(some of) The Grisha Series, by Leigh Bardugo (2012 - 2016)
TW: Graphic violence, Allusions to rape
Of the seven books in this series, I have read 5 of them so far. I plan to read the other two novels, but need a break after reading straight through.
(There are apparently 4 other supplemental books too, that I imagine would be fun in much the same way that the three "Hogwarts Library" books added to that series.)
Here is what I've read so far:
And plan to read later: King of Scars and Rule of Wolves.
I'm going to write this review in sections, because the books are broken up into The Shadow & Bone Trilogy, The Six of Crows Duology, and The King of Scars Duology.
The Shadow & Bone Trilogy
Ravka is at war - within it's border there are factions, and the nation also struggles for power with the neighboring nations of Shu Han and Fjerda. On top of this, Ravka has been rent in two by the mysterious Shadow Fold - a black nothingness that cuts through the land, created hundreds of years ago by someone called the Black Heretic. The Fold, also called The Unsea, is virtually impassable - completely devoid of light, and inhabited by blood-thirsty, winged creatures called Volcra.
The story follows Alina and Mal, best friends who grew up together in an orphanage. As soldiers with the First Army, they attempt to cross the Fold, only to be attacked by Volcra. With Mal's life at stake, Alina's true power is revealed - she is a Sun Summoner, the rarest kind of Grisha (people who can perform magic by controlling an element). From there we follow Alina's journey as she meets the Darkling, a powerful Grisha who can control shadows, attempts to destroy The Fold, and sacrifices everything to save her country. Lots of power struggles, identity crises, and will-they-won't-they romances.
I sped through these books and really enjoyed the story, while acknowledging that the plot is a little thin in places, and the trilogy really could have been tightened up into a duology. Overall, though, it's a fun YA series, as long as you don't mind many of the typical tropes - young, plain, unremarkable person turns out to be the chosen one who is going to save the world; awkward teen love triangle; bad guy-good guy bond that runs deep; and surprising ancestry reveals of main characters. But the characters are generally pretty well developed, and the dark, dystopian-esque setting is compelling. And I really enjoyed the supporting cast. Where Alina, Mal, and the Darkling start to feel a little two dimensional as the series goes on, the others surrounding them continue to carry the story.
Plus, there's a map! I love maps.
Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom
Generally speaking, you don't have to read the previous books to enjoy these ones. All of the main characters are new, though some Shadow & Bone characters do make an appearance, and their involvement makes more sense if you've read the first three. But what really suffers is the world-building. I think Bardugo assumes her readers have read the previous books, so spends very little time crafting the atmosphere and background. But, I did read the previous books... and I think I got a little burnt out, so maybe didn't enjoy these as much as I would've if I'd taken a break in between. But still - a fun read, an engaging story.
It's sort of a dingy, street-rat Ocean's Eleven - a bunch of misfits pulling off an impossible heist. Leader Kaz Brecker (aka Dirty Hands), leads a motley crew of outcasts which includes former acrobat-cum-criminal Inej (aka The Wraith), a few Grisha, a surly Fjerdan (see map above) trying to rid himself of Grisha hatred, a runaway merchant's son, and a Shu boy with knowledge that every nation in the land wants to steal. They're all supposed to be teenagers, but they read way older. Kind of too smart, too experienced, and too already-broken to be believable. But anyway, this ragtag group of "teenagers" continuously attains the unattainable - breaking into a fortress prison, besting a wealthy merchant, escaping from trap after trap after trap...
Bardugo continues to fall into a lot of tropes here, like she did in the trilogy, but the hero-characters have a bit more depth. The villains are unfortunately very one-dimensional, and I never really bought one of the main conceits of Kaz's excessive yearning for revenge against an old enemy. I liked the entertainment of the heist, and could have done without Kaz's overblown grudge against someone who literally does all of the exact same things as him.
I found these two books to be much darker than the trilogy, and with a lot more graphic violence (as a warning!). The first instance that stopped me in my tracks was a very vivid description of someone yanking out someone else's eyeball. I get that it was part of this grimy, dangerous atmosphere Bardugo created, but it turned me off.
Still, I will continue on to read the final two novels at some point, once I've taken a little break from that world.
(Thanks to friend Brent Boscarino for the recommendation - and the second reminder a few months later, cuz I'd completely forgotten!).
UP NEXT: An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed: Stories, by Helene Tursten