Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Grisha Trilogy (Including Shadow and Bone (#1), Siege and Storm (#2), Ruin and Rising (#3)) - Leigh Bardugo

For those of you who haven't yet bit the bullet...


The Grisha Trilogy,
also known as The Shadow and Bone Trilogy was published between 2012 and 2014, but has found new readership with the release of the the Netflix series Shadow and Bone.  I watched the first season of the show and, a few episodes in, I realized that I had read the first book following the birth of my fourth child, but never managed to write a formal review (because newborns almost literally suck the life out of me).  Now that the trilogy has been released, I thought it might be a fun to reread the first book (and compare/contrast it with the show) and then continue on in the series. Since I had all summer to read them, I won't even make you wait.  You can read all THREE of my reviews below.  Scroll away!

Summary:  Alina Starkov doesn't expect much from life.  Orphaned by the Border Wars, she is sure of only one thing: her best friend -- Mal -- and her inconvenient crush on him.  Until the day their army regiment enters the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters.  When their convoy is attacked and Mal is brutally injured, Aline reveals a dormant power not even she knew existed. 

Ripped from everything she knows, Alina is taken to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.  With Alina's extraordinary power in his arsenal, he believes that he can finally destroy the Fold.  Now Alina must find a way to master her untamed gift and somehow fit into her new life without Mal by her side.  But nothing in this lavish world is what it seems.  As the threat to the kingdom mounts and her dangerous attraction to the Darkling grows, Alina will uncover a secret that could tear her heart -- and her country -- in two.  (Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I realize that some of you might be here because you'd like to know how Shadow and Bone compares with the Netflix series of the same name.  I will get to that in a minute but, first, I'd like to briefly address the book on its own merit. (You can also read Lara's 2014 review here.) 

Shadow and Bone is a phenomenal ride.  In a matter of chapters, I was more than willing to fling myself headlong into the incredible world the author, Leigh Bardugo, has brought to life.  I fell in love with the Slavic elements of the story, Alina's character, her struggles, her genuine friendship with Mal, and the whole concept of select people with inherent abilities that allowed for manipulation of natural elements.  Bardugo also manages to generate some fairly spectacular chemistry between several of the characters and in a way that kind of leaves you torn, up to a point.  The pace of the story lags a bit while Alina attempts to master her own abilities, but picks back up as she comes to some important realizations.  When the Big Twist comes, it hits hard and fast.  I remember from my initial reading of this book that I was completely blindsided and reeling.  The whole story pivots on a dime and I just love when that happens.  Overall, I highly recommend reading Shadow and Bone.

For those who who like a bit more detail about how Shadow and Bone and the Netflix series of the same name compare, or how closely the series follows the book, I will do my best to enlighten you without any major spoilers.  I've read the book twice and watched the show twice; the second watch was with my husband and we totally binged it.  Here are some of the major (and minor) differences:

  • The book is told entirely through Alina's perspective and the movie follows her specific storyline rather closely with only minor variations.  The Netflix series is told primarily from Alina's point of view, but also uses Mal and the Darkling's perspectives.
  • The Netflix series features numerous characters and entire plot threads that do not appear in the first book.  I suspect that these characters and at least part of their story lines come from another of Bardugo's books, Six of Crows, which is set in the same world.  
  • In the Netflix series, Alina is written as part 'Shu' but the book makes no mention of this heritage.
  • In the Netflix series the chemistry between Alina and a certain character, isn't as obvious as it is in the book. It's totally there but, in my opinion, the book is much better in this regard.
  • In the Netflix series, the Darkling has another name.  In the book he is only ever known as the Darkling.

Do I recommend the book version over the Netflix series?  Yes.  Both are wildly entertaining, but some of the additional elements in the show are more adult in nature and might bother a sensitive watcher.  If you fall into that category, I would recommend sticking with the book at this point.  As I write this (June 2021) there is only one season on Netflix and believe me when I tell you that you are not going to be content with one season.  Might as well read the books and get a sneak peek at the rest of the story.

My Rating (of the book): 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  The book has some violence, a little light innuendo, a few instances of profanity, and one 'scene' where characters make out (and are interrupted). 

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Summary: Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret.  But she can't outrun her past or her destiny for that long.  

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world.  With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka.  But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling's game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal.  Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her -- or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm. (Summary from back of book - Image from brownsbsf.co.uk)

My Review:  Let's get the important stuff out of the way, shall we?  I do not want to be sitting here at just after midnight writing this review.  I don't want to be looking at my notes, trying to find a way to talk about the plot without spoiling it, all the while attempting to be clever and engaging.  Right now the only thing I want to be doing is reading the next book!  Unfortunately, some idiot (me) made this stupid stupid rule that says I can't start a new book till I've reviewed the old one....so here I sit, torturing myself.  Ugh.  Okay, here we go.

Siege and Storm is the second book in the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo and, as such, forms a literary bridge between the first book, Shadow and Bone, and the third book, Ruin and Rising.  After the events of Shadow and Bone, Alina and Mal have tried to carve out a new life for themselves in a distant land, but can't seem to escape the Darkling's clutches and his increasingly terrifying power.  When the two are taken captive aboard a whaling vessel, it becomes apparent that the Darkling has plans for Alina that are far more sinister than anyone realized.  The author hints that all is not as it seems aboard the ship and a lightning fast twist send the book in a whole new direction.  

I could lie and tell you that my favorite part of this book was something deeply cerebral or artfully symbolic, but I think we've established that isn't where my head is at tonight so I'm just going to be super real with you -- I straight-up adore Alina and Mal's relationship. I 'ship' them hard.  Friends first, they are fiercely loyal to each other, aside from any romantic inclinations either might have (and there are those too).  They still have some significant issues to work through, but at the end of the day they would die for each other and I absolutely melt at that kind of devotion.  On the other hand, Alina and the Darkling's connection is becoming rather obviously unhealthy (cue the head games and manipulation) but it does have a certain kind of chemistry if you're into the whole bad-boy vibe.  Personally, I am Team Mal all the way (I've dated enough of the Darkling variety and no thank you) but I know that others might see things differently.

Seige and Storm may not offer much in the way of resolution, but there is still plenty to entertain in the way of adventure, romance, humor, and suspense.  It definitely held my interest from start to finish, introduced several interesting new characters, added depth and tension to the story, and raised the stakes for the final book with an ending that was both thrilling and unexpected.  I can tell the author still has a few surprises up her sleeve, especially in regards to a certain someone* and all I can say is I am soooo here for it. Overall, the Grishaverse has been a fairly entertaining escape from reality and I am by no means finished diving down this rabbit hole.  I plan to start Ruin and Rising about .23 seconds after I finish this review.  I'll let you know how it goes... *swan-dives down rabbit hole with reckless abandon and an utter disregard for establishing healthy sleep patterns*

*we'll call him ShMal

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Maybe one instance of profanity.  Some kissing and discussion of intimacy, more inferred than anything.  Not graphic or particularly detailed.  

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Summary:  The capital has fallen.  

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.  

Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint.  Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope than an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers.  But as she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields.  The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction -- and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she's fighting for.

(Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Ruin and Rising put me through the wringer, repeatedly, and I finished it feeling slightly winded, a little lost, and a bit like I wanted to cry.  Don't let that put you off; that's just the way I do book hangovers. The story picks up soon after the events in Siege and Storm when Alina's attempts to kill the Darkling have backfired, leaving her nearly powerless.  Those who have survived the onslaught find refuge in a series of tunnels under Ravka, while the Darkling rules the world above.  Alina is weakened, forced into seclusion by the Apparat and his followers, separated from her friends and struggling to cope with the side effects of her last encounter with the Darkling.  In a surprising escape, Alina finally breaks free from the Apparat's suffocating control and, with an assortment of allies, makes a final bid to thwart the Darkling's growing power and locate Morozova's last amplifier -- the mysterious Firebird.  

Some YA novels are fairly predictable and it's pretty easy to tell from the outset how the story will end.  Not so with Ruin and Rising or, indeed, much of the series.  At least, not for me. To use a boxing analogy, Bardugo bobs, weaves, and feints her way through the story with a variety of unexpected twists and turns, dazzling chemistry, and even some intentional misdirection (so mean!).  About halfway through I had the tiniest inkling of how things might end (okay, so I accidentally saw something online), but I truly had no idea exactly how much the characters would have to go through to find resolution.  Also, at the beginning and end of each book are sections that are voiced differently than the rest of the book, entitled Before and After, respectively.  Their fairytale feel was incredibly appealing and enhanced my overall experience with the story.

One of my favorite aspects of Bardugo's writing is that her characters are neither annoyingly perfectly or obscenely evil.  Alina. Mal. The Darkling. Nikolai. Genya. David. Baghra (and more).  They all feel incredibly human and fallible, with complex motivations, emotions, worries, and histories.  Alina has developed into a courageous leader who has both darkness and light inside of her.  Mal is the ultimate protector, devoted to Alina's safety, but battling insecurity. The Darkling commits horrific atrocities in the name of Grisha safety and for the purpose of gaining power, but is still capable of feeling sorrow and loss.  No matter how hard I tried, I could never fully hate him for it.*  I could keep going, but you get the idea.   I loved watching certain characters 'come into their own,' if you will, and find their place in the group.  Each character felt real, or as real as fictional fantasy characters can feel, and I was so invested in their story. 

On that note...

There were moments when I wanted to throw this book across the room.  The ending was so fraught with tension and emotion that I still feel slightly traumatized, but I am also content with how Bardugo left things.  All I can say is:  Hold on, dear readers.  Hold on.  As a little side note, Genya's story is its own kind of compelling and I loved watching it all unfold in this series, especially her relationship with David which is...just...a whole other thing.  

I could have read Ruin and Rising from cover to cover in one night, but I forced myself to go to bed in the wee hours of the morning because I had to adult in a few hours.  It nearly killed me.  I've spent the last few days catching up on sleep and trying (and failing) to get 'into' another book.  Thus far, I haven't been able to find anything that 'clicks.'  You know how when people are suffering from an actual hangover, they sometimes take a shot of something the next morning to take the edge off?**  Well, I just got a call from the library and Six of Crows, another book set in the Grishaverse, (which Ashley reviewed back in 2016) is waiting for me!  Time to take the edge off.   *picks up keys and heads out door*  

*Perhaps if I didn't have Ben Barnes gorgeous flipping face in my head every time I read his name, I'd be able to manage it.

**Okay, so I don't actually drink but I've seen this happen on tv.

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some violence (aka people getting sliced and torn apart). Two instances of profanity (both of the A variety).  Two women, secondary characters, are in a relationship and kiss, non-graphic.  Some dream-like kissing and innuendo between a man and a woman, non graphic.  Some kissing and intimacy between a man and woman.  Relatively non-graphic.

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