Where do I sign up for my golden kefta?
*Disclaimer: This review includes major spoilers. And, of course, you should take my opinions with a grain of salt. I don’t pretend to be the end all, be all for YA books. This is just what I thought of the book.
I promised a review for the series that has been hailed for years to be “the next Harry Potter.”
This is not because it resembles the Harry Potter series. True, I did see several similar themes and archetypes between the two. The tone of this series is very similar to the tone in the last three Harry Potter books, after Voldemort’s return. I could write down an analysis of all of the similarities between these two series, from the self-sacrificing hero to the battle between light and darkness, but I don’t really want to do that. The similarities I see between these two series are just what I said earlier – themes, base archetypes. If you are looking for a series that has those basic similarities to J.K. Rowling’s books, fine, you’ve found one. But they are just as present in many other series.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I really dislike calling anything “the next Harry Potter” or the next “Lord of the Rings” or the next whatever. An author’s work should have a chance to stand on its own. Therefore, this review will only feature the Grisha Trilogy.
I really enjoyed this series. I didn’t know what I was walking into, but I’m pretty happy with this series. That’s why I’m giving it 9 stars.
First of all, I just really want to be able to stand in a crowd of YA book lovers and start a slow clap for this amazing author who took fantasy and dystopia, two genres which have been mixed together before, and then created something that feels truly unique.
How did she do this? It’s mind-blowingly simple, and yet I didn’t even see it coming.
Her setting was ancient Russia. I’ve never read a YA dystopian book that is based in Russia, and based off of other people’s reactions to this series, neither has anyone else. That opened the door to so many possibilities.
A unique setting might have been enough to carry the first book in the trilogy all the way to the top of the New York Best Seller’s List. Bardugo took it the extra mile, and I love her for that. She didn’t just place her characters in Russia. She created her own fantasy world on top of that. I am very impressed with her world building abilities. I don’t know where Russia ends and her world begins, but I don’t really care. The language, the people, the buildings, the clothes, the food, the weapons – all amazing and all entirely her own. It was seamless. Anyone trying to recreate her complex world on screen will have their work cut out for them.
***Here is where I would have placed a condensed summary of all three books, but that would have meant tying all three books together and giving away spoilers. In light of that, I will only provide a summary of the first book in the trilogy, Shadow and Bone:
Orphan Alina Starkov is raised with a group of other orphaned children in Keramzin. When she is old enough, she is conscripted into the First Army with her best friend, Mal Oretsev. When their regiment is attacked out on the Fold, the supernatural darkness that cuts Ravka in two, she calls forth a power that she didn’t even know she had. The Darkling, the leader of the Grisha, people who wield the Small Science, soon learns of her skills. Alina is separated from Mal and sent to train with the other Grisha. As her power grows, she has to decide who she can and cannot trust. Will she let the Darkling use his power for his own schemes or will she rise up and claim her own place as the Sun Summoner?
The characters and their stories were all amazing. Alina is a teenage girl, so you know her emotions were constantly creating whirlwinds that affected her decisions and her attitude…and yet I found myself going along with everything that was happening. That means not only were the characters real to me, but I truly cared for them.
I would like to say that I am torn between the three men in Alina’s life. I enjoy a little romance in books, and I really like the fact that Bardugo decided to not go with a love triangle, but three love interests in the same room kind of got a little stifling for me. This was a really complicated love rectangle where each love interest could offer something different to Alina.
I just didn’t know whereto turn my head, but I got the feeling that Alina’s love life really wasn’t the big focus in the story. It was certainly there and, especially in the last book, it affected a great deal of Alina’s fight, but other themes were allowed to take center stage. I think that was masterfully done. I really didn’t know what was going to happen with the love interests until the series ended. I won’t tell you the final outcome, just that I approve where Bardugo leaves each of them.
I know I wasn’t going to talk about other books, but I do want to interject that I loved the way Bardugo showed light versus dark in this series. Most dystopian novels feature a metaphorical battle between good and evil, but I’ve always been fascinated with books that aren’t afraid to show a very literal and physical battle. I mean, come on, The Darkling vs. the Sun Summoner – what could get more literal than that? (That’s not a rhetorical question. Please point me towards more books that feature that.) Bardugo took a risk when she showed the bringer of Light being drawn to the bringer of Darkness. I shook my head at first, but there was realistic edge to the way that Alina found herself constantly drawn to darkness. The fact that I got to see this in her mind, her heart, and her hands at the same time was ammmmazing!
The last thing I would like to bring up is that I truly didn’t know what was going to happen in the end. There were multiple bad guys, multiple love interests, multiple plans for Ravka’s salvation…Bardugo kept dangling one path in front of me and just when I reached out my hand to grasp it…the page would turn and it’d be gone. All of these things combined with the new, exotic setting created an amazing story. Alina and Nikolai stole my heart and…oops did I say Nikolai, I meant Mal…I mean Aleksander!
(Anyway 🙂 I really do like the romance.)
******Beware spoilers below!!!******
I find that I wouldn’t have minded terribly if Alina didn’t make it to the end. I had a fit when another well-known YA dystopian author turned her main character into a martyr (bonus points if you know the author and series I’m talking about), but I’ve grown a lot since then. It’s not that I don’t love Bardugo’s characters. I love them a little too much and I wanted what was best for them at the end. I’m super happy about who was left standing at the end of the series, but a martyr’s death would have been fine, too.
I’m already anxious to see what else Leigh Bardugo has planned for her characters. I hear that she is working on a sequel trilogy. In the meantime, I’m going to try to find the collection of her short stories set in Ravka. I suggest you do the same!
Just promise me one thing…Give the Grisha trilogy a try if you haven’t read it yet, but please don’t compare it to Harry Potter or anything else. Trust me, you’ll like it a whole lot better that way 🙂 . After all, can anything truly beat Harry Potter?
Let me know if you’ve read this book and what you thought of it. Is my analysis well-earned? I have a long reading and writing list, but I’m super open to book suggestions. Let me know if you’ve ever come across anything like this series before.
Goodreads link to all of Leigh Bardugo’s work: https://www.goodreads.com/series/69714-the-grisha