Full disclosure: I have already read the Six of Crows duology, and I thought that I’d be disappointed reading this compared to those books. Boy, was I wrong!
First off: the Darkling. Because I am a junkie for all characters with that dark and brooding look in their eyes, I love what was done with him for the first half, and color me impressed by his arc for the second half of the story.
Bardugo has twisted the trope of the “YA bad boy love interest” very nicely here. I won’t say anymore for the sake of avoiding major spoilers.
But one other note about him, or rather, the performance of him. I listened to this via the audiobook narrated by Lauren Fortgang (who did an incredible job). Her performance of the Darkling was spot-on, and that alone made me grateful I picked up the audio version of Shadow and Bone. Other characters felt just as distinct.
But I would be remiss if I just talked about the Darkling!
From the start, I was already familiar with the world of Grisha, and to a lesser extent, the country of Ravka (I’m a little more fluent in Kerch, you see).
But I think the worldbuilding is done in a way that, even for someone who hasn’t read a book in the Grishaverse, readers wouldn’t be overwhelmed by information on the variations of Grisha powers or Fjerdan-Ravkan politics, for example. There’s a huge world that Bardugo is keeping under wraps, but it doesn’t feel at all overwhelming.
This is the fastest I’ve read a book recently. It is well-paced, exciting, and a perfect fit for anyone who enjoys young adult fantasy.