Into the Grishaverse!
The Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising), by Leigh Bardugo
I read the first book of the series, Shadow and Bone, a long time ago, and I hadn't been totally in love. I think a part of it was I had recently read The Graceling, which was similar in a way, yet done much better. So I set Grisha aside.
But of course you would have to ignore the book community entirely to not know that Leigh Bardugo has become a YA powerhouse, building on her initial Shadow and Bone trilogy to create new duologies that people are obsessed in. At this point, I'm dying to read Six of Crows, so I went back into the original series to see what was what.
Coming out of reading these books, my first and most important takeaway is the impeccable world building that went into these books. Bardugo has a gift. I LOVED the Russian influence, and all the Russian terminology. I'll admit I adore the sound of Russian, so reading this was fun! The hierarchical society, the Grisha and how they are treated within different nations, was intricate and detailed. The Grisha world in general from the very beginning is rich and well-developed, and I just wanted to dive in. I know why Bardugo spends so much time in the Grisha-verse: I want to be there too, because it is so well realized.
The Shadow Fold is also a cool concept, a devouring darkness, a literal stain on a war-torn land. Based on this unique world she created, I definitely wanted more.
In terms of the plot as a quest to end evil in the world, Bardugo created a great concept of hunting mythological creatures and kept the energy moving forward through the whole trilogy. In fact, the only times things slowed down were when Alina was feeling sorry for herself, which I got over just about immediately.
I think what really held the books back was a main character who didn't improve the story. Here was another overlooked, unremarkable girl who becomes the chosen one, the one to save the world, out of nowhere. I don't really know how I feel about this trope, it can be well done but I don't think that happened here. Alina didn't work for her powers, she relies on the strength of those around her and spends most of her time bemoaning how hard it is to be chosen. I have seen her referred to as a special snowflake, and that made me laugh - she's pretty whiny. She does step into her power eventually, but remains a fairly unremarkable character.
The Darkling is the evil overlord and villain of the story. He is an ancient monstrous person, seeking infinite power while also searching for a match. The "relationship" between him and Alina and weird and unbalanced, which I suppose is how it is supposed to be. But at the heart of it he is massively creepy, especially in how he deals with Alina.
Another character who grew on me was Genya. For me she went from annoyingly vain to intriguing as she embraced her new normal. She was very intriguing by the end of the series and I would want to see her in future books.
And then there is Prince Nikolai, who is just ... yes. Yes to all of him. He should have his own spin off ... oh, really? Sign me up for King of Scars. He is awesome. This is absolutely the right character to be following!
Look away if you haven't finished the series and would like to without spoilers!
I know that a lot of people hated on the ending, but I found it perfectly satisfying. It worked for me. It was the logical conclusion of what would happen as Alina became the most powerful creature in the land. Her character simply could not live up to her potential power. I actually thought she would die, I couldn't actually see a way that she could continue in this world, but Bardugo saved her by removing all her powers, so that she matched what she always wanted to be, a boring peasant. Alina could never have possibly been Nikolai's queen, she was (I'm sorry) too lame.
And I was happy that these two got their happy ending. I find Alina and Mal are both kind of boring and they totally deserve each other. Their life won't be glamourous, but it wasn't supposed to be. But I'm happy that they are happy, I hope they have ten little babies and raise up all those orphans in loving kindness.
On to more exciting things, now! I haven't read the other books in the Grishaverse, and I certainly hope these two stay in obscurity in the countryside. I'm assuming Bardugo already had other things in mind when she finished these books, and in everything I've read, her further Grishaverse novels are even better than the original series. These are good YA fantasy books, but there are others that are better (might I suggest The Graceling, by Kristin Cashore?). Since Shadow and Bone introduces us to this very cool world, though, I think that it is worth the read.