Leigh Bardugo is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Her Six of Crows (Review here!) was super enjoyable, and reading that book made me want to come back to her prior trilogy which follows Alina through her journey as the savior of Ravka and goes into greater detail about the history of the Grisha.
Alina and Mal are orphans in Ravka, housed at a Duke’s mansion. They are tested as youth to see whether or not they require Grisha training and are both found to be regular humans. Or so they thought…
We find them both as part of the First Army, undertaking a mission to cross the Unsea to get supplies and goods from the port cities. The Unsea was created by a terrible Grisha, a rare kind called a Darkling, long ago, and crossing it takes great perseverance and weaponry due to the darkness and the terrible creatures that live within. Think of it like a huge nasty cloud that plunges you into complete darkness when you enter it, and there are large, flying, clawed beasts that can see and you can’t.
They get attacked (of course) and in the extreme panic of the battle Alina is discovered to also be an extremely rare kind of Grisha: a Sun Summoner. Think X-Men: First Class when the terrible Kevin Bacon Nazi Guy kills Magneto’s mom in front of him and he can finally control his powers because of rage. The Grisha separate her from Mal (a boy btw) and rush her away to the capital city to be trained as a Grisha. The theory is that her power will be strong enough to wipe away the Unsea for good, reopening trade among all the nations.
I mean, I kind of saw the twist coming, but only because this book holds so closely to the YA girl-as-hero-choosing-between-two-guys-is-only-one-with-power-to-save-the-world trope. The book has three characteristics that save it from being redundant in this oversaturated “clumsy not-so-pretty girl as hero” market.
- The world: I love this world and all its divisions and colors and facts. The map Bardugo provides in the beginning even makes you wonder “what is this place even like?!” The sects and subsects of Grisha are fascinating, and I won’t lie, I’ve been fantasizing about having a kefta made for me. One of the fluffy wintery ones. Bardugo creates a beautiful new universe to explore, and it was such fun letting my mind imagine what everything looked like.
- The prejudices: As I’ve mentioned before (Seraphina Book #1) I love coming across books that are fun to read AND could be used to teach kids about how to act right in a world that sociologically always wants to make everyone else the other and only your kind of person the best. The differences between countries, between villages, and even within the Grisha order itself is a complicated hierarchy which requires careful attention to keep track of and will often make you ask why anyone even puts up with this crap. Just this first book will make you yearn for some kind of rebellion.
- The dedication: I love a love story where the couple remains dedicated to each other despite mishaps and misunderstandings. Where they are almost destined to be together. Their hearts are connected and even when they are apart and interested in other people they always seem to come back to each other. Bardugo weaves this story in a way that it isn’t too sappy and it is believable.
I’ll leave the twist and the ending to your discovery, but I will tell you that Alina takes her first major step to owning her power and accepting herself and Mal as the man she loves. There are complications and foes still to strike down, but we can discover those adventures in the next novel: Siege and Storm.