This series is brilliant!
It is exceedingly hard to speak to the brilliance that is this series. That is Leigh Bardugo and her magic-touched, clever mind.
The Russian-inspired fantasy world that Bardugo has created is unlike anything that I have read before and I have so much appreciation for its uniqueness. You will truly never read anything like it in young adult literature. Bardugo's Grishaverse is set apart from other fantasy worlds with its magic system, structure, religious aspects, and detailed account of nations. It is a very rich world with endless possibility.
This story is truly exceptional and without a doubt stands apart from other books in this genre with it's remarkable, original plot. If you are a reader of young adult fantasy, then you will be able to feel the otherness, the wonder, and the genuineness that this series is comprised of. And after you finish this series, you will not be able to think of young adult books in the same way. The plotting in this second book of the series is smart and altogether ingenious. The flow of events from the first book is flawlessly executed. There is a definite build up of the story as the book progresses. Bardugo is a master at writing plot points that are unexpected and unique.
The exciting cast of characters at the helm of this story is amazing!
The romance is another aspect that makes this series so entertaining. The romance is hard to describe if I'm to be honest. It is always like a love triangle, but it isn't really. Alina's heart has always belonged to Mal, and she even tells him so at the end of the book. That said, she can't deny her pull to the Darkling because they really are different from everyone else and like calls to like. The Darkling wants Alina since she is the only one that is like him in all of the world. His desire for her is almost creepy, but it works. Under the Darkling's scary, tough exterior it isn't hard to see that he is very alone and his feelings for Alina are genuine in a sense because he feels that she is the only one that could understand him. As misplaced as his feelings may be though since the Darkling craves power and Alina does not. Alina and Mal are drifting apart throughout this book because of all of the demands placed upon Alina as the new head of the Second Palace. Mal sticks out since he is neither a Grisha, soldier, nor is he a prince or any of the rich people that Alina deals with at the Grand Palace. Their distance creates a rift between them, but Alina wants to salvage it at all costs. Then there is Nikolai. He clearly respects Alina and he clearly has some feelings for her as well. Alina and Nikolai get along well and are becoming friends. He even confesses to her that he wants to kiss her, but tells her that he won't until she is thinking of him and not trying to forget Mal. It was a sad moment, but very true at the time.
If you want to read a book with a fantasy world unlike any that you have ever encountered before then pick up this series.