Two months ago, I sat in an airport, waiting for a flight to Florida and looking through my Kindle for something new to read. I stumbled across Shadow and Bone, the first in the Grisha Trilogy, and was soon transported into the world that Leigh Bardugo has crafted. The three books, Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising, are an excellent read in the YA fantasy genre.
Here is the synopsis for Shadow and Bone from the author’s website:
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.
Since I’m writing about the whole trilogy and don’t want to give away spoilers, I won’t discuss much about the story. However, I do want to dive into aspects of the characters, setting, and themes that I enjoyed.
Alina is believable as someone who is used to being unnoticed and unremarkable before having a rare and powerful ability thrust upon her, along with the pressure and attention that follows such power. I like that she is constantly torn between wanting to set aside her power to return to her old and familiar life and the desire to obtain more and more power. As the series progresses, it sets up a choice between love and duty, and I did not know which she would choose until the very end.
Many other characters are also memorable. The antagonist is also richly developed as someone who is mostly monstrous but has enough of a human side to evoke some sympathy. Alina’s best friend is also an important character and their relationship is one of the most dynamic and fascinating in the series. Finally, the supporting cast is full of diverse personalities that lead to a wealth of fun, interesting, and conflicting interactions.
From the moment I entered the world Bardugo has created, the setting felt like a breath of fresh air. The Grisha Trilogy is not set in the stereotypical Medieval Europe-like setting that is, in my opinion, overused in the fantasy genre. Instead, the story is set in an era just before the Industrial Revolution and the land of Ravka is heavily influenced by the Russian Empire. From the naming conventions to a general sense of cold, dreary oppression that pervades Ravkan society, I felt like I had been transported to a fantastical version of historical Russia. There is even a creepy priest that is reminiscent of Rasputin.
Especially for a book that explores a literal conflict between light and dark, Bardugo successfully avoids a black and white struggle between absolute good and total evil. As stated above, Alina is always tempted by the pursuit of increasing of her own power. She and her allies are forced to make physical, emotional, and moral sacrifices. Some of the antagonist’s goals are actually laudable, even if the methods he uses are horrifying. At times, I wondered if the antagonist could be redeemed or if Alina would become the villain of her own story.
I found it especially inspiring to read this series at a time when I’m working on my own fantasy novel, Storm Raven. In some ways, Bardugo’s Alina and my Nereyda are similar. They both start off as characters without magic who stumble into it and struggle to figure out what their new abilities mean for them. However, they are also vastly different characters. Alina starts her story as a quiet and humble rank-and-file soldier, while Nereyda is a cocky pirate captain. Still, I found myself coming up with a number of ideas for my own story as I read through these books.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading the Grisha Trilogy and highly recommend it. You can learn more about Leigh Bardugoa and her work here.
If you want to check out my own upcoming work with Storm Raven, you can visit this page.