Review: The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

For my previous review of Shadow and Bone see here. I have a lot of thoughts about this trilogy which I wanted to express, so the bulk of this review contains spoilers.

Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising form books two and three of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. I really enjoyed the first book in this series and, despite vague intentions to try and make the series last as long as possible, as soon as I started book two I devoured them both. They absolutely live up to the expectations I had from Shadow and Bone.

The middle book of a trilogy can often feel a bit stagnant – the long haul between points A and B, they sometimes struggle to define their own narrative arc, and end up with a lot of here-and-there elements which won’t be utilised until the final part and make things feels very still. But this series never drops the pace – the plot twists in plenty of directions, with surprises coming from all angles, and I never had any but the barest inkling of where we it was heading. The small predications I did have were either wrong, or only vaguely on the right lines.

Alina as a narrator remains incredibly interesting throughout. Her characterisation is brilliantly played with in terms of the number of roles that she embodies to different people, and the different pressures and desires that she feels in relation to this. For a very long time, Alina identifies herself as an orphan – a nobody with no real family.

[spoilers this para]
I love how the narrative forces her to confront and consider this idea, not only in her relationship to Mal but in her relationship to Ana Kuya, which she only really recognises once it is a loss. For this reason, I also adore the ending that Bardugo gives Mal and Alina, because I felt it was the perfect conclusion to that contested part of Alina’s identity. Especially as Alina becomes so many other things through the course of the books – to the court and to Ravka she is the Sun Summoner, she’s the Darkling’s pawn, to Baghra a stubborn child, a strong alliance for Nikolai, a saint to the sun soldiers, to Tolya and Tamar, a tool of religious recruiting for the Apparat, a protector for Misha. By the time she ceases to be Alina Starkov, she is not only a hero but a martyr. Her gift in later years from Zoya, Genya and David represents a continuing strand of her contested identity – she is still, in some way, Grisha, even as she is otkazat’sya.

[spoilers this para]
I also really loved Bardugo’s handling of the romance. She resists any typical setup and develops something far more interesting, which pulls closer to the separate forces within Alina’s life. Part of me does wish that Alina didn’t have some sort of romantic connection to the three most prominent male figures in the story – but it is made interesting by how two of those figures have other motives than Alina as herself. Only one of those connections is based on love, friendship – based only and entirely on who she is and has been. The Darkling wants control of her, somehow. Nikolai genuinely becomes her friend, but he needs an ally and someone capable of supporting him in command – in keeping control of a kingdom. In a country and a court where things like Genya’s abuse by the king goes unquestioned by most of the court, I find the parallels between this and Alina’s situations complex and unsettling. The pressure Nikolai exerts on her is entirely different than his father’s exploitation of a servant, and he makes it clear he won’t kiss her until she isn’t thinking of Mal – but he gives her that ring anyway. That relationship would still be contaminated, in some way, by the circumstances which could have forced her into accepting it. I said in my original review that I enjoyed the romance becoming so simple by the end, and that still stands for these two books – while Mal and Alina go through may versions of their relationship, it is never questioned that they love each other. The only things separating them are who, where and when they are, and the things that may come to them – there is never a question that their feelings have changed.

I absolutely loved these books, as a brilliant foray into a fantasy world, without being incredibly long tomes that take ages to plough through. Bardugo covers a very large amount of world-building and creates an impressively complex political, cultural and social picture.

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