The Grisha Trilogy Reread

The Grisha Trilogy Reread: Ruin and Rising, Part Three

Well my friends, this is it: the last installment of the Grisha Trilogy Reread.

I forgot how much more there was to get through in Ruin and Rising, so I hope you all don’t feel like I’ve glossed over too much. There’s so many themes coming together here at the end, still more death and loss, questions about fate versus choice, and the idea of power and long life weighed against an ordinary existence.

 

Chapter 13 – 14: Summary

The group agrees to split into two; Mal and Alina will travel into the Sikurzoi with Zoya, Harshaw, and Tolya, to look for the firebird while the others find a place to stay in one of the nearby settlements. Misha is upset at being sent away with the others, but Alina watches Mal talk to him, complimenting him on his bravery during the Darkling’s attack and explaining about how he has important responsibilities to look after David and the others, and Alina is impressed with how well Mal handles the boy. Mal shrugs it off, saying that Ana Kuya used the same technique on him when he was young. The two share a playful moment before being interrupted by Zoya.

They pick up their supplies in Dva Stolba, and even manage to secure a map of the eastern mountains from an elderly Shu woman who tells them that those mountains are sacred, and names an area called the Firefalls.

They reach the ruins of the arch easily enough, and although everything seems to make sense in regards to the illustration of Sankt Ilya, Mal and Alina are still vaguely disappointed not to have memories suddenly return to them, or some more prominent sign to point their way. They travel deeper into the mountains, and are even attacked by some bandits at one point, although Harshaw and Zoya’s combined powers drive the attackers away fairly easily. Tolya muses on the fact that the men might come back, looking to make good money off of Grisha prisoners, and Harshaw tells them all the story of how, in the village he grew up in, Grisha blood was viewed as a cure-all, and how his brother was murdered for it. Alina is again reminded of the Darkling’s dream to create a safe space for Grisha, to make them valued citizens of Ravka, and she wonders how much of the responsibility for that dream now rests on her shoulders.

Traveling starts to get frustrating, but Mal’s tracking instincts lead them ever on toward the supposed location of the Firefalls. They find them, along with a strange road in the middle of nowhere and some ash floating in the breeze, but down at the bottom of the falls is a huge pile of bones. They decide to camp farther off, but just as they are retreating the sunset turns the waterfall a brilliant shade of gold, displaying the reason for its name.

The next day, Mal isn’t the only one who can feel that the firebird is close. They have a hard hike, but the anticipation eventually gives way to weariness as the day wears on and there is no sign of their quarry. Perched at the top of the falls and looking out over the miles and miles of mountains beyond, Alina can feel everyone’s discouragement; she isn’t sure that either Zoya or Harshaw can go much farther, and directs everyone to make camp before they start trying to decide what to do next.

But although she wants to be alone, Mal stays with her, trying once again to get her to open up to her friends, pointing out that he’s seen soldiers in his old unit store up their grief and pain and shame until it either explodes or consumes them. Alina knows that he is right, that she needs the companionship of the others, but she also feels too isolated, too different from them. From everyone except the Darkling.

Mal counters that Alina is nothing like the Darkling, overriding her protests to again point out her mercy and kindness in comparison to the Darkling’s bitterness and fear; he says Alina is normal in that she gets hurt and deals damage in return, that everyone experiences that, and that everyone who has chosen to fight for her sees the difference. He assures her that Zoya and Harshaw will stay with them, despite their complaints, and that Alina will succeed because she has them to help her. Because she has Mal. And then he leaves her at the edge of the cliff to think.

Just as Alina is starting to feel a little better, the firebird appears. It soars up from the base of the falls, startling her and knocking her over, and then, as she tries to get to her pack or to focus to make the Cut, the bird uses its huge wings to drive her backwards towards the edge of the cliff until she loses her footing and falls, one arm caught by Mal only in the very nick of time.

And as Mal’s fingers close around Alina’s wrist they again feel the surge of power they felt back at the Little Palace, but this time Mal can’t just let go, and Alina is forced to contend with the full weight of the reaction. She feels like she is standing at an open door, and if she steps through, across the threshold, the power she craves is waiting for her.

And then she realizes the truth, and no matter how she tries to shove it away from her, she has to face it.

Mal manages to pull Alina up onto the ledge, and the firebird seems as though it is going to kill them. Then, at the very last moment, it stops and flies away. Alina doesn’t understand what has happened, but Mal does, and tells her that it’s because they aren’t hunting it anymore. When the others come running to help, Mal stops them, and Alina tells them that the firebird isn’t the third amplifier. That the amplifier is Mal.

They make camp and Alina goes through everything in her mind, how the first time she used her power had been while she was holding Mal in her arms on the Fold, how they’d found the stag moments after they kissed, and how she’d been standing in his arms when the seawhip had appeared. She wonders what else in their lives was fated, thinking that surely it was more than chance that had them be born so near to each other and eventually lived in the same orphanage. She thinks about how Mal’s gift for tracking must be tied to his existence as an amplifier.

She tells everyone Baghra’s story about killing her sister, and explains that Morozova didn’t just heal the little girl, but actually brought her back to life using merzost. The technique was the same as what he’d used to make the other two amplifiers, and that was why his journals were unfinished; because he’d used up the power and had no reason to find the firebird.

With the strength of her new magical life, the little girl must have survived being thrown in the river and gone south to live by the arch, somehow passing her father’s gift down through her descendants until it came to Mal.

Throughout Alina’s story Mal remains quiet, and when she’s finished he silently takes her away to his tent, where the two lie in each other’s arms. Alina whispers to Mal that they will find another way, but he replies simply that they won’t.

They travel back to Dva Stolba, and Mal seems to be taking pleasure in every step, in the view, in hunting, and in taking any chance he can to kiss Alina and hold her. When they return the others are eager for news, but Alina puts them off, too tired and heartsick to explain. But Tamar reports that they have news as well; the Darkling attacked West Ravka, expanding the Fold into the south, but thanks to the warning Alina and Nikolai sent the area had already mostly been evacuated. But then Tamar tells Alina something worse; that the Darkling marched on Keramzin.

Commentary

In Ruin and Rising, Bardugo really amps up the theme of how difficult it is to be Grisha, and I wonder if I might not have had a little more empathy for the Darkling’s struggles if it had been as boldly put in the first two books. Harshaw’s story is heartbreaking, as is learning that the saints were mostly or maybe all Grisha who were revered for their powers but also killed for them. It’s a very interesting and clever take on a real phenomenon experienced by outsider groups; it reminds me of the “magical negro” trope in film, or the way witnessing tragedy in the lives of queer people or disabled people is often used as a plot device for main characters to Learn Something Important About Life. In Ravka, before the Darkling created the Second Army, Grisha were feared while alive but worshiped when they were dead; how poignant is that?

The discovery that Mal is the third amplifier is something that I admit I did not see coming the first time I read the books, and I think Bardugo puts just enough hints and allusions into the narrative to give us clues but not so much as to make it too obvious. Technically you know from almost the beginning that something is going to come of Mal’s abilities; the Darkling has that very telling line when he wonders about how well any of them understand their own gifts. And indeed, he doesn’t really understand his own very well, does he? Both Baghra’s and her son’s powers may very well be the result of Morozova’s experiments, and there is no one else to compare themselves to or to learn from. The Darkling knows he is special but other than being very powerful and from a special bloodline, he doesn’t really know why he is the way he is. He talks to Alina about being alone because of his age and because he is so powerful, but his response to her is to consider her almost the same as him; he wants to dress her in his colors and his symbol to show ownership over her, but I do think that his suggestion that he intended to regard her as an equal is somewhat genuine because he does think of her powers as like to his. I wonder what he would have done if there had ever been anyone else who could summon darkness.

Alina has always been aware of the loneliness of being singled out; her greatest desire was always to belong somewhere. That desire is why she chose to wear Summoner’s blue, and I think that it is also something that keeps her grounded when her lust for power is stirred up by the amplifiers. She might want the power for its own sake, and for the ability to stop the Darkling, but she never desires to be above people. She never relishes being in charge or enjoys control over others. The Darkling might have been more human, once upon a time, but you know he always wanted to be in charge.

 

Chapter 15 – 17: Summary

Shocked at Tamar’s news, Alina demands the key to her room and races upstairs to be alone so that she can travel to the Darkling. She finds him standing in the burnt ruins of the mansion at Keramzin. When he gets her to take his arm the whole area comes into focus and she is able to see the decimation, and the fact that the Darkling has hanged the Grisha instructors, Botkin, and Ana Kuya from the big oak by the gateway of the drive. Alina collapses in grief, sobbing, asking the Darkling why he would do such a thing and where the Grisha students she sent there to be safe were, and the Darkling replies by asking where she is, explaining that he thought she would come to him before now, that he had hoped the destruction at Keramzin would draw her out. He promises Alina that he will kill the children if she and Mal do not come to him the next time he crosses the Fold. He tells her that he earned her power, this chance to have everything he’s worked for, with loss and struggle, and that he will have it no matter what the cost is. He tells her that he will destroy everything she knows and loves until she has no shelter except him.

When Alina returns to herself she is weeping and in shock, but her friends come and help clean her up and sit with her until she can tell them what she knows, how she has five days to surrender or the Darkling will use the Fold again and kill the Grisha children, too. Mal points out that he will use the Fold anyway, and that if Alina is so willing to sacrifice herself she should allow Mal to do the same. And then Genya tells them that she and David have an idea that might save them from having to make that choice.

Everyone gathers together and David and Genya explain a plan they have concocted to take out the Darkling using Alina’s ability to bend light and make things invisible. Together, the group hatches a plan to attack the Darkling’s men on the Fold, then secretly board his skiff and rescue the students before blowing it up and hopefully taking the Darkling out as well. Mal isn’t sure he likes the plan, but the Grisha tell him that he is their friend, and they deserve a chance to try to save his life. Mal reluctantly agrees, as long as they promise to take the third amplifier if the plan doesn’t work.

Twelve soldiers answer Alina’s missive to the Apparat, including Ruby and Vladim, the Priestguard she branded with her handprint. She learns that the Apparat tried to hide the message, and only the twelve of them managed to escape him and ride to Alina’s aid.

The decision is made to enter the Fold and the confrontation with the Darkling from the west side, and Alina leaves Tolya with the Soldat Sol while the rest fly ahead and cross the Fold to secure some kind of lodging before Alina returns to guide the soldiers across. They find an abandoned apple farm and large house, and leave David and Genya with Misha setting up to make blasting powders and lumiya while the rest travel back across the Fold to wait for the others to arrive on horseback. While they are waiting, Nikolai comes to Alina again.

Trying to discover if there is anything left of Nikolai inside the monster, Alina shows him the emerald ring, and when Nikolai takes it and puts it on her finger she realizes that he remembers her. Using hand motions, Nikolai asks her to summon light, and when he presses her hand to his chest it almost seems to drive the darkness out of him, but after a moment it returns. Nikolai reacts with anguish, but as Alina tries to comfort him his mood starts to change, and she realizes that he is thinking of feeding on her. She draws back and issues a warning, which seems to startle him back into himself and he flies off into the Fold.

The others come running, and Alina admits that Nikolai has been following them. Privately, she tells Mal about using the ring to test Nikolai and how she tried, and failed, to heal him. Mal points out she might be able to once the amplifiers are brought together and Alina responds “You mean after I murder you?” but what could be another serious argument quickly devolves into grumpy teasing instead.

The next day they cross the Fold again and Alina practices bending the light around the soldiers. Returning to the orchard they find that Genya and David have turned the kitchen into a laboratory, and the Soldat Sol train with their rifles as the Squallers practice using air pressure to deaden sound. When there is nothing left to do but sleep and wait for the morning and their departure, they drift off slowly in singles or pairs, and Mal takes Alina up to a conservatory he discovered on the top floor and the two muse on what their lives might have been like if Alina’s abilities had been discovered early the way they were supposed to be. Mal admits that he noticed Alina even back at Keramzin, but that he felt guilty about his attraction to her and hid it. Mal thinks he would have been lesser without Alina, but they both know that even then, their end would still be this. Mal kisses Alina, and the two come together, Mal’s hand wrapped around Alina’s wrist.

Commentary

The discovery of the destruction of Keramzin is brutal, and Bardugo doesn’t really pull any punches in her description of the dead, or of Alina’s grief. But I found myself wishing for a little more from the Darkling than we got; generally speaking the narrative is building towards showing more of the human being he used to be, through Baghra’s stories and Alina’s observations, and in many ways this feels like a missed opportunity. I think the Darkling is starting to unravel a little at this point. The most telling line is when he says that he thinks Ana Kuya was the closest thing Alina had to a mother, but I wanted to see more of that. More of the man who is truly feeling the loss of the few people he cares about, of the mother who loved him, of the Grisha that he professes to be doing all this for. Alina is too shocked and horrified to pick up on subtleties at the moment, so I think we could have benefited from having it be obvious enough for her to notice even through her grief. In later chapters we’re again going to get the narration about the man who used to just be a clever, powerful boy, and I wanted to see him here, rather than just suspect that this horror is more lashing out than a calculated move. Also I was very sorry about Botkin.

Alina and Mal are so much more comfortable with each other in these last chapters; it’s almost as though Alina’s choices have been taken away and neither of them is feeling so burdened by her possible future as head of the Grisha or even Queen of Ravka. Even Mal’s seeming inevitable doom doesn’t drive that wedge back between them, and it says more about Mal than anything. He certainly doesn’t want to die, but it is easier for him to bear his fate than Alina’s. It’s nice to see more of them joking around together, and it gives me a much better understanding of what their bond was like when they were young.

Is it bad that all I can think of when shadow-Nikolai is around is that weird 1993 Snow White movie Happily Ever After where there are lady dwarfs and the prince gets turned into some kind of weird shadow man? In all serious though, it’s really interesting to see Nikolai grappling with the darkness inside of him in a much more literal way than Alina or the Darkling. The description of Nikolai as part human, part nichevo’ya, and a little bit volcra is chilling, and also a good reminder that the volcra themselves used to be the people who lived on the land that became the Fold. One wonders if the first generation might have looked like shadow-Nikolai and evolved over generations to be the volcra Alina knows.

Alina and Mal’s final night together (as he, at least, clearly expects it to be) is so slow and beautiful and bittersweet, punctuated by their ruminations about the people who owned the orchard and by Alina’s questions as to whether or not what they have is real or merely a product of fate and what they were made into by Morozova. I was glad that they took the time to address her fears on the subject, and to show Mal’s certainty that, while fate may have brought them together, what they forged is theirs alone. It is the simple ordinary part of themselves that is in love, and that is why their passion and their connection is greater than anything Alina has or could ever have with the Darkling.

 

Chapter 17: Summary

Mal is already gone when Alina wakes up the next morning. She says goodbye to Genya and gives her Nikolai’s emerald, to buy passage across the sea for her and David and Misha if everything goes wrong. Zoya, Nadia and Adrik use their power to place the “acoustic blanket” over the soldiers and they all enter the Fold. They walk in darkness, hidden from the Volkra by the Squallers’ trick, until, after a long time, they see the light of the Darkling’s lumiya-lit skiff, and, in accordance with their plan, Alina illuminates the Fold while also hiding all her soldiers with the bending the light trick.

As the Darkling slows his skiff and looks around vainly for Alina, the Soldat Sol open fire, taking out the Darkling’s oprichniki guards as the Squallars send a wave of sand crashing into the skiff, providing cover for Alina, Tolya, and Tamar to sneak onboard to rescue the students. They find that the soldiers on the skiff are terrified but the Darkling remains basically unfazed, and then two more skiffs come into view, also lighting up with lumiya as they are touched by Alina’s light. Alina can’t find the students either, and then she gets hit by a bullet. She’s struggling to control her summoning when Nikolai appears leading a hoard of Volcra to attack the nichevo’ya, but despite the prince’s aid, Alina falters enough for the Darkling to spot her and knock her down, causing her to lose her hold on the light.

The Darkling gloats over her, telling her that the Grisha children were never in danger, that he knew the threat would be enough when Alina believes him capable of anything. Alina makes an attempt to use the blasting powder she is carrying to blow both of them up, hoping to at least to take him out with her, but the Darkling senses her intent and stops her, imprisoning her with a few of his nichevo’ya. But Alina has learned to use that connection against him too, and she travels across it to appear in front of him, looking whole and uninjured, raising her hands to attack him with the Cut, and the Darkling reacts, drawing the nichevo’ya forward to protect himself and giving Alina a few precious seconds to escape, wrapping herself in the light from the lumiya and escaping out into the darkness of the Fold.

Mal finds her there, presses a knife into her hands and begs her to do it, to kill him so that she can save everyone, and together they drive the knife into Mal’s chest. As he dies, Mal wraps his fingers around Alina’s wrist and the moment he is gone the connection is complete. Alina is overwhelmed with the power flooding through her, feeling like a star that could consume the earth, and then, just as suddenly as it came, the power disappears.

Looking around, Alina can see the fighting, but as she reaches for her power she finds nothing, just an empty space where it used to be. Not understanding, wondering if this was her punishment as the Darkling had been punished by the Fold or if Morozova had merely failed in his attempt to create the amplifiers, she calls out for help, and Tolya and Tamar come running.

Alina begs them to save Mal, to bring him back, but as she struggles against the grief, against the realization that all her greed and all her sacrifice seemed to be for nothing, she looks out into the Fold and sees light. One by one, all the otkazat’sya on both sides of the fighting suddenly find themselves sparking into Sun Summoners, and Alina realizes that Morozova has really done it, multiplied her power by a thousand, but into different people rather than just in one. Ordinary people, the ones the Darkling thought were unimportant and weak.

He finds her out on the sand, demanding to be told what she has done, how it could be possible that the Fold is coming apart all around him. Even when he sees Mal’s body he can’t quite understand what has happened, that Alina has indeed found the third amplifier. He draws on the darkness, but when Alina reflexively goes to summon light and nothing happens, the Darkling stops in surprise. He comes forward, confused, asking again what Alina has done, and then they both notice that the collar and the fetter have fallen off. Finally he cups her face, and Alina feels nothing, no sense of his power as a living amplifier or response to their connection, and then finally the Darkling realizes that she has lost her power. He reacts with fury and panic, turning the nichevo’ya on all the new Sun Summoners, and Alina realizes that his pain, his sense of being finally and truly alone, will never end. She thinks of all the mercy that she has wanted to give, the mercy for the stag, for herself and Mal, and for all of Ravka, and then uses the little bit of power that she took from him to hide the knife, the same one that slew Mal, in darkness. And then she stabs him with it.

As the Darkling dies, he asks Alina not to give him a grave, and to say his name one last time. She whispers it to him, and then he dies.

The nichevo’ya dissolve and so does the darkness inside Nikolai, and Zoya has to catch him with an updraft of air as he falls. Alina watches, completely spent, as the Soldat Sol turn their new powers against the volcra and the remaining darkness, burning it away with sunlight. And finally, impossibly, she hears Mal draw a breath.

Commentary

The battle seemed so long when I was reading it, but really it is over quite quickly. We get a nice echo of the Darkling’s words to Alina in Shadow and Bone, “Fine, make me your villain,” and it is interesting to see that the Darkling really thinks that Alina wants him to be the bad guy so that she can feel righteous. We the readers of course know that he has misread Alina, and frankly if the Darkling hadn’t thought that the threat alone would be enough, I think that he really would have marched those children one by one out to be eaten by the volcra. I was proud of Alina for not being thrown off too much by the trick or getting caught up again in doubting herself and her understanding of him. But while the Darkling is a man who will do anything to achieve his goals, justify any means for the end he desires, he is a man who prides himself on acting rationally and I think tries to hide the decisions he does make out of pure emotion. He calls his treatment of Baghra and Genya and Sergei justice when it is actually revenge, and it is important to him to make that distinction. It follows then that he really does believe that Alina’s opinion of him is truly unfair.

His despair at finding her power gone, their connection severed, shows that emotional side fully. At last, we see what sense of loss and pain lurks behind his cool demeanor, and it is not insignificant that he just lost his mother, too. It makes me wonder how he reacted when he could not save her, and again, makes me wish we could have seen a little more of it. It’s really hard to tell how he feels about Alina killing him though; he’s incredulous, but there doesn’t seem to be any sense of relief of finally having his burden lifted. Perhaps he is too destroyed and tired to care. Alina says his name, thinking of the boy he used to be, but all I’m thinking of is how little is left of the man he is now.

Narratively it makes sense for Mal’s ragged breathing to be heard right at the end of the chapter, after everything is over, but I can’t help feeling like there is more to it. As though Mal could only live when the Darkling was dead. Maybe that’s reading too much into it, but they were both products of Morozova, two very different products of his use of merzost, and the symmetry of their deaths does feel intentional.

 

Chapter 18 – Epilogue: Summary

Alina’s friends take her, Mal, Nikolai, and the Darkling’s body away on the Darkling’s skiff, and they manage to get them back to the apple farm, where they patch Nikolai up and send him on his way to meet the First Army. They concoct a story that Nikolai was captured and tortured by the Darkling, that he was brought out to the Fold to be executed but escaped and helped the Sun Summoner defeat the Darkling. At Alina’s request, the story includes that she died on the Fold—Sankta Alina’s martyrdom, as she puts it to Tolya. Genya and Alina’s nichevo’ya bite scars lose their horrible, otherworldly look and become just ordinary scars, and Misha comes to Alina on her sickbed and asks if she wants to help him with baking.

After some recovery time, Alina finally gets the rest of the news about the battle. She learns that the power of the amplifiers reached even beyond the edges of the Fold, and that every otkazat’sya it touched gained the ability to summon light. Together with the Soldat Sol they destroyed the Fold, and the volcra were mostly rounded up and killed. Nikolai was able to arrive at the Darkling’s military encampment and take over with his usual level of audacity, authority, and cleverness, and although Zoya notes that he seemed changed, haunted by his experiences, his charm seems to be as good as, or even better than ever.

As they recuperate together, Alina and Mal talk about everything that happened, glad they are to be together and safe, but also grieving for the people they have lost, including Harshaw and Ruby, who both died in the last battle. Alina feels the lost of her power “like a phantom limb” and Mal admits to feeling a similar emptiness. His incredible sense of the world around him, the abilities that made him the tracker who could make rabbits out of rocks and locate mythical creatures no one else was even sure existed, is gone now, and Alina thinks she understands. The part of Mal that was bound to all living things was the part that was merzost, the bit of creation that Morozova took and placed in the amplifiers he made, in the daughter he brought back to life. She thinks that that must be why Tolya and Tamar were able to save Mal, that he lost the second life that Morozova gave him, but was able to keep his own normal one. Mal seems to be thinking along those same lines, telling Alina that Malyen Oretsev died with her, and that he, too, will be taking a new name and a new life. He asks her if she can be happy with a used up tracker, and Alina can hear some uncertainty in his voice. But she only responds that she can, if he can be happy with someone who stabbed him in the chest.

When Mal is well enough to travel, Genya uses her skills to alter Alina’s appearance and she and Mal set out with Misha, traveling across what was once the Fold and discovering a whole new world there—people celebrating, waving Ravkan flags, praying and cheering for Sankta Alina and selling merchandise bearing her likeness. She leaves Misha and Mal at at an inn and goes down to the royal barracks where Nikolai is staying. Tolya and Tamar meet her and take her to see the new King of Ravka.

She finds Nikolai sitting by a fire in a dark room, and it takes him a moment to notice her. Alina can see the change in him as Nikolai covers with his usual charm, but also admits to struggling with what he has been through, with feeling as though there is a darkness still inside him. He worries that this will affect his abilities as King, and fears that people might suspect what really happened to him. Alina admits that she has heard people referring to him as Korol Resni, King of Scars, in reference to the black marks on his fingers where the talons grew, and Nikolai asks her if she will come back to Os Alta with her, because he still wants her to be his queen.

Alina points out that she is neither a Grisha nor a Saint anymore, and after some unsuccessful wheedling Nikolai admits that part of the reason he wants her to stay with him is because she understands how he feels about the darkness inside him that may never really leave, the feeling of merzost, that you can hate and desire at the same time. But Alina stands firm, and finally he relents, telling her to keep the emerald, to use it for something good. To build something new. After their talk, Alina is able to take both a pardon and a job offer to Genya, having convinced Nikolai to make her, David, and Zoya the new heads of the Second Army.

They attend the funeral, where Ruby has been tailored by Genya to look like Alina. Alina isn’t very comfortable with the idea, but Tolya has convinced her that Ruby, as a believer in the Sun Saint, would want such a burial. Beside her lies the Darkling, and as the people chant and weep, the funeral pyre is lit and the Sun Summoner and the the man who was once the boy Aleksander are consumed together. Alina whispers his name one last time.

The girl and the boy are married in a small chapel with only a child and a cat as their witnesses. Together, they rebuild Keramzin, and now it is a place made for children, children who are always encouraged to laugh and play, who are given sweets and nightlights to keep away the dark. The boy charms the staff and teaches the children to hunt and fish and farm, and the girl is quiet and tells stories, then paints the mystical creatures along the walls of the manor. They are visited by Grisha who bring them gifts, including a blue kefta for the girl, and although there are moments when the girl will draw away, haunted by something in her past, she and the boy are always found together before long, laughing and teasing each other. They have an ordinary life, but, as the final sentence reads; “love can never be called that.”

Commentary

You guys I am really sad about Harshaw, I really liked him and why is it that all the Inferni are the ones that get killed? Seems like they are the most unlucky Grisha type.

I was quite touched by Nikolai’s new self-doubt over his condition, but although the scars, physical and metaphorical, might never really heal, I kind of wonder if his experience might not aid him in his rule, in the long run. Nikolai is the type to fly to close to the sun sometimes, and he has a cruel but useful reminder now to keep him grounded when he needs to be. Still, he’ll always be the pirate prince to me, and I really really hope he can find love in one of those political alliances he’ll have to chose. Or he can marry Zoya like Alina suggested…

The Darkling asked Alina not to give him a grave that people could desecrate, and I wonder how much of that thought was an awareness of the evil he had done and how much was a long held feeling of being despised by ordinary people, something that his mother instilled in him. If she had taught him that love was valuable, would he have made different choices in life? Would he have looked a little more kindly on the otkazat’sya he so despised? I do think he was jealous of how the people loved Alina and made her their saint, even as he knew how fleeting that adoration would be for her. I wonder if he didn’t always think he would be hated and so decided there was nothing wrong with doing things that made people hate him, turning his loneliness into a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

I think Genya, David, and Zoya are going to make the most awesome Grisha triumverate ever, and Netflix or somebody should make a sitcom about them because that is going to be comedy gold. I’m also really happy for Genya that her scars can just be normal scars now, and that she has people who love her to help her keep finding that amazing iron strength within herself. Also I think Alina is right in believing that the distinction between Grisha orders will diminish a lot now that their own are in charge. I’m reminded of how Baghra said that in Morozova’s day Grisha didn’t make such definitive distinctions, and I have to wonder if a lot of that line drawing and ranking wasn’t the Darkling’s doing in the first place.

The After is so sweet I don’t even mind that I’m still not really the biggest fan of prologues and epilogues. I love the idea of Misha staying with Mal and Alina, and it’s basically perfect to have them returning to the place where they were happy together but making it better, kinder, and warmer. I can just see them growing old together as these strange excentrics, burdened by war and loss but able to give true happiness to the children they take in, and to find it for themselves at the same time. I was particularly glad to see the bit about Alina painting; there’s an artist in there, even if she isn’t superbly talented, just like the girl who was a mapmaker before she ever knew what a Sun Summoner was.

 

Final Thoughts

I really want the story of Morozova’s life. I want to see more of his motivations and dreams, I want to know how much he actually loved his family, what he felt when his daughter was killed. I want to know if Baghra’s powers had anything to do with his experiments, and I really really want to know if he knew exactly how his amplifiers would work, or if any of what eventually happens when they were brought together was chance. Baghra and the Darkling both talk about Morozova’s interest in and fondness for otkazat’sya, but I can’t help thinking that sharing the power of a Grisha with hundreds of ordinary people would also build a bridge in the other direction, helping more Ravkans know and understand the Grisha. Perhaps the Darkling’s dream of making Grisha valued and important citizens of Ravka was one that Morozova had too, for his kind and for his little daughter too. I can’t blame Baghra for her hurt and disdain for her father, but I do wonder if he did love her more than he let on, just as he seemed to love her sister in the end, sacrificing his life’s work so that she could live again. He seems like the sort to miss what’s right in front of him more than the sort to be actively apathetic towards his family; the way it took David almost too long to notice Genya. Or even the way it took losing her to make Mal realize how he truly felt about Alina.

Also I kind of forgot to mention it at the appropriate chapter last week but the whole thing about the Small Science being called that because it’s about manipulating matter at its base level is really very clever. Morozova’s journals go on about how everything is the same if you get small enough HE’S TALKING ABOUT ATOMS GUYS! I totally squeed when I finally understood what Bardugo did there.

What about you, my faithful readers? Did I miss one of your favorite moments or themes of the book? There’s so much to cover I definitely feel like I’ll be kicking myself two days from now because I forgot to get into something really important.

But that is what the comment section is for! Thanks so much to all of you who have been coming to the reread every week, and thank you to those who have been having fun chatting with me about my observations and yours. It’s really been a pleasure. Happy summoning!

Kelsey Jefferson Barrett likes to think of himself as a cynic, but is still totally moved by true love concurring all.

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