By Elizabeth Wroten
YA Review: The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
On 29, Aug 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
I loved this trilogy. I often like first books, but won’t continue with a series simply because there is always a long list of books to work through. But the Grisha Trilogy warranted a full read. Warning, I may spoil certain parts of the books because I am reviewing the three as a whole.
For me I was drawn to the mythology, culture, and world building. The story is clearly set in a country based on Russia and her folklore. I know very little about Russia as it doesn’t tend to be a country we study much in the US, except as the enemy. And that hardly delves into their rich culture. As much as we celebrate diversity as something involving non-white people, I think there are plenty of white people who we know little about and are, in actuality, very different from us. Russia has some incredible fairytales and myths and how their environment shaped their culture and society is fascinating. The Grisha trilogy doesn’t detail any Russian history, but it does draw on the country (from the Czarist days) and you can easily see the parallels. Themes and characters from the folklore is woven very deftly into this world.
I was also drawn to the romance in the book. I’m not normally a romance fan per se, but the romance between Mal and Alina really added to the tension of the book. You really want to see them together, but you also know it can’t help but end poorly. They are also friends before they are lovers which is a dynamic I like to see because I think friendship is an incredibly important aspect of romance and romantic relationships. I will warn anyone purchasing this book for a collection, there is no sex in the first two books although it’s hinted at and there are some steamy kissing scenes. The third book, however, has an incredible first-time sex scene for Alina. It’s very beautiful and romantic, but it is sex and although it’s not graphic it doesn’t exactly happen off page either. (Side note, when Mal tells Alina he just wants to push her against the wall and kiss her so much she forgets that other men exist made even practical, unromantic me swoon.)
For the intended audience, I think teens will certainly like the romance and may be curious about the books’ cultural connections to Russia. But I think Alina will be the real draw. She’s a complicated character. Life has not been easy for her and denying the magic in her has cost her a lot in terms of her health, mental and physical. Besides Mal, she has never had a real friend and things are complicated with Mal. When she is taken under the Darkling’s wing it’s easy to see why she is drawn to him. He feeds right into her vulnerabilities. Thankfully she figures this out. Her lack of confidence in all areas is endearing, instead of irritating. Knowing her history it’s easy to see where it comes from and it makes her very human and relatable. She’s cantankerous, but under her prickly exterior she is compassionate and generous. Despite the emotional baggage she has, she’s a strong young woman interested in helping her people.
One last thought, Leigh Bardugo can write. She weaves an amazing story into a fascinating world and works the language of Ravka into conversation and description. Nothing feels stilted or awkward.