle of it. If only.
Their scenes apart were the good ones, because that’s where we finally see Nikolai feeling the loss, no matter how temporary (on the verge of being permanent since it’s the war), of not having Zoya with him, of not being there with Zoya because who else would it be if it wasn’t her? Zoyalai had good scenes but they barely lived up to the mark lol. Their feelings are never thoroughly explored, nor their mental capacities.
While we’re talking about Zoyalai, let’s also talk about how lame it was for Zoya to say that Nikolai was the golden spirited hero all along, from the very start, when canonically we know Zoya had little to do with him in the earlier books, that she may have only been physically attracted to him and never saw him as more than just some guy with a responsibility to manage, and had sooooooo much distrust about him. And that it was only in the next few years of working with him and alongside did she grow to recognize his efforts and relish in the hope that he was building for Ravka, inadvertently making Zoya hopeful too.
Nope. Instead, we’ll just throw in some destiny bs that he was the one all along rather than show that the beauty of their relationship did not stem what they perceived of each other, but was instead built on strong respect and admiration for one another and their capabilities. 100% destroyed their relationship for me.
Some good parts about Zoya’s arc in RoW was how she acknowledged her past mistakes, and the nuance that was touched upon in seeing sense in becoming a soldier from the start, that offered her a chance to be anything other than a bride. That some part of her was grateful for the Darkling for teaching her how to fight, while still keeping Genya’s words in mind about how they were mere kids, children who had only one path to traverse because the Darkling (who wanted their acceptance and loyalty) nor the Kings of the country let the Grisha be anything else other than pawns of the war. That she recognizes her mistakes as a teen and how self centred she was, that her being snotty had at times cost some peoples’ lives too. And she doesn’t take the blame all up on herself, because it’s not hers alone to bear. Super good.
Also, the way Zoya comes to view power as responsibility instead of merely as protection was something cool to read about. It’s not clear in the books, but Zoya actively tried to not be the Darkling while still continuing to build an army for the war out of necessity, and actually sharing some parts of the dream that the Darkling had for the Grisha. I can’t articulate this so perfectly, but the point is, Zoya trying to avoid becoming a tyrant like the Darkling was an active process that she was constantly trying to change, and where Zoya could not recognize her own feelings and inherent thoughts about warfare that in some ways did mirror the Darkling’s, by the end of book, Zoya is much more self-aware and conscious of herself and her power than she was at the start of the book. And this was well done.
Now, what is up with YA and making people turn into giants or animals lol wtf. Why couldn’t we have seen Zoya use her dragon powers in a way that symbolizes the conditions of her dragon amplifier and the power of the knowledge she obtained from Juris? She is a Saint, and we’ve seen that their powers allowed them to cause ‘miracles’ and such, as we see at the start of KoS and at the end.
Why couldn’t we have seen Zoya dabble with her newfound powers and completely lose her shit in anger during the wae, only to rein back in mercy, just as someone from Fjerda begs for forgiveness since they see her then as a Saint? Adrik and Leoni used their powers in Fjerda, so having Zoya bring about a conundrum of all orders and do something about it would also have been cool, wouldn’t it? In the funeral scene we see her turn water into ice, thereby making a path for Genya. Why couldn’t we have had more exploration of the importance of the dragon’s eye and the general nausea of being overly empathetic every. damn. time? Why didn’t we get to see her powers? Why couldn’t we have seen her fail in them and realize that the reason she was not perfect was because she was trying to be strong on her own and was not relying on others and joint effort?
Her turning into a dragon was genuinely the most baffling part bc here’s a war that’s so serious and dire with metals and bombs, and then here’s this magic that will solve all of it entirely. Like I’m not saying it was bad, (I am actually saying just that) but I also don’t know what I am saying, except that the ending felt like a fever dream.
Not sure if I’ve managed to convey it properly, but well. Zoya felt out of character throughout RoW, and that the only place I saw KoS Zoya was in the final Os Kervo scene where Zoya finally agrees to be the queen.
Nikolai’s arc was very satisfying and brilliant to read about in RoW. In KoS, he seemed very much like a passive character, one of the reasons why his stunt with the Shu in RoW was appreciable, no matter how ill-timed of a plot turn it was. His journey throughout this book was also introspective to see why others deemed him unfit as the King, and even if they were his enemies who thought that in want to dispose him from the throne, Nikolai realizes that him being on the throne is not of much value and that this book was entirely about him seeing his privilege and making decisions to counter and correct the mistakes he’s made. That was nice. Oh, also his father not being an antagonist was a pleasant surprise.
I don’t have many complaints about him, except perhaps wanting some more internal conflict and elaboration about his feelings for Zoya. Them being apart was where it was satisfying, and then in the Ketterdam chapters. His arc could have been better in KoS, but that’s to blame the plot for the characterization.
Now, from the very start, their arc was super good and it only got better and better until… the ending. Except it’s so odd that Hanne, a poc, has to now live as white person, while feeling comfortable in their transmasc identity. Icky, no? That you need to eliminate one part of your identity in order to feel safe and comfortable about another? Add to this the whole white-passing Zoya thing,,, doesn't exactly send off the right message.
Together with Nina, the ending seems uncharacteristic for both of them. Them coming to accept their powers and knowing to use their powers on their own accord was brilliant, though the entire husband business felt very,,, eh to me, even if it did make sense. The ending about their name and their new identity was too vague.
e) Genya, Leoni and Adrik, Kuwei, Mayu,
Genya is the one who faced the most disservice along with David. While there were exceptional parts to both of their plotlines, it's still sad that even if David's death was necessary, we don't get to see the entirety of her grief and the possible anger, and that her kindness is simply used as the justification for lack of portrayal of grief.
It really did take me by surprise, mostly because I wasn't a fan of the original Shadow and Bone book, but seeing David's conscience and self-awareness, along with Genya's (and Zoya thinking of how she wouldn't let any harm come to them, which shows a bit of her development towards her character development), was plenty refreshing. David and Genya were genuinely the highlights of the book and to kill David off was just. doesn't sit right with me.
Leoni and Adrik deserved more page time. They’re saints and immensely capable (no wonder they’re now the Triumvirate), but a few more pages for them to shine would not only have been nice, but also a necessity.
And now, Kuwei...
I mean,,, parem should have been the plot, alongside the entire weaponry and the discussion of making a city killer. But uh… that didn’t happen.
There's not much I have to say about Mayu, Tamar and Ehri, except that their plot was superb, only very badly timed.
There's more to talk about them in the remedy tho.
Here’s the deal. Before KoS release, there should have been a Nina novella.
Nina is a very important character. All of her potential, alongside many other parts of her personality--from dealing with grief, to accustoming to her powers, to growing stronger--there could be so much to do with her as a protagonist, alongside another character: Mayu.
A whole book dedicated to Nina in Fjerda with Hanne? Brilliant. Show Stopping. Mind blowing. It gives SO much page time to explore not just Nina and Mayu, Hanne, but also Zoya, Leoni and Inej. All together.
Nina’s plotline carries the entire medical effects of the use of parem, just as Mayu’s will carry the pain she feels about her brother being a part of the khergud program. The novella will give ample time to flesh them out as characters and protagonists, each dealing with plot problems and problems of their own--like the loss of ones powers and newfound responsibilities, and the shared loss of a beloved person in parallel, even if neither Nina or Mayu interact on page.
Fjerda and Shu Han could be tied together with one chapter as a POV from Zoya (or maybe two), who, along with the Triumvirate and Nikolai, are completely at loss with the political scenario in the country, and are debating over what should be the course of action. Zoya receives news from the scouts, and missives from Nina, and Tamar takes care of the information she garners from the rest of the network, including Shu Han.
Like, the entire surprise of finding a Zoya POV, from a character whom until CK we’ve known as cold hearted and stern and not giving a fuck about anything or anyone, be humanized in that one chapter, thereby building up the anticipation for her arc,,, the very potential,,, *chef's kiss*.
And by the end of book, we could have an POV--or maybe a cameo if not a POV--of Inej meeting Nina on one of her travels of slave hunting. Inej could help take care that the women that Nina has rescued (as Nina does in KoS) reach the Ravkan shorelines safely. But, for a price.
The entire parallels between Leoni and Hanne and Nina could be set up, while also building up the narrative for the Saints’ plotline with Adrik's, Leoni's and Nina’s powers (like it was at the end of KoS). KoS and RoW would thereby continue it by tackling the weaponization and the antidote, Sainthood and the rest of the politics of it all.
Coming to Shu Han: one key aspect that I’d love to have explored would be the importance of art, during or despite the war. Of how war or pain chips away culture, while detailing on the ill effects of it from the commoners' perspectives, from the soldiers etc. Art is integral to Shu Han and could be portrayed by Mayu’s pain finding balm in poetry, of seeing glimpses of Ehri poring over poetry also mayri ftw, of politics that Makhi is weaving against Ravka, etc.
Or also add some more length to Zoya’s POV and explore a bit of Tamar and Tolya and Kuwei’s interactions and perspective added to it, of missing a home that they seemed to not know, or know; of discussing culture and differences on the basis of where they’re from (maybe the twins are from the borders, while Kuwei grew up near the capital or somewhere distant from the borders etc.), all while directly pointing at Zoya’s heritage and how it ebbs at her conscience, no matter how much she wants to bury it.
Like,,, Nina novella would have been too powerful. It would have been perfect. I think I’d excuse bringing back the Darkling too if this was the case. (Or maybe not).
Hey, thanks for reading! Not sure if you could make it this far, but if you have, you honestly deserve a medal for sitting through this all. I can’t imagine how tiring it must be to read through this, considering it seemed to take it more than month to compile this there’s also me procrastinating on it too so i’,mbhbdhshfsdn
Drop an ask if you want to talk more about this!
Sincerely, thank you!!!
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