A while ago I read and absolutely adored Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology, and I’ve been meaning to read her earlier series, The Grisha Trilogy, ever since. I had heard from various people that this series isn’t as good as Six of Crows, but I decided to give it a go anyway and see what I thought. Plus I was pretty anxious to return to the Grisha world that I had come to love so much in Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom!
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
“So I’m the Darkling’s prisoner?”
“You’re under his protection.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Pray you never find out.”
Alina Starkov and her childhood friend Mal are a long way from the orphanage where they grew up: they serve in the First Army of war-torn Ravka, Alina as a mapmaker, and Mal as a tracker. Mal has truly found his place in the world, but Alina has never been good at anything or felt a true sense of belonging…not until the great power that she didn’t even know she had is unleashed, and she is inducted into the Second Army, Ravka’s army of Grisha. But is her new life as the mysterious Darkling’s protétge as charmed as it seems? Or are there secrets yet to be uncovered?
Perhaps it was the fact that I’d already read two books set in this world, but I found myself getting easily sucked into this story. This was by no means the best book I’ve ever read, but I found it to be really engrossing, and I managed to get through it relatively quickly (which is always a good sign with me!). It did fall into a lot of YA fantasy tropes, such as the whole ‘Chosen One’ thing, but I found that it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book too much.
Whilst the characters in this book weren’t quite as dynamic as those in the Six of Crows duology, I found myself really liking Alina and Mal. You could really relate to Alina as someone who feels like she’s never really found her place in the world, and is scared to lose her best friend, who seemingly has found his. It’s easy to see why she is so charmed by the world of the Grisha and the Darkling, even if she does at times suspect that there is more to it than meets the eye (and if not all of the Grisha are particularly nice!).
I also liked Mal as the love interest (ahem, one of the love interests!) because there was definitely no cheesy ‘love at first sight’ with him – the two have known each other since they were children, and you really sense the history between them, despite the fact they’re such different people. The fact that he was absent for a lot of the book also made things interesting, as you wondered if they’re long-standing friendship would stand the time and distance.
The Darkling was also a wonderfully enchanting character, and I loved the sense of mystery surrounding him. I spent most of the book, like Alina, trying to figure him out, and despite it perhaps having been kind of predictable, when the truth is revealed I was actually quite surprised (but I’m seriously so bad at guessing twists and things!). I also liked the supporting characters of the many Grisha, from Alina’s friend Genya, to Botkin, the combat instructor.
Overall, I enjoyed this book more than I had thought after hearing some other people’s thoughts on it and my own worries that it wouldn’t compare to Six of Crows. I definitely didn’t love it to the same extent as Six of Crows, and it did fall into a lot of tropes, but I found myself really enjoying it, and looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
“Watch yourself, Nikolai,” Mal said softly. “Princes bleed just like other men.”
Nikolai plucked an invisible piece of dust from his sleeve. “Yes,” he said. “They just do it in better clothes.”
Alina and Mal are being hunted across the land, following their flight from the Darkling. Their attempts to start a new life are constantly thwarted, and Alina struggles to keep her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. Therefore she makes a choice: to return to her country and fight against the darkness that is growing throughout it, with the help of a motley crew of Grisha, and a notorious pirate.
I think it’s very easy for middle books in trilogies to be a bit slow and boring (the classic ‘saggy middle’), so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Siege and Storm was another great addition to the series, and really kept up the pace. Literally within the first chapter, there’s pretty major stuff happening, and I again found myself being easily sucked back into the familiar world of the story.
I really liked the growth of Alina’s character in this second book, as she goes from a reluctant heroine to someone willing to embrace her powers and assume the position of a leader. This changing of her character definitely causes tension between her and Mal, but I liked this realistic depiction of a relationship whose dynamic has changed suddenly: he struggles to support this new Alina, and not feel pushed out, whilst still caring about her.
I also loved the array of new characters in this book, particularly Nikolai. I like how he’s cocky and brash and funny, but underneath everything, he truly has a heart, and the odd occasion when he has his feelings hurt, you just want to reach into the book and hug him! He quickly became my favorite character in the series.
I also liked Tolya and Tamar, especially their pretty epic introduction on the ship where they stand up for Alina. In fact, I loved all of the pirate ship scenes at the start of the book, and again, I didn’t see the twist coming (again, it was probably obvious, but I always miss them!). Plus I loved the idea of the Grisha-powered flying ship that they eventually cross the fold in!
I enjoyed this book every bit as much as the first, and I’m so glad I finally decided to read the Grisha trilogy after debating for so long. It is by no means a perfect series, but I’m really enjoying the character development and getting to explore such a wonderfully inventive world even more. I can’t wait to read Ruin and Rising (which is ready on my Kindle!)!
So have you read Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm? What did you think? How do you feel the series compares to the Six of Crows duology (if you’ve read it!)?