I’ve been on a bit of a Russian kick recently. And completely unintentionally. Not a problem though, since I don’t know nearly as much about Russian mythology as I would like. I’m currently reading Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente (review to come! (Edit: Review is here!)) and I’ve finished books 1 and 2 of The Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo.
Book 1, Shadow and Bone, was published in 2012 and book 2, Siege and Storm, was published earlier this year. Overall, I like this series enough to look forward to the third book and recommend it to other people but there are several issues I have so far with the series.
Like I said, I don’t really know that much about Russian mythology. Or, which I suppose is more accurate in this case, Russian history. But this story clearly bases the ruling government (and its excesses) on the Russian tsars. Even their enemies seem to have basis in real history.
So here’s the story: Alina and Mal grew up together and have been best friends since they first met. They are now soldiers in the Ravkan army fighting in the seemingly interminable border wars. Alina is sickly and weak and works making maps for the army. Mal is good looking, friends with everyone, and an excellent tracker. There is also a second army made up of the Grisha. The Grisha have magical powers and are treated like royalty because of it. They are led by the Darkling, the most powerful Grisha. Cutting through the middle of Ravka is the Fold, a swath of darkness created by the first Darkling that is filled with monsters.
When Mal and Alina are required to cross the Fold with their regiment (a fairly common occurrence yet still incredibly dangerous and deadly), Alina displays a tremendous power that she never knew she had. Whisked away by the Grisha and the Darkling to the royal palace, Alina is thrust into the life of the magical elite.
So far, so good. But I’m about to get spoiler heavy here so you’ve been warned.
Alina is a Sun Summoner and the Darkling has been waiting for her to help him destroy the Fold for years and years. Alina blossoms under his tutelage, gaining strength, control, and power. The two develop a relationship and everything seems to be going so well until the night of a ball. We then learn (from his mother!) that the Darkling is not who he says he is and his intentions for Alina are not what he claimed. She escapes back to Mal and, after thinking that she has destroyed the Darkling in the Fold, they catch a ship to a distant country, and then the story ends.
My problems with the first book: I liked Alina and the Darkling together. I did not, and do not, like Mal and Alina together. Mal only seemed to be interested in Alina once she became powerful and out of his reach and they just seem so unsuitable for each other. The reveal of the Darkling as the bad guy was so sudden it was slightly ridiculous. Lastly, Grisha magic doesn’t seem nearly as cool as it could be. Only Alina and the Darkling have interesting powers; the others just seem to have amplified healing/fighting/creating skills.
Siege and Storm, book two, opens with the Darkling discovering Alina and Mal’s location and forcing them back to Ravka aboard a ship. This ship is manned partly the Darkling and his Grisha but is really led by the war hero Sturmhond and his crew. Sturmhond is, of course, not who he seems to be and this reveal sets off the plot for the book.
At the end of it, I still didn’t like Alina and Mal together so hopefully that “romance” will end in the next book. There’s a lot going for this series because there is a lot about it that is original but there are a lot of things, particularly the characters, that get on my nerve.
Ultimately, I’m not sure whether I want to gush wildly about this series or toss it indifferently on the floor. I’m still looking forward to the third book coming out, probably next year, so I suppose that book will be the deciding factor for this series.