Where to begin! This has quickly become one of my favourite YA series of all time. It’s gripping, gritty and wonderfully entertaining.
It moved away from what has become expected of YA fantasy. Even in the last series I discussed, Shadow and Bone, Bardguo relied on certain tropes (love triangle etc.). In SoC and CK she almost inverts these tropes. Yes, the characters still ‘couple up’, but I don’t see that as unrealistic especially due to their age.
What is most outstanding about these novels is the character work. Bardugo creates phenomenally unique voices for each of the six protagonists. This is aided by having close third-person narration and swapping perspective from chapter to chapter. This is something more common with adult fantasy. It is one of the techniques that allows these novels to feel slightly more mature than the trilogy before it. Each character is distinctive, and each relationship is different and complicated, and just feels real. Jesper is my personal favourite. A twitchy sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a bet. His character ark is great as we learn he is Grisha and starts to learn how to use his power. Matthias and Nina both grow to learn each other’s prejudice and I really like the way parts of their history are interspersed as the team make their way to the Ice Court. As it was a path they trod together previously, it did not feel as though it was an exposition dump, it felt well placed and these memories would realistically be at the forefront of their minds while in Fjerda.
Bardugo truly created an immersive world that is set up in the Shadow and Bone trilogy and furthered brilliantly in this duology. Ketterdam is an excellent setting for this story and the characters. A melting pot of barrel thugs and wealthy merchants. The claustrophobic, gritty streets of Ketterdam create a stark contrast to the clean-cut Ice Court.
The construction of story in this series is something to be marvelled at as well. The intricate plot is interconnected with the scheming mind of Kaz. Using the different character viewpoints allows for certain gaps in the readers knowledge and allows Bardugo to pull the rug from under us many times. The tense scenes are written with such pace it gets your heart racing and these are matched with the backstory scenes often adding to the context of the scene and allowing for character development. Each character has a sad or horrific backstory emphasising the dark tropes in the story. Bardugo doesn’t shy away from hard topics like corruption, class division, racial issues and murder. This only adds to the cathartic feeling the reader receives at the ending. The realism of the ending is improved by the fact not all of them make it out. Having a Matthias chapter to show his death was particularly painful, but also done beautifully.
This is a fairly one-sided review, perhaps I will revisit these stories in the future and see if my opinion changed but for now I think these stories are pretty untouchable! But that’s just my opinion!