Review: Grisha trilogy

Ruin and Rising was the first book I finished for the #sumtbreadathon, so here’s a review for the whole trilogy.

My main reason for reading the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo was that it is set in the same universe as Six of Crows, which I’ve heard a lot about. Though they can be read separately, this trilogy happens before the events in the Six of Crows duology and explains a lot about how this world works, specifically concerning Grisha. I’d also heard the Grisha trilogy wasn’t very good compared to Six of Crows, so I figured if I read it first I would be less disappointed.

Let’s just say I was definitely not disappointed and that makes me even more excited for what Six of Crows has in store. (That doesn’t mean these books don’t have problems, though. More on that at the end of this post – be careful to skip the spoilers.)

Shadow and Bone

Goodreads synopsis: Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

My rating: 3 stars.

A lot of people said that this series felt like any other YA fantasy trilogy. Maybe I haven’t read enough YA fantasy, but these books definitely felt different for me. There are a lot of cliches that are either avoided, or used in a way that didn’t bother me. A few examples:

Alina isn’t a pretty girl; she’s sickly. Later, she becomes healthier, and thus prettier. But she doesn’t turn into an incredibly beautiful girl and she remains insecure about her body. I’m not saying being insecure is a good thing, but it is a realistic thing, and a thing that feels realistic for Alina specifically. I really hope the upcoming movie adaptation will stick to this. She’s also not suddenly good at everything when she gains her Grisha power. She’s not even good at using her power at first.

There’s a love triangle, but it didn’t bother me. It didn’t interfere with the story and it felt realistic. It’s also more about Alina’s complicated internal struggles than ‘who will she choose’.

Alina shows both weakness and strength, and always remains her own person. I don’t know how, but even though I’m very different from her, I empathised with Alina throughout the books. I guess that’s a testament to Bardugo’s writing.

It’s still not the best book ever written, or the best fantasy book ever written, but it was a very pleasant surprise. I have a lot to say about the Darkling, but I’ll leave that to the end of this review.

SPOILER WARNING: There will be spoilers for Shadow and Bone from this point!

Siege and Storm

Goodreads synopsis: 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. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. 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.

My rating: 3 stars.

This book threw me off completely (in a good way)! Something that I expected to take up a large part of the book happened right at the start and all my predictions about what would happen next were washed away. We meet Sturmhond, an amazing new character, and follow Alina as she is thrown into a position of power she doesn’t really want or understand.

I don’t have much to say about this book that I haven’t already said about Shadow and Bone, but that’s not because this one wasn’t good. I enjoyed it just as much as, or maybe more than the first installment. The ending was unexpected (even though I probably could have seen something coming at least) and heart shattering (rather than slowly tearing with sadness, it smashed my heart into a thousand pieces with a jumble of emotions (I meant for that to sound poetic but I think I stumbled and turned it into a cliche)).

SPOILER WARNING: There will be spoilers for Siege and Storm from this point!

Ruin and Rising

Goodreads synopsis: The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

My rating: 3,5 stars.

This one gets an extra half star because I almost cried a few times, and books hardly ever make me cry. I may just have been tired, but, you know. Still almost cried.

Final books can make or break a series – the whole story has to be wrapped up, and that has to be done well. In my opinion, this is a good final book. For obvious spoilery reasons, I don’t want to say much about the ending, so I’ll just say I was happy with it. For me, the best endings are bittersweet, and that definitely rings true for Ruin and Rising.

A note on the Darkling

This is a MAJOR SPOILER for the first book that I’d already pretty much figured out because apparently no one on bookstagram regards it as a spoiler (or they don’t care?). Somehow, though I was still surprised. You may have heard of this line:

Fine. Make me your villain.

Or, in slightly more context:

He slumped back in his chair. “Fine,” he said with a weary shrug. “Make me your villain.”

Which makes it sound a lot more casual. This quote comes from a scene near the end of Shadow and Bone (so definitely a spoiler, right?) and is said by (another spoiler warning I guess) the Darkling. Now, I already knew he was the one who said that, because everyone on bookstagram seems to quote it all the time (I might be exaggerating slightly for dramatic effect). What I didn’t know was the context. From what I’d heard, I thought the Darkling would be more of an antihero or a slightly misguided antagonist. Turns out he’s a villain. He’s evil. Sure, there’s reasoning behind it that you can understand and empathise with. He’s still 100% a villain. And he becomes more evil in every book, in every scene he appears in. He is one of the few villains who actually make my skin crawl. I truly admire Leigh Bardugo for writing this incredible character.

(If you ship Alina and the Darkling though… please rethink that. He abuses her. It’s gross and creepy and uuguhghghg just nope.)

IMG_4446

THAT’S THE END OF THE SPOILERS!

A note on problematicness

Ravka is based on Russia, and the Ravkan language is based on Russian. I don’t know enough about Russian culture to say anything about that, nor do I really know anything about the Russian language, so please read reviews by Russian readers if you want to know more about this. What I do know is that while Ravkan is based on Russian, it’s not the same. It’s a fantasy language based on Russian, sometimes using words that mean something entirely different in actual Russian. I just don’t understand why Bardugo didn’t just use real Russian? The same goes for other languages in these books (I will probably have more to say when I get to Six of Crows, which is set in a place based on the Netherlands). I don’t know, I just don’t see any reason to make up another language that is so similar to a real one. For people who speak the language it’s just going to sound weird and kind of offensive (is our language not good enough? Is it not worth the research?).

In this blog post about creating the Ravkan language, Bardugo says:

I chose to use Russia as my inspiration, but my goal was never authenticity.

That just sounds like not trying hard enough to me. Research is important, and so is authenticity. I’m pretty sure that blog post is old, though, and I’ve heard Bardugo has apologised for the bad representation(?). If anyone could point me in the direction of newer statements from Bardugo and/or reviews by Russian readers, I would be forever grateful (and post some links here).

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