The Grisha Trilogy is a young adult fantasy series by #1 New York Times best-selling author Leigh Bardugo. I read this series in late 2019, finishing the last book in early 2020. Overall, this series was not my favorite; however, I’m glad I read it because it gives me context for Bardugo’s other books in this world (usually referred to as the Grishaverse), which include the Six of Crows duology (Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom) and the new Nikolai duology (King of Scars and unnamed book #2).
Now is where I have to admit, I’ve had this review post on my list since I started this blog and am now to the point of forcing myself to write it. Not because I hated the books, but because there are already so many reviews out there and I admittedly didn’t love this series. Alas, I really want to start some Six of Crows content soon and felt that writing this series review was a rite of passage I must traverse before getting to the ~fun stuff~ that is Ketterdam (and some of my all-time favorite characters). So without further ado, let’s get to it, and by it, I mean a semi-sloppy and not fleshed-out review of The Grisha Trilogy!
Just a warning on this point – it is 100% spoiler-filled for all three books of the Grisha trilogy. I have a nice bar giving you one last final warning before you tread into spoiler waters, and I’ll have bars between each books’ review, in case you only want to read one or two. Sailors, be warned!
Shadow and Bone [Book #1]
Shadow and Bone follow Alina Starkov, an orphan girl plucked from her life as a military cartographer and thrown into a world of politics, monsters and immeasurable power. Her tale takes place in Ravka, a previously great nation that is now split by the Shadow Fold, an area of total darkness filled with terrifying creatures. Alina learns of an incredible power within herself and must fight for her friends – including her best friend Mal – her friends and ultimately, her country. Taken to the royal court to train with the Grisha, humans with magical abilities, and the Darkling, their elusive leader, she must learn to control her power to save her world.
Shadow and Bone Review
The first book of the Grisha trilogy was my least favorite. Overall, I felt like this story and these characters lacked development. The plot was simply okay. It followed a very formulaic chosen one story, which to be fair was Bardugo’s goal. However, it was almost too bland. The magic system was also a little underdeveloped. I had already read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom when I read this, so fortunately I already had some context, but I’m not sure I would have followed as well if I hadn’t read those first. Frankly, it felt like in a lot of ways, Bardugo kind of made up the magic system and abilities as she went (how in the world is Alina able to control the stag amplifier if she didn’t kill it?)
Alina as a main character is, frankly, annoying. She is one-dimensional and single-minded. Normally, this might not be an issue in a first book of a series as a character is at the beginning of their arc, but she was just too underdeveloped. One thing that drove me crazy during this book was Alina’s constant obsession with how she looked. I wouldn’t have minded to read these thoughts a couple times, but it was constant. I really might have thrown the book if I had read about how she wasn’t “pretty” one more time. The most cringey moment of this was her musings on the Darkling: “‘You’re being ridiculous,’ I told myself sternly. ‘It didn’t mean anything. He probably kisses a lot of Grisha girls. And why would the Darking have any interest in you when there are people like Genya and Zoya around?'” Um, no thank you.
Speaking of the Darkling… that’s going to be another no from me. Look, the Darkling had SO much potential as a character. Truly, this first book was the most fascinated I was in his character, but we got no emotional stakes in his story. So, when it was revealed that he was indeed the bad guy (who could’ve guessed), my thought was simply, “duh?” If we had dealt with more of the Darkling’s back story, I might have been invested more. In contrast, Mal, the other love interest, was just a little too boring. He didn’t get much page time here, so I just hoped he developed further into the series.
What saved this story for me? Genya and Baghra. I really enjoyed their characters and had high hopes for their development later.
*SPOILER WARNING *
Siege and Storm [Book #2]
After escaping from the Shadow Fold together – at great cost – Mal and Alina must flee for their lives. However, after the Sun Summoner’s actions on the Fold, the Darkling has survived with horrifying new powers to control more than just darkness. To save their country and themselves, Alina and Mal acquire the services of a mysterious privateer to guide them across the True Sea and back to the country they fled. Amidst political, environmental and cultural turmoil, Alina must fight to save not only her country and people, but she must also wrestle with her connection to the Darkling and her feelings for Mal. Will she have to choose between her power and love?
Siege and Storm Review
Overall, I enjoyed Siege and Storm more than the first book. I think I’m firmly in the minority for having this opinion, but this second book was my favorite of the trilogy (hence the longer review). I felt the characters at least had more opportunities for development here, though of course they didn’t always take them. For overall plot: I don’t have as many issue with the pacing as others seems to. Though I will say, the first two chapters were insane. To even out this pacing, Shadow and Bone should’ve ended with the recapture that starts Siege and Storm. Beginning the second book with the recapture immediately made the synopsis moot and placed too much action ahead of any other development. After the first half of the book, the plot drags painfully and takes away from the overall story.
I appreciate that Alina had slightly more development in this second installment. At least here, she’s dealing with an inner hunger for the power the amplifiers give her, and we learn a little more about who she could become as the plot continues to progress. I still don’t hate her as a character, but I did still find her rather bland.
Now, let’s talk about these romances… is it just me, or does anyone else not ship her with anyone? The Darkling is murderous and too classic textbook evil [I accept absolutely no Kaz comparisons]. As for Mal, I didn’t hate reading Mal in Shadow and Bone, but his character took a bit of a plunge in this second book. His actions seemed to function purely as plot devices used to cause tension between him and Alina; maybe we just didn’t know his character enough to begin with, but his ~moods~ seemed out of character.
Nikolai was the highlight of this book for me. His character actually stole the show. Since I had already read other Grishverse books, I already knew the Sturmhound reveal and was excited to see his original character development. I don’t know that I really got much development from him, but I did still enjoy reading about him more than any other character. Now, I did not like the potential romance between Alina and Nikolai. If they had stayed with the political ally plot for their relationship, I think it would have been more compelling. As it stands, their romance story line did not served the story at all.
Genya (by extension David) and Zoya, sigh, are still underdeveloped. Zoya appears as the classic mean girl, but is she really? I can’t tell you because we barely know her as a character. I just don’t understand her because she has barely any development. As I ended my Shadow and Bone review, I’ll say again – just hoping for more character development.
*SPOILER WARNING *
Ruin and Rising [Book #3]
It seems that darkness has won – The Darkling rules Ravka, and the Sun Summoner’s powers may be gone. Nikolai is missing and his fate remains unknown. Some Grisha have escaped with Alina and Mal and are forced to live underground with the mysterious Apparat and followers who worship Sankta Alina. While forced to live in ancient tunnels, Alina’s mind rests on hunting the firebird, the last of Morozova’s amplifiers, and reuniting with Ravka’s prince. Now, to save those around her, she must work with those who have fought against her and put old resentments to rest. The Darkling and Alina remain connected, and through this connection, she begins to reveal dark secrets and a terrifying future if she fails.
Ruin and Rising Review
Ruin and Rising was… interesting. I’ll be honest, even though this is the most one I read, it’s probably the one I remember the least. So, this review may be shorter and probably just not as good, but what can you do?
Let’s get this out of the way right now: the ending was just not good. The resurrection trope is overdone and didn’t need to happen here, especially with Mal. I still didn’t hate Mal as much as some others, but if he needed to die, then he should’ve just died. Now, with what we were given, it was okay. I enjoyed thinking about them living in the valley together, running an orphanage and raising children who have been abandoned – very full circle. However, I’m still not convinced this was a good way to conclude this series.
Now, the Darkling. He died, too. I didn’t really care? His character was simply too cliche, and I really didn’t enjoy reading about him much. And no, I didn’t read his short story. Should I have to read an after-thought short story to care for a character? If so, that might be an indicator that the character deserves more development within the series. I will say the final scene with Baghra where she, presumably, dies and Nikolai is taken, was heartbreaking. Unlike the Darkling, I care very much for Nikolai. I don’t want to talk too much about his story line because in my head, it’s mixing too much with King of Scars, which I’ve also already read. Suffice it to say, I was much more excited for his spin-off, and it is indeed the only reason I read the Grisha trilogy.
We’ve reached the end of this semi-sloppy series review.
This series is nothing if not a testament to Leigh Bardugo’s development as a writer. The Grisha trilogy was too much of a classic hero tale that didn’t take enough risks. The magic system was undeveloped, which led to a lack of substantial world-building. What Bardugo excels at now as a writer is amazing character development and multiple points of view, so I wish we had gotten more POVs in this original trilogy and her stellar development. Maybe then we wouldn’t have just been stuck inside Alina’s head the entire series. Overall, it was simply okay. If you want a true representation of how brilliant Bardugo is, I recommend the Six of Crows duology. Remember, I wrote these reviews solely so I could get to writing that content. I now feel free to write ALL the Six of Crows blog posts. Let me know your thoughts on the Grisha Trilogy!