Review: The Lives of Saints by Leigh Bardugo

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Dive into the epic world of international bestselling author Leigh Bardugo with this beautifully illustrated replica of The Lives of Saints, the Istorii Sankt’ya, featuring tales of saints drawn from the beloved novels and beyond. Out of the pages of the Shadow and Bone trilogy, from the hands of Alina Starkov to yours, the Istorii Sankt’ya is a magical keepsake from the Grishaverse.
These tales include miracles and martyrdoms from familiar saints like Sankta Lizabeta of the Roses and Sankt Ilya in Chains, to the strange and obscure stories of Sankta Ursula, Sankta Maradi, and the Starless Saint.
This beautiful collection includes stunning full-color illustrations of each story. 

As you can probably tell, I will happily buy and read anything Leigh Barudgo writes. She is such a talented writer, and I adore her stories. I was so hesitant about going into The Language of Thorns, yet I adored it. So when I realised this was going to be a similar style of short story collection, I knew I wanted to read it. I also happened to only pick up the Grisha trilogy last year, only a few months before this book was released. The Lives of Saints is referenced a lot in the Grisha trilogy, as a kind of bible, a book that is given to children as they grow up and learn about the saints they worship. In a way, this book reminded me a lot of Aesop’s fables, as they are only incredibly short and all have some kind of moral.

I feel like in a way, Bardugo really has a knack for short story/fairytale type writing. She has a beautiful, poetic way of writing that just fits and works so well with these kinds of books. I saw a review that mentioned these are similar to the kind of writings you get with tarot cards, and I can definitely see where they are coming from. These stories are super short, usually between half a page and no more than 5 pages. This book is already very short, only 120 pages, and with the stories themselves being short too, this went by very quickly and I read it within a couple of hours.

You can choose faith or you can choose fear. 

Most, if not all of these stories are quite sad and tragic, because of the nature of the saints having to die to become, well, saints. However, that doesn’t make all of them depressing or harrowing, and I found quite a lot of them poignant, yet uplifting. The illustrations alongside were absolutely beautiful, and this book as a whole is a gorgeous thing to own. I would like to point out that the ugly blue band on the photo is removable! There is gold foiling underneath and a red clothbound cover.

My main disappointment from this book was the fact I know I will forget these stories so quickly, purely because they are so short. It’s an easy, quick read and a great thing to pick up and read one or two from, but very forgettable. With stories this short, there is just no room for character development, and that was the main factor that made me compare this to The Language of Thorns, which has much longer and fewer fairytales, and I can vaguely remember them, even after a few years.

But only one will bring what you long for.

Overall, this was a sweet idea and I love the concept of it. It’s an absolutely beautiful book and the stories are lyrical and beautiful in their own right, but also a little disappointing as they are so short and I felt a bit disconnected from them.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Siege and Storm (#2) by Leigh Bardugo

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Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.
The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her—or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

I didn’t quite read this one as quickly as Shadow and Bone, but I very easily could have. The only reason I didn’t was in fact I took a break to do other things I needed to focus my time on. But even so, I did still read it in practically three sittings – one time reading around 115 pages, the next time reading around 200 pages, and then finishing off with a short 65 sprint.

This book didn’t capture my attention quite as much as the first one, I’ll admit. But I still loved a lot about it, including Nikolai. Forget the Darkling, Nikolai was such a good character. I loved his dialogue and banter and complicated nature. I wish the love triangle (or square, or whatever-the-hell it is by now) just wasn’t a thing, as I really think having Nikolai as just a super cool friend would have appealed more to me in all honesty. But having him in this book was awesome, and I loved his character.

The less you say,

Alina really progresses in this book and becomes a character with a much deeper, darker nature, constantly battling her own demons. I felt like I was riding such a rollercoaster with her, and wow that ending left me wanting more. Sometimes the plot of this series can come across as predictable, but I was so lulled into the story that the last 20 or so pages really shook me.

The tone of this series is brilliant. I love the world Bardugo has created, especially with the dark, steampunk undertones constantly shining through. Considering a third of this book is set on a ship with pirates (sorry, privateers), it’s a shock how much I loved it, as I usually drift away from anything set on the ocean for some reason. However, the characters were just so intensely well written that I was so drawn in!

the more weight your words will carry.

Overall, this book felt much the same as the first for me. I loved the plot and the story, but the romance let me down. The characters are very well written and have depth, which only expands in the second one. I’m very excited to see where the last one takes me!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Shadow and Bone (#1) by Leigh Bardugo

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Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, she is sure of only one thing: her best friend, Mal–and her inconvenient crush on him. Until the day their army regiment enters the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. When their convoy is attacked and Mal is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power not even she knew existed.
Ripped from everything she knows, Alina is taken to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. With Alina’s extraordinary power in his arsenal, he believes they can finally destory the Fold. Now Alina must find a way to master her untamed gift and somehow fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. As the threat to the kingdom mounts and her dangerous attraction to the Darkling grows, Alina will uncover a secret that could tear her heart–and her country–in two. 

Having read Leigh’s books in the complete wrong order, I had no idea how this series would feel for me. I began with Six of Crows, then Crooked Kingdom, The Language of Thorns and have even read King of Scars, which kind of ruins some of this series for me. I still wanted to give it a go though, and especially considering I don’t remember much of King of Scars at all, I don’t feel like it spoiled too much for me.

Having read her later writing first, I definitely noticed a difference in this book being earlier. Bardugo’s writing develops so much throughout her releases, but in a lot of ways it actually made Shadow and Bone really enjoyable for me. The writing is simpler, less complicated and felt like a good place to start in the universe, for Bardugo herself and for the reader. In a lot of ways I really do wish I’d started with this series, as I remember how long it took me to get into Six of Crows the first time around.

“The problem with wanting,” he whispered,

Although a lot of the plot was predictable in places, I really liked learning Alina’s story. She made a great protagonist to introduce this world with, as she is learning about the magic system herself and starting from scratch. Talking of, I really liked how the magic system was put together and portrayed. The Grisha themselves are really cool and unique magic wielders, and I love reading about their world.

Although Alina made a great female protagonist, I didn’t enjoy the love triangle so much. Love triangles always put me off a little, and this one was no different. I did really like the Darkling, however, and I thought he was a very cleverly written ploy.

I can’t write this review without telling you guys how I read the entire thing in a day. Not 24-hours. I literally read it from morning to evening. I read 170 pages in one go. Although it didn’t quite make this book 5 stars for me, I cannot hide how purely enthralling and page-turning a book has to be for me to pick it up like that and simply not want to put it down. I was captivated.

his mouth trailing along my jaw until it hovered over my lips, “is that it makes us weak.”

Overall, this book let me down in places and the plot could be predictable, but I really loved it and wish I’d picked it up sooner. What a story. It grabs you by the shoulders and doesn’t let go. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Ninth House (#1) by Leigh Bardugo

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Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?
Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

It’s no secret that I love Leigh Bardugo. I’ve read most of her books (excluding the Grisha trilogy) and I adored them. But from the release of Ninth House, I knew it would be different. I heard how dark this book was, the reasons it was published as adult fiction rather than YA. But I heard Leigh talk about it a few times at signings and talks late last year, and I really, really wanted to pick it up. She drew me in.

I found this book really tough to read but so alluring. I will warn you now, it is incredibly difficult to read in a lot of ways. Some of the scenes shocked me and disturbed me, and definitely need a warning. This book was not without gruesome scenes that really grossed me out.

Peace was like any high. It couldn’t last. 

But unfortunately it wasn’t just the gruesome scenes that made it difficult for me. I cannot hide the fact that I was just…confused. I don’t think the non-linear timeline and flitting points of view helped at all, I never quite knew what was happening or could grasp enough about the story to feel like I could completely understand.

Despite finding the story confusing, I couldn’t deny the writing was spectacular as always. I liked the pacing, which was slow but some of the fast paced scenes made up for it, gripping me on the edge of my seat in those occasional moments. I also loved the setting, which reminded me slightly of The Starless Sea. Having known Leigh Bardugo went to Yale herself, I could tell the passion she felt using her own University to set Ninth House in.

I loved Alex and the cast of characters in general. Darlington was great too and I really liked Alex’s friends and roommates as secondary characters. Bardugo does a great job of describing the way some rich white males feel in relation to privilege and power, and how they can use their privileges to whatever they feel entitled to, however soul-curdling those things may be. Bardugo does not hold back on these issues, and for that I appreciated her writing.

It was an illusion, something that could be interrupted in a moment and lost forever.

I did enjoy this book, but I also felt a disconnection from it that I wish I didn’t feel. Maybe I had too high expectations. Maybe I just prefer her YA fantasy. However I will definitely be reading the next book in the series, and I’ll be interested to see what my opinions of this book are when I reread it in future.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: King of Scars (#1) by Leigh Bardugo

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Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war—and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.
Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried—and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

Before I begin, I have to say that this review is coming from the view of someone who has never read the Grisha trilogy, and has only read the Six of Crows duology. I really believe this has effected my thoughts on the book so just a warning! I also want to mention I read this book with my bookish bestie Courtney, and we had so much fun doing our first buddy-read together. 🙂 Reading is just a bit more special with someone to share it with!

I want to start with the start of the book – because this took me so long to get into. I think part of the reason was because I’ve been in the Shadowhunter world since early December, and it was just so strange to suddenly be thrown into a completely different world.

My second reason is definitely because I didn’t receive the world-building I needed from the Grisha trilogy. Although King of Scars is very descriptive, it took a lot of concentration for me to understand what was actually going on. So if you want to read Bardugo’s books, I’d honestly say please read her other books first (Grisha trilogy followed by Six of Crows). You need the world building and preparation – and lots of her previous books are spoiled in King of Scars!

“Stop punishing yourself for being someone with a heart. You cannot protect yourself from suffering. To live is to grieve.”

But despite this, I still really enjoyed King of Scars, especially after the first 250 pages. It took me about 4 days to read the first half, and only 2 to get through the second. Maybe the pacing is a little off because it definitely picks up, but I think this is also partly due to me finally clicking with the world (yes, it took that long).

I’ve always said this but I have to point it out again – Bardugo can write multiple POV books like no one else I have ever read. Six of Crows was from 6 different POV, but those books are among some of my favourites. And here we are again, with four POV, yet I loved them all in their own ways. There was such a balance here – each role was unique, and I wasn’t waiting or hoping to get back to a specific person.

“You are not protecting yourself by shutting yourself off from the world. You are limiting yourself.”

Overall, what a great book, and the second half really made it for me. The tense edge-of-your-seat plot and fighting scenes were immense, and made me fall in love with Bardugo’s work even more. I’ll definitely be re-reading Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom and King of Scars once I’ve tackled the Grisha trilogy!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

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Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price. This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, all of them lavishly illustrated with art that changes with each turn of the page, culminating in six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.

This book is absolutely stunning. I can’t believe it’s taken me until now to read this, but I find short stories so hit and miss! Some (*cough* Tales of Beedle the Bard *cough*) can be blatant gimmicks. And others, like this, can be downright beauty.

I am so, so happy that this one fell into the latter. All 6 of these stories are based on classic fairytales, but with a new and fresh take set in the Grisha universe. I haven’t actually read the Grisha trilogy yet, but I loved Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom! What I love about this book is you don’t actually have to read any of Bardugo’s books to understand any of the tales.

“They pray that their children will be brave and clever and strong, that they will tell the true stories instead of the easy ones.”

I actually can’t chose a favourite of these stories, because they’re all so beautiful in their own ways. Ayama and the Thorn Wood, The Witch of Duva and The Water Sang Fire definitely all stood out for me though! I love how each story took up around 50 pages, and I think having that time and space is just crucial for the reader to know the character enough to connect fully to the story.

I can’t write this blog post without telling you all about the incredible illustrations that come with the hardback edition I own! Round every single page there’s a band of illustrations which build up as the story progresses. For example, in one story we start with a fox, and slowly the band builds up until we have trees and other forest creatures around the perimeter of the double-page spread. I can’t even begin to explain the beauty here, the amount these drawings add to each story and make them feel like fairytales.

“They pray for sons with red eyes and daughters with horns.”

I honestly have so much to say about this book that I’m going to have to stop myself from rambling and just say this. Leigh Bardugo, you have done short stories right. I have never experienced a novella quite like this one. It stands out in the fairytale experience, and it took me to many different worlds between the pages. I found it perfect for this festive time of year, so comforting and interesting. I’m sure these stories are ones I will come back to many times again!

★★★★★
5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world. 

This book broke my heart. And it made me feel so whole. I love that this is a duology, even though I adored these characters and the world and I didn’t want to leave them, it just kind of works. And as excited as I am to hear about King of Scars, this duology is just perfect as it is. Yay for duologies.

I’ve always said the hardest books to review are the ones you loved the most, and I am completely standing by that sentence right now. This book was set in a magical world, with beautiful words and in depth characters. I just can’t match up to that.

“She smiled then, her cheeks red, her cheeks scattered with some kind of dust.”

Just going to give a little shoutout to Emma, who inspires me so much and who wrote a review I love. I wish I could be that good with words!

I’m shocked at how much I enjoyed this book compared to Six of Crows. I’m not saying it was bad – far from it – but I just enjoyed this book so much more. Maybe it’s because I now class myself as a fantasy reader, and with every fantasy book I love I find the gateway to the genre open a little more.

Maybe I enjoyed it more because we explored much more of the world in Crooked Kingdom, and I love how the book followed a number of locations. And can we just talk for a minute about character development. Hell, I have never seen an author define their characters so well. I felt so close to each of the 6 POV, and I think that’s so rare in YA, to know exactly how each character is feeling in relation to the whole story and each separate character. To see the differences and definition in each beautiful soul and exactly how they work together like clockwork is so impressive.

“It was a smile he thought he might die to earn again.”

I might not be the best with words in these situations, but I do want to say something. This book shines. It is a rarity. It is 3D in a world of 2D. It is a, simply, an absolute gem. And if you love fantasy, please, I beg you, go and read this series.

★★★★★

5 stars

-Beth

May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽

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You may also enjoy: Six of Crows review