The Grisha Trilogy
by Leigh Bardugo
“When people say impossible, they usually mean improbable.”
Shadow and Bone
Published June 2012 by Henry Holt and Company; finished Aug. 13, 2018
My rating: ★★★/5
Siege and Storm
Published June 2013 by Henry Holt and Company; finished Nov. 7, 2018
My rating: ★★★.5/5
Ruin and Rising
Published June 2014 by Henry Holt and Company; finished Dec. 8, 2018
My rating: ★★★/5
WARNING: Here there be spoilers! Proceed with caution.
Well that was an adventure!
I read this series primarily so I could read King of Scars when it comes out in January. After loving Six of Crows and hearing that this series isn’t quite on the same level, I knew I wasn’t going to love this one. And unsurprisingly, I didn’t. But at least the journey was kinda fun! As in, I had fun complaining about it.
Okay, so. Shadow and Bone introduces us to the country of Ravka and the character of Alina, who discovers that she is a Grisha, one of the rare magic users – and not only that, she is the Sun Summoner, the only one with her abilities and apparently destined to save everyone. Alina learns how to use her powers and is promptly betrayed by the Darkling, to absolutely nobody who knows basic color symbology’s surprise. Alina and her childhood best friend/love interest, Mal, run away from Ravka together.
Siege and Storm picks up when the Darkling finds Alina and Mal. She is forced back into the fray. Along the way, she meets a dashing privateer called Sturmhond, aka Nikolai, secretly the prince of Ravka and the only character here that I care about! The Darkling starts waging open war against Ravka, manages to overthrow the king, and Alina is almost killed in the process.
At the beginning of Ruin and Rising, Alina doesn’t have her powers, though that problem is quickly and mysteriously solved so that she, Mal, and some others can escape. They meet up with Nikolai, concoct a plan to defeat the Darkling, and are confused about romantic feelings. The plan all goes wrong, of course, Nikolai is turned into a monster, Alina learns that she has to kill Mal, but in the end she manages to kill the Darkling and run away with Mal again to live happily ever after, I guess.
This series has the potential to be very enjoyable. It takes place in a well developed fantasy world with an interesting magic system and politics with actual stakes. Where it falls flat for me is the places where it leans too heavily on YA fantasy tropes and, honestly, doesn’t have very interesting characters.
Let’s talk about Alina. We’re reminded over and over again that she’s not special, she’s not pretty or especially brilliant or kind or brave – and she’s certainly not like the other girls. Did I mention that she’s not pretty? Also, she’s the Chosen One, which I don’t actually have a problem with per se. But when it’s paired with all these other tropes, it’s a little annoying. Honestly, she’s just not a very interesting character to me. That’s what happens when a female character’s main conflict revolves around a love triangle (square?) I guess.
Let’s talk about Mal. Oh, Mal. One of my least favorite things about this series. I was 0% invested in the love story between him and Alina, especially in S&S when he started getting mad at her for being more powerful than him, which, yikes. Their relationship was combining the “childhood best friend” and the “stoic soldier man” tropes and it was not a good combination. Oh, I know! He reminds me of Gale from The Hunger Games, and I do not like Gale! Thus, I do not like Mal.
Let’s talk about the Darkling. Definitely my least favorite thing about this series! Okay, I know a lot of people love the Darkling, but I don’t understand it! He’s exactly the sort of unforgivable Kylo Ren-type character who has every chance to be good and make the right choices instead of literally killing everyone, but he refuses to do it. I’m all for well-written villains but I just did not understand his motivations at all. It felt like he was being bad because he’s the Darkling and it’s ~*in his nature*~ or something. Hmmm. Not here for it. Especially since there was this whole romantic tension between him and Alina! Gross and bad! I think I actually gagged out loud during one of their scenes.
Let’s talk about Nikolai! By far my favorite part of this series! He’s the only reason I rated the second book above 3 stars. Nikolai brightened every scene he entered with his snark and wit and narcissistic humor. He’s a master at manipulating people, always a few steps ahead of everyone else, and knows exactly how to turn a situation around to his favor. Clever, calculating, brilliant, he’s the ultimate Slytherin. And he’s always sharply dressed. The only thing I didn’t like was his whole romance thing with Alina, which I was never convinced by. Nikolai is far too in love with himself. But I could not be more excited to read more of his story in King of Scars!
The series had several other major side characters and I felt like I could see the beginnings of Leigh Bardugo’s mastery over the ensemble cast, but none of them shone quite like the gang in Six of Crows. My favorite of these, though, was Genya, who had more character development over the course of the series than Alina did, probably.
I have absolutely no complaints about the worldbuilding in this series – I think it’s one of the strongest points. Ravka and its surrounding lands feel so fleshed out and real, perhaps partly because I’ve already spent time in them through SoC, but also because the worldbuilding is so detailed.
The writing is also strong, which means that even though I didn’t like the characters that much and wasn’t very invested in the story, at least I was there for it. And, I’ll be honest, it was kind of enjoyable to read, if even just to complain about. There were certain things (Nikolai ❤️) that made it worth it here and there.
This series in no way stands up to the masterpieces of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, but that’s okay. I’ll just stick with Kaz and Inej and the others for now. And it does go to show Leigh Bardugo’s growth as a writer. So by that logic, King of Scars is going to be AMAZING!
“Anything worth doing always starts as a bad idea.”