Friday, July 8, 2016

Book Review:The Grisha Trilogy

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Greeting, my friends!  

Today I will be reviewing The Grisha Trilogy, by Leigh Bardugo.   I have mixed feelings about this series- so be prepared for a little bit of anxting.  

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Ravka is a land that has been torn by war for over a hundred years.  Home to a race of people known as Grisha, magicians with uncanny powers, the soldiers march loyally on to a fight they no longer understand.
Orphaned at a young age, Alina Starkov's only family is her childhood friend and fellow orphan, Mal Oretsev.  Though he grows to become one of the most skilled trackers in Ravka, Alina never thought she would be anything other than ordinary...
until the day she became the Sun Summoner.
As the only living being with her powers- the ability to summon and wield light itself, Alina is whisked away to the Little Palace, where she must train with other Grisha in hopes that she will end the war.   Alina finds herself baffled by the peculiar ways of the Grisha, the treacherous nature of the Royal Court, and most of all by her enigmatic commander- The Darkling.  In him and his own unusual abilities, she finds a kindred spirit.  But the allure of power is strong, and betrayal can come from the least expected places.  Time is running out, and Alina must call together all her resources to save her country and her people before everything is gone.

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This series had a very interesting story and wonderful characters.  Their respective arcs were believable and intriguing.  These were real page-turners;  I stayed up to the wee hours more than once to find a good place to leave off.  
Alina, as the only living Sun Summoner, ran the risk of becoming a Mary Sue- but Leigh Bardugo did wonderfully keeping her genuine and relatable.  Her journey from a simple mapmaker to- er, well... (without spoiling anything) the person she became- was subtle and (SPOILER:  heartbreaking at times END SPOILER).
Her friend and beloved, Mal, also had an interesting arc.  And at first I thought I wouldn't like where he was headed, but I ended up applauding the author for the way she tied his story.  
A fellow named Nikolai was probably the most entertaining with his sharp wit and oozing charm.  I loved him... couldn't marry him, but loved him just the same.  XD
My favorite character was probably the Darkling.  I'm really not going to say much about his character because it would spoil everything, but suffice to say that he was a very interesting individual.

Now, as you all know, one of my favorite parts of the story is the villain/antagonist.  They can make or break a story.  And this is one of those rare books where there were times I actually agreed with the antagonist.  Were it not for his tendency toward unnecessary violence and death, I might have joined him.  His dreams were noble, but his way of achieving them was not.  

The world in which the series is set is also fascinating. I've never seen a fantasy series set in an 1800's-esque era without steampunk elements.  This is the first- and a really appreciated it!  Ravka has elements of a magical Russia, but it is quite it's own culture and feel.  The way that the magic (called the Small Science) works is unique.  Rather than being presented as magic, it's shown to be more like natural abilities that you have to be born with to use.  However, one of the big themes of the series explores what happens when a person is not satisfied with their gift and strives more, eventually delving into the dark world of merzost, true magic... abomination.


First of all, there's a bit of sensuality.  Not as bad as some YA novels, but it's there.  There's also some scattered swear words, if memory serves me right.  A bit of fantasy violence, but nothing described in gory detail.  Mostly it served to move the story along, and added to the excitement. 
Like any YA novel, there's more than one love interest for our girl, and she is always torn between them, anxting over which one she should choose.  The bad boy who is possibly the one person in the world who can understand her personal struggle as the Sun Summoner?  The flamboyant, charming, and clever prince who finds he has come to care deeply for her?  Or the good boy from home whom she has always secretly loved?  This struggle annoyed me... because personally, I wouldn't have chosen any of them, I wish she would have made up her mind more quickly.   I don't approve of a girl who says she loves one boy, and then kisses another because... reasons.  -_-

*The following section contains some spoilers*
These books also contain a lot of sad, dark content.   This is a war story, death and loss abounds.  Also, a lot of the characters are selfish.  One could say that selfishness drives the plot, and the goal is for the characters to overcome their own brand of selfishness in order to save the day.  
Alina's character arc is tainted by her lust for power.  She starts out as an innocent girl who wants nothing more than to gain the love of her longtime sweetheart.  However, as she comes to accept her power, she comes to hunger for it more and more, until it becomes clear that she has lost sight of what is most important.  She is, however, aware of her weakness and does try to fight it when she's thinking straight.  
Christian readers may find it disturbing that so many people in her country insist on calling Alina a Saint.  They practically worship her by the end of the series, and while Alina and her friends know it to be false and wrong, they do use the people's devotion to their advantage.  This seemed a bit blasphemous to me, but since the series takes place in a fantasy world that has nothing to do with reality, I found I could take it.  

Another thing I didn't really care for was the fact that as Alina became more powerful, she began to overshadow her lover, Mal.  It bothers me when a female is more dominant than the male in the relationship.  A woman ought not to be a ruler, but rather a partner.  The relationship should be touched with love, respect, and humility on both sides.  
With Mal and Alina, it seemed she became all to willing to order him around, and he was heartbroken as he perceived that her rise to power had somehow ascended her far higher than his own level of existence.   It causes him a bit of depression, which I found difficult to stomach because all the characters were taking their turns being so STUPID!!  Seriously, I had to get up every ten minutes while reading and act out what should have happened between them, fixing dialogue and having them make smart decisions.  
Alina sort of has an excuse though, since her mind was at times clouded by a power-enhancing necklace that was permanently attached to her...

Finally, one thing that made me really uncomfortable was the pointless inclusion of an lesbian couple.  They started out as characters that I liked, and then along comes the last book and it becomes apparent that they are falling for each other.  There are scattered instances of their affectionate gestures, including a kiss.  This did nothing to move the story along, and seemed like something the author included just because it's popular to do now.  
Fortunately, it was easy for me to avoid in the books.  Since there were only scattered references to their relationship, I'd just skip ahead whenever I saw their names mentioned.  Still, it really bugged me that this trilogy would disappoint me in this way right at the end.  It's like finding a bit of uncooked egg-white in your scrambled eggs, and then the whole breakfast is less appetizing.  :(


This book series made for an interesting read.... if you can put up with the negative elements.  After book two, I was basically reading just to finish the story and find out what happened at the end.  And also to find out what became of the Darkling.  
And, actually, the end did not disappoint me.  It turned out WAY better than I expected it to.  It defied the trend in YA books that everything has to be sad at the end.  Yes, there was grief, and loss, and some people were changed forever, but somehow, the ending was happy and satisfying.  I was SO grateful for that because I really didn't want to find out that I'd wasted a week of my life reading the trilogy.  The character arcs were tied off well, and I liked where they ended up, despite my fear that I would hate who they became.  
But that's not enough to make me forget the negative aspects of the story.  It's not even the story so much... it's the things that are mentioned IN the story.  Unnecessary junk that clutters up an otherwise great tale.  
I did enjoy the series, but don't think I would recommend it. If you read it, take the characters as fantastic examples of how NOT to act, though in the end the consequences of their actions shine through with a clear moral.  
There are better things to read, I think.  But if you absolutely MUST try it anyway...  tell me what you think because I need to work out these feelings I have for the book.  And Darkling!! Nikolai!! What am I gonna do with them... :'(  I need to vent to somebody.

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-Emmarayn Redding


  1. I'm sorry, but I've always been confused about what the term "steam-punk" means--could you provide a definition?

    This is a nice review! Your reviews are always so well written and even though I've never read the books I feel like I know a lot about them already :)

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    2. Why thank you! :)

      Steampunk is a genre in which the technology and clothing styles are reminiscent of the Victorian (or steam) age. However, the technology is much more advanced than that, and you'll often see steampowered airships, prosthetic limbs, Tesla canons, and other science-fiction-ish things, all powered by steam.

      Often times, the female outfits are kind of skimpy, but not always. Also, a lot of characters seem to favor sabers and other swords despite the fact that revolvers and other firearms are common.

      Here's a link to an image that pretty much sums up what steam punk is:

    3. You're welcome!

      Oh, okay that makes sense. Thanks for the explanation :)