Ah so, I’m back. It’s been a few months! Only because it took me a few months to finish this book.
I’m finally here – so close but so far from closure. Spoilers + unorganized talk AHOY.
My unfinished GR review with thoughts just after I finished is here.
WE’RE FINALLY HERE AHHHHHHH HHHHHHHHHHHHH
Lia and Rafe and co. leave Venda and try to save their kingdoms from Komizar’s power hungry clutches.
1) Plot – Lots of twists and turns I could not predict. I’m always pleasantly surprised if it’s a good plot that I can’t completely figure out in one go.
2) Characters – Lia continues to be a motherfucking badass, Kaden gets justice, Rafe grows on me, Viceregent GETS THE ROAST, Lia’s parents get some nice moments, PAULINE ALSO IS A BADASS
Lia. My girl Lia. That girl was taking names in the second half of the book and I was shook. In a good way. She took control, made hard decisions, and got shit done. Golfer’s clap for you, MEP. It’s amazing to compare Lia in book 1 vs. book 3 Lia who basically became Morrighan’s king regent until she took over as queen of Venda after the battle. This is how you do character development (hand over heart).
Rafe – I actually did feel a lot for Rafe in the last book – his life is falling apart and he has to take command of his own kingdom plus also look out for Lia bc of love and also deal with his parents’ death. Boy has a lot on his plate. Rafe is so devoted to Lia (hand over heart) making some questionable decisions because he believes in her alkdsjfaefg.
Kaden – HE GOT JUSTICE MY SON GOT JUSTICE. I did miss the abundance of Kaden we had before. It just feels like there was significantly less of him because obviously Rafe is very important in this book.
Pauline is so unhinged and ready to take names and cut a bitch. She made me clutch my pearls. PAULINE. All while being preggo or post-preggo. I did think her interactions with Kaden were nice. I didn’t really see much basis for it, but for what we got it was still nice. Just nice.
Damn, I didn’t expect to like the king of Morrighan this much after just one chapter of him having it all figured out – being like “King Jaxon, you’re kneeling to the wrong person if you know what I mean…” damn. The queen too – even if we don’t see much of Lia’s parents, what we get is still solid.
3) Ending – MY GIRL LIA is the ~Queen~ of Venda. RAFE GREW MELONS FOR HER AND THEY’RE GONNA WORK THINGS OUT. aslkdfjasrer The long delayed happily ever after. Even the happily ever after trope is milked for all it’s worth. Kudos, MEP. Though, I did feel the Kaden x Pauline thing was rushed, but Rhys is a cute name for a baby (side glance I have an OC named Rhys). It’s not like I think they’re a bad match or anything, perhaps I’m missing the basis on why they should be together narrative-wise besides oh ye Kaden and Pauline get a happy ending.
Overall I enjoyed the ending of this series a lot. The writing was consistently well-done and while the premise for the series isn’t unique, the way MEP works them to her advantage is stellar. Lia is uncontested as my fave YA heroine because she doesn’t just throw quips around and poof shit’s done for her. She dragged herself through hardship to get where she is – she earned it and proved that she is enough and worthwhile – as an individual and as a leader. That’s not really something you often see developed to this sort of magnitude and with such intricate story-telling, in YA at least. The main trio are all solid characters in their own right. I only wish there were something more done with Kaden and Pauline.
I suppose the one main criticism for the entire series I have is that while its strength is that it does things that have been done before – but very well, it would have been nice to have some more unique elements included as well.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Spoilers for Kiss of Deception and Heart of Betrayal. Let’s dive into it!
So Lia and Rafe are stuck in Venda and they gotta navigate all these cray politics with the Komizar of Venda.
1) Worldbuilding – continues to deliver quality content to an e-reader near me
First of all, I’d really like to mention I impressed I was with how MEP developed the different cultures of the kingdoms. While I’m still iffy on what the gift actually is, the world around I am completely on board with. There are obvious distinctions between the mindsets of Vendans, Morrighans and Dalbretchs (?? idk is that what their demonym is?). We learn with Lia how Venda really is vs. the barbaric image Morrighan and Dalbreck has of it.
MEP makes good use of the holy text excerpts. At first I brushed them off in the first book, but they’re of the utmost importance once you start to realize what they mean.
2) Characters – interactions between the big bad and Lia are a treat to read (I mean in terms of how intriguing their dynamic is), Kaden’s tragic backstory is revealed (my assassin son!), Rafe and Kaden finally feel distinct enough from each other, again also very solid minor characters whose interactions with Lia makes the world feel very real. Rafe’s squad and Griz are also pretty damn good. The Vendans are good. They’re just all good.
So, the Komizar. He’s everything I wanted the Darkling from Greg to be (which was not delivered) and hell yes did he deliver. Dear Regi isn’t a cartoon villain or too easy to beat or stupid – if you know anything about my quips with villain characters, my main complaints are that they’re usually all INTJ and their plans fail too easily. No such thing with Komizar, he’s got motive, he’s got goal, he’s got the method and the manipulation and he ain’t afraid to use it and Lia’s gotta be able to perform at his pace or else he’s gonna chip away at what’s left of what she has.
Komizar is manipulative and loves control and dangling bits of control in Lia’s face. He’s so nasty, but it seems like he’s doing it for the “good of his people” or framing it as such at least. This dude was one of the highlights of the book. He’s just so nasty and sleazy but he has charisma and charm which makes him stand out a lot as a villain. He has the ability to back his shit up. Unlike your stock INTJ villain whose plan fails at the first flub *COUGH*.
Komizar’s relationship with Kaden is interesting as well. One of the main strengths of this series is that it establishes character relationships very well and it doesn’t waste time. Every interaction is meaningful. Relationship Chekov’s gun.
Kaden – I’ll always be rooting for Kaden, my moe assassin son deserves happiness and justice. I did predict that his father would be the viceregent because of Andres’ hair description. While I do prefer his and Lia’s dynamic vs Lia and Rafe’s, it’s obvious at this point there isn’t a love polygon, which I’m fine with because y’all don’t need romance to be happy. They have a connection that goes beyond romo even if they aren’t truthful to each other.
Lia – I love Lia more with each book. Yes, she’s in a dangerous situation, but she still maintains that brazen quality that I like about her. This installment also gives us a generous display of her intellect and savvy. AND IT SHOWS US not tells us. Lia’s intelligence is always in action because she always has to be on her toes because of the conflict btw her and Komizar. I love how she learns so much about Venda and is a badass motherfucking translator, picking up the language so fast mmmm.
ALSO SHE SHANKS KOMIZAR oh lorddd
Rafe – Is fine. He and Kaden always be fighting lol. His interactions with his squad is pretty endearing.
3) Writing + plot – MEP is rocking it tbh
The Kiss of Deception series isn’t exactly told in a linear fashion. Yes, we follow the POV characters chronologically with flashbacks, but there’s lots of planting of elements that are brought back later with satsifactory pay off that I didn’t even see coming. I can say that is also the case for the last book, The Beauty in Darkness (I just finished it before writing this review). We see this with the holy texts and stuff we see in the Morrighese court. I’m always trying to predict what happens in stories because usually i can see the tropes and indications of how the story will unfold. MEP utilizes the story elements she introduces very well and I couldn’t the story outcomes even if I was able to pick up on the planted elements.
Writing is good as always. I didn’t notice anything too awkward and I’m glad for the consistency of the quality.
What an ending tho. I read through like a third of the last book right after I finished this because the momentum !!!!
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Sooooooooooo. Six of Crows. Yes, well we all know how hype it’s been in the YA-sphere The premise is promising enough and … Ok, well, let me start the the beginning of my affair with Leigh Bardugo’s books.
So back when Six of Crows (SOC) came out, I was well aware of the hype it was getting and it got me curious. I learned that this story was set in the same universe as LB’s previous series, the Grisha trilogy, or as I somewhat affectionately refer to the Greg trilogy, or just Greg for reasons I’ll mention in my Greg review (LINK HERE). So yes, hearing all the advice telling me to read Greg first, I was like I DON’T CARE and started reading SOC first. I got through around 70% through (via skimreading!) and I was seriously considering going back to read Greg because the writing was just not doing it for me and the peppering of the text with ~exotic~ pseudo European flair wasn’t helping.
White people can’t even write other white people right my god…
I consulted one of my friends since she read Greg and SOC already and she told me to go for Greg because of a certain character and that LB’s books usually pick up at the end. Thus, I went back to read ALL OF GREG over my winter break and managed to finish SOC somehow. And like yeah. I found I wasn’t missing anything crucial to understanding what goes on in SOC besides the glory that is Nikolai for like fanservice (which I am glad for). This is just how LB’s books were, and I had to accept it.
But the thing is I couldn’t.
For everyone who’s still here with me: SOC wasn’t all bad.
BUT, with SOC being 70% of my first LB book, I’d have to say I’m disappointed regardless of taking hype into account or not.
1) The Writing – slow and dry af
One of the first things that stood out to me in SOC was how much I couldn’t stomach the writing. Preference in writing style is a very subjective thing, but I found that the writing in SOC was lacking a certain oomph that really immerses me in the narrative. I was quite bored from the get go and started skimming through a lot of text. And maybe this was because I skimmed a lot, but I recall they were TELLING me things more than actually SHOWING me things. This shit was so dry, it was desicating what little enjoyment I could potentially have while reading this book.
The main reason I mention the writing is because this didn’t work well to establish our main boy Kaz. While I know objectively, he’s supposed to be written as this ruthless criminal mastermind and edgy and all that, all I could think was damn, is this a cry for help? A summary of what the narration made me think:
- This boy was extra
- Why does Kaz feel the need to remind me how bad he is
- Is this a cry for help
- Who is Leigh trying to impress
- How can I face Neon, the friend who rec’d this to me
I have the livetweets to show it; I was definitely not enjoying our introduction to our (main?) protag. I can roll with MC’s being bad or morally grey people, but I can’t roll with such a trite way to introduce a character. In retrospect, this may be a manifestation of how he’s trying to maintain his persona of Dirty Hands Kaz, but at this point I don’t care.
The PLOT ahaha ok the plot. There is one but I waited a long ass time for it to get rolling and it wans’t even an exciting heist to read. The plot was moving at such a snail’s pace that all the backstories were just in the way even if they gave me development. Usually I’m the type to forgive a bad or mediocre plot if there’s development, but in this case this book made be flip the fucking flop.
2) The Characters – Well thought out, hit or miss for the exectuion and alsoI resent certain comments because avatar tla is my favorite show. But then again ATLA was also ruined for me by bad writing.
The characters aren’t horrible. I can tell LB put thought into developing backstories for the main squad. In fact, I particularly enjoyed Inej and Nina’s characters most of the time and as much as I resent the “Matthias is a big blonde Zuko” thing, baby Thor’s got a good story too – and it’s probably one of the best IMO because it’s about questioning the country you come from. (at this point many americans would all be Zuko)
SOC has a lot of good things going on for it. The characters are by no means one-dimensional, yet I still can’t get aboard the bandwagon and sing its praises. And that’s because… of perhaps a few single lines. Y’all who’re still with me must be wondering Alice, how can a few lines make a break a book for you? It doesn’t, but these small things accumulate.
3) The Diversity – it exists, which reflects reality. At the same time, I found some issues people may or may not have picked up on because I’m petty as fuck but that doesn’t make it any less true. Most of the problems I found with this are related to the world building. Some things I found are just plain personal. I may or may not overlook some things because this is from my perspective and mine alone.
Get ready for my unpopular opinion: Diversity in and of itself does not make a book good. I know I’m echoing something that Francina Simone has often said in her videos and I didn’t completely wrap my head around this idea until I decided to finish SOC once and for all. Francina herself gave a positive review of the book and while we disagree on this particular book, I get it, man. I get it now (if you ever see this, Francina, Hiiiiiii)
I also have a quote from a classmate from HS: “We’re not racist because we’re diverse.” LOL, right? SOMEHOW THE EXISTENCE OF POC, which is a naturally occuring phenomenon, at least in real life I assure you (bc lol fantasy be white af), just automatically makes us as a society not racist. The kool-aid must taste good, Grace.
SO… SOC is considered pretty I guess groundbreaking in terms of diversity. But m’boy… I seen better. YA can do better than this and it has done better than this (rarely, but it has) IMO.
Stereotypes. Lemme talk about them.
- Inej – Suli = Romani sterotype. Inej isn’t a one-dimensional character, but damn. Recalling how the Suli were portrayed in Greg and comparing it to what we see in SOC
- Comparing it to Captive Prince, where it’s obvious that the racism depicted between Vere and Akielos is IN UNIVERSE and since the author is of Meditteranean descent herself, I find it highly unlikely this reflects how she views people of the modern day equivilant ethnicity. I can see that argument (depiction of an -ism ≠ view of the author) for the Suli as well, but yeah your only brown girl main chara has a sexual abuse tragic backstory. Hmmm…
- Matthias – a pan-Scandinavian flair but with German stereotype layered on top
- I have less issue with this because I see what parallels LB is trying to make, but it’s still kinda annoying.
- Wylan and Jesper – I honestly don’t remember enough about them to pick out any problems. They’re just kinda on the side.
Unlike Sashisa oh wait that’s a shameless plug for my writing sorry.
- Shu-Han stereotypes – ROLLS UP SLEEVES OK HERE WE GO IT GETS PERSONAL HOLD MY NOT SO DELICATE FLOWER
So what’s with this bullshit Mongolian-Shu Han ancient Chinese kingdom hybrid we have here called Shu Han? Just on the basis of historical timeline – Shu Han was a real kingdom back in the romance of the three kingdoms era in China and putting that in the same period of time as pseudo-imperial Russia in Greg… what even?
The same Shu “tilt” is mentioned here, which pissed me the fuck off the first time without knowing that the “tilt” was also in Greg (in Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, I believe). You might as well just said slanty-eyed because that’s what you meant, right? Fuck.
- The Shu “tilt” is mentioned in a passage about the house of exotics and it refers to like… something about the way the Shu Han (Gregverse’s psuedo east-asian rep) eyes look. Hmm I wonder what it could be referring to…
- While yes, in universe this passage was meant to show how the brothel takes advantage of fetishization of certain racial features from all sorts of ethnicities, YA OK like of course I see east asian monolid on this list. As if irl we don’t already see this.
- I’d gladly direct y’all to: Writing with color on describing Asian people’s eyes (LINK)
- I haven’t read Crooked Kingdom yet, but if Kuwei gets Asami Sato syndrome I swear…
Yeah, so the Shu Han barbaric warrior also evil inhumane scientist/druglord etc etc shit. Being an Asian-American (still real Asian for anyone who’d inevitably like to fight me) womanchild who’s done with that shit irl and born done with that shit in fiction,that’s not really something I can forgive among other things.
LB has really good PR skills. I’ve seen her write well thought-out responses to criticisms of her books and definitely sells the image of a put-together author by addressing issues people bring up about how she wrote Ravka as pseudo-Russia, so props to her. I’d have to agree with message #47 down there by Emily because she summarizes pretty well how I feel about the Gregverse world-building.
At the end of the day, it’s important to have varied depictions of underrepresented groups of people because they exist and aren’t a monolith. I feel like SOC is on the right track in terms of that, but damn I wouldn’t call it the epitome of diverse YA. I’m not really impressed with the stereotypes of real world cultures I’ve seen in the Grishaverse (I call it Gregverse) because again, it relies on the education of the audience on these cultures. And usually, it ain’t much. Part of me is really sick of fandom nutting over how diverse SOC is. Like shit, my animu son YOI does diversity too (and it’s pretty damn good perhaps maybe Seung Gil being like the outwardly unemotional Korean but still…)
I’ll fucking write my own, guys. I’ll fucking write my own book… to make myself feel better about what I’ve read from LB.
4) Wordbuidling – Same as in Greg, which I hated. Triggers me everytime I see words, which is all the time.
VERY MUCH related to the point I made about our real world sterotypes leaking into Gregverse. I never liked how LB peppers the text in Gregverse with all these European or faux European terms to add flair to the world, as if that somehow is a substitute for actual world building. I actually read Greg and finished SOC while I was in the Netherlands on my winter break lmao.
Interesting to note readers mentioning that for Greg, people mentioned this is written from a Westerner perspective and here I am like YOU GUYS KNOW HOW I FEEL WHEN PEOPLE FUCK UP CHINESE CULTURE IN THESE BOOKS LORD JESUS HALLELUJAH.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars @ Goodreads
Why? Mostly because of the writing and all the extra stuff I mentioned didn’t help it get into my good graces.
Sorry not sorry. Petty? Yes petty.
Will I read Crooked Kingdom? Eventually for my promised Nikolai cameo and pretty much nothing else.
Yeah, I’ve done lots of reading of reviews on Greg and SOC… I could write a thesis.
Not entirely spoiler free, but I let you know when to look away.
EDIT: I realize I don’t even bother to write or provide a synopsis for these books lol. But that’s ok bc that’s what Goodreads is for, right?
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
1) Characters – Lia is the YA protag we deserve, the love interests aren’t so bad after the reveal, side characters are great complimentary additions to the cast
I loved Lia from the start. I was afraid she’d be written as this cliché runaway princess, and in a way she does fit the trope. Pearson dissects the runaway princess trope well, so the applying the trope itself really did work in Lia’s favor. She’s got spunk, she’s got smarts, and she makes mistakes, which makes sense. I can’t believe I’m praising something so little like our main female protag having her own motivations and fears because that really says about the quality of the bulk of female protags I’ve seein in YA, BUT when you do it, you gotta do it well and that’s what Pearson brings to the table with Lia. Lia isn’t traditionally strong, but she isn’t a pushover either. This girl fights back but chooses her battles.
Side characters – The inclusion of side characters was a wise choice because it actually feels like Lia is interacting with REAL people. The environment feels real, and this makes Lia feel all the more real.
The Assassin – lol while I was reading this I was like this guy really sucks at his job
The Prince – somehow the voices for the prince and the assassin felt oddly similar.
The thing with the prince and the assassin characters is that while yes, the intrigue is who’s who, not giving these character more solid voices dampens the strength of the romance to up the strenght of the intrigue. This only made me more confused because it was hard to tell Rafe and Kaden apart. Four way confusion with two characters.
*SPOILER SPOILER SKIP SKIP DONT READ IF YOU DONT WANT SPOILERS*
Kaden – MAN IDK I LOVED KADEN A LOT MORE THAN I THOUGHT I WOULD after the reveal. Yeah, he sucks at his job, but there’s an endearing quality to him. What a moe assassin.
Rafe – I was kinda eh before the reveal because I had a hunch on who was who and I was right. I only really started liking him at the very end when he pretended to be the Prince’s emissary
Also worth mentioning after Lia gets kidnapped, I LOVED LOVED LOVED that scene where she had to bury Walther. My god. This is character writing at its finest. FOINEST.
*SPOILERS ARE OVER, WELCOME BACK*
2) Writing and World – fucking great i loved it all
The writing is very lyrical. It starts strong and end strong because not only is the narrative cohesive and the tone consistent, but the extra tidbits from the Morrighan and Vendan holy texts were an excellent touch you don’t see too often in YA fantasy these days (or so I’ve seen lol). The world feels very complete even though I myself couldn’t figure out what the cryptic texts meant.
3) Romo – weakened by the fact we didn’t know who the heckie was who but at least the triangle is a line now.
I already mentioned how we sacrificed concrete character for intrigue until we figured out who was who. This was what pulled the book down for me, but it didn’t dampen my overall enjoyment of the book.