Grisha trilogy: lighting up the house

Tumblr book recommendations have recently become somewhat of a habit. After Deathless photosets brought me to one of my all-time favorite books and Code Name Verity became one of the books that made my reading year, it was the time to start the Grisha Trilogy. The series that looked quite promising, sported some of the most beautiful cover artwork around and for some reason was called just like a pet name for George, only in Russian. Okay, okay… I’ll contain my Russian-knowing snobbishness…

Grisha Trilogy, uniting Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising is a true feast for fans of fantasy adventure reads. I devoured the series, and  secretly liked the fact that all of the parts were already released and I wouldn’t have to torture myself about the release date of another volume. It also turned out to be one of the reasons why I decided to review the trilogy, instead of each book individually.

The Grisha trilogy is part of a growing numbers of books that are part of the so-called tsarpunk literary movement, a term coined by Ms. Bardugo herself.  ““Tsarpunk is fantasy that takes its inspiration from the aesthetics, culture, politics, and social structure of early 19th century Russia,” once noted the author of the trilogy. Russian elements are heavily reflected in the setting and elements of the story that begins with Shadow and Bone, and it should be said that at least in the case of this series – tsarpunk is all about inspiration, rather than integration of Russian elements.  

We follow Alina Starkov, a young cartographer, one of the many army recruits destined to serve the King and potentially die while crossing the fold, a nasty strip of Ravkan land. Covered by eternal darkness, the fold is a creation of the Dark Heretik (an evil Grisha) and is now populated by flying, fanged and flesh-eating monsters. The fold also happens to be the only way to get to the other side of the country, torn in two by darkness. While crossing the fold with a group of soldiers (including her childhood sweetheart) and Grisha soldiers, Alina’s group is attacked by the volkra monsters, and the most ordinary girl of them all, ends up saving everyone by summoning sunlight and revealing herself to be one of the latent Grisha… One of the most powerful Grishas, that is.

The Grisha are the elite of the King’s army. Endowed with powers, which they prefer to name the knowledge of small sciences, they can summon winds and fire, heal and create magnificent objects… They also happen to be a sort of a higher-human version of ordinary Ravkan peasants and are oftentimes feared due to witchcraft superstitions.  The Grisha are governed by the Darkling, a devilishly-handsome young man who happens to have control over… darkness.  The Darkling orders Alina to be taken to the capital, and as she is plunged into the studies of small science and attempts to master her own power, Alina is hailed as the future savior of Ravka, who will destroy the Ravkan darkness. Yet, the Darkling’s plans for her are not that simple…

There is an almost inevitable curse hanging over every sequel, a chance to exceed expectations or end up ruining the character development built up over the years of careful writing. How did the Grisha fare? The Grisha universe is gripping, new and unexpected. It is one of the most exciting recently-released page-turners you may come across.

Leigh Bardugo creates complicated characters in exceptional circumstances and forces them to make difficult choices. Alina is an ordinary girl that discovers immense power, she is strong, and yet not the most bright, she is conflicted about her purpose, about putting her friends in danger. She is forced to make sacrifices, but is at times oblivious what effect her actions may have… Her childhood sweetheart Mal? Handsome, skilled warrior, whiner. The Darkling? Evil and human at the same time… Nikolai? Oh, yes, please! 🙂 Three’s a love quadrangle in the series that didn’t end too well, at least in my opinion. The story is gripping almost till the very end and the moment when the ending Ruin and Rising left me quite underwhelmed. Loose ends, bad choices, sickly-sweet decisions…

What also comes across as strange, and frankly quite laughable at some points, is the use of Russian language inspiration. Starting from Georgie as the name of the whole series, to Privyet  (“Hello”) as character names, kvas as the alcoholic drink of choice and many many small details. While some readers may have gotten quite tired with the idea of invented fantasy languages, invented languages with a mix of real words may sound quite silly, at least for the readers that speak the languages.

The Grisha trilogy is not exceptionally-well-written in terms of language, and yet it is one of the most inventive and gripping storylines, filled with deeply human characters. Most certainly, a worthy read!

Notes: 

Shadow and Bone: 4*

Ruin and Rising:  4*

Ruin and Rising: 3*

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Grisha trilogy: lighting up the house

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