Series: The Grisha #1-3
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on 2012-06-05
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Alina Starkov doesn't expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, the one thing she could rely on was her best friend and fellow refuge, Mal. and lately not even that seems certain. Drafted into the army of their war-torn homeland, they're sent on a dangerous mission into the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh.
When their convoy is attacked, all seems lost until Alina reveals a dormant power that not even she knew existed. Ripped from everything she knows, she is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. He believes she is the answer the people have been waiting for: the one person with the power to destroy the Fold.
Swept up in a world of luxury and illusion, envied as the Darkling's favorite, Alina struggles to fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But as the threat to the kingdom mounts, Alina uncovers a secret that sets her on a collision course with the most powerful forces in the kingdom. Now only her past can save her...and only she can save the future.
I originally planned on reviewing each book in the series separately. But what with my binge-reading, the fact that all the books are already out, and the problem of spoilers, I figured that it would be best to review the books as a series. I’ll do my best to keep it mostly spoiler-free.
I don’t know where to begin. This series is EPIC. It’s one of my favorites (to put it mildly), and one that I could re-read bunches of times; in fact, I feel that it’s a I-must-bring-this-if-ever-left-on-a-deserted-island kind of series. Really. Though trying to describe how I really feel about this trilogy would probably come out as gibberish and would be accentuated with fangirl-ish shrieks, I will try to form a few somewhat coherent thoughts. The Grisha trilogy is a highly-enjoyable fantasy series, reminiscent of the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini — minus the dragons, but plus a whole lot of romance (more on that later). It is a heady blend of adventure, action, romance, and fantasy, extremely well-crafted, and…just so, SO good. Ugh.
The kingdom of Ravka is based upon early 1800’s Russia, but is otherwise entirely fantastical. Having been at war with its neighbors for generations, much of Ravka’s efforts and resources go toward the war. The army is made of two separate groups: the First Army, made up of Otkazat’sya (regular soldiers), and the Second Army, made up of Grisha (those who practice ‘the Small Science,’ like magic but based in science). The First Army is led by Ravka’s king, while the Second Army is led by the Darkling, a Grisha of immense power. At the same time, Ravka is plagued by the Fold (the dark area west of Ravka on the map), cut off from the coast and terrorized by the monsters that live in its shadows. When Alina’s power is discovered, she is heralded as being the person who can finally destroy the Fold and bring back peace to Ravka. The world-building in the series is seamless and wonderful all at once. I loved the map put in the beginning of each book, as it really helped me to envision Ravka as a real place (and I checked it constantly). Bardugo often recounts Ravka’s history in the books, and interspersed throughout the series are Ravkan folktales that play pretty important roles in the plot. I was delighted by the Russian influences which are evident in everything from Ravka’s language (which has its roots in Russian) to the kefta uniforms worn by the Grisha; finally, a high fantasy book that isn’t Anglicized.
But if there’s anything better than the world-building in the Grisha trilogy, it’s definitely the characters. Every character just seems to be so themselves, so it’s never hard to imagine what they would do (or that they could be real). There is a wide range of characters: some to be admired, and others that are misunderstood; some to laugh with, to cry for, or to root for; some with dark and sorrowful pasts and some that will surprise. Each character is beloved (at least, to me), even the villains (how do you manage this, Leigh Bardugo??). They are what always keep me reading and will see me re-reading. Bardugo also does a great job of adding new characters to each book that never feel like outsiders.
We all know that every great series needs a great heroine. Alina, while starting off in the series as timid, weak, and lacking self-confidence, grows into a strong character who still has doubts and moments of weakness, but will push through and prevail. While her struggles are often supernatural or extraordinary, they reveal deeper struggles she has with herself. She’s no saint (ha!), but her remorse and doubts make her very relatable and likable. And let’s just stop for a minute to appreciate how my name is in her name (Yess!!).
The romance: steamy, emotional, and…abundant. As in, more than one love interest. But somehow never in a love triangle way, because she mostly has one clear love interest. But that doesn’t stop a reader (okay, me) from swooning over the rest of the guys in this series. Their different traits span the spectrum: loyal, untrustworthy, charming, seductive, ingenious, witty…sigh.
And finally, the plot, which deserves no lesser praise or recognition. The Grisha trilogy manages to be both exhilarating and well-developed, a combination that is rare but exquisite. Characters’ backstories and Ravka’s history are told, but never in a boring way and spread out so that the pacing is never slowed too much. The series is incredibly well-plotted, never progressing too fast that it feels rushed but full of stunning plot-twists, action, drama, and romance that left me breathless, intensely emotional, and tremendously invested. The series felt more like a journey Bardugo took me on instead of separate books — showing just how fluid the plot line and story was.
What else is there to say (without giving anything away)? I loved this series through and through, and beg you to read it if you have not already. Maybe I should ship myself off to a deserted island just to re-read these books. And…yup, no adequate words left, so I will just stop. READ. THEM.