Leigh Bardugo started off the first book in her Grishaverse, Shadow and Bone, with a neat mechanic, there was a “Before” section, and then chapter one. It sets up the background of the book in a simplistic, story book format, referring to the main characters as boy and girl, instead of using their names. At the end, there was an “After” section following the last chapter. Same form as at the beginning, but wrapping things up. She continued doing this for books two and three and I liked the added layer it gave to the story. I wonder if writing those, and mentioning fairy tales within the story of the series, was part of the inspiration for The Language of Thorns . Bardugo seems quite at home in the fairy tale realms.
Siege and Storm opens with a bang, as the action takes off and keeps a full head of steam for some time. Alina and Mal are trying to stay hidden from the Darkling, hoping to gather enough resources to travel further west, disappear, and live out their happily ever after. Fate, however has different plans and seems to be intent on forcing them along the path of savior of Ravka. Alina finds new, powerful allies, is put in a position of power, and is overwhelmed with her new role, as people begin to worship her as a saint, calling her Sankta Alina. These new responsibilities, along with the mantle of sun summoner, drive a wedge between Alina and Mal. Like many a second book in a series, Alina and Mal are kept apart as a couple. Pining away but trapped by expectations and duties, they alternate between anger and despair.
However, at some point, I wondered why the two loved each other. Examples or reasons for their love isn’t stated, such as, “He loved the way she cocked her head when reading intently”. Or, “It was his calm, capable manner that drew her to him.” They just do, apparently because of the close bond they developed as children. The third book, Ruin and Rising did include some reasons for the attraction but their love seems more plot device than organic.
There is a bit of a slump in the middle of the book, when everything is in a holding pattern. Alina and Mal are at odds, Alina is uncomfortable with the growing number of people putting their hope into Sankta Alina, and many variables remain unknown. The book ends with a great deal of excitement as the holding pattern is blown open, but the reader is left wondering, metaphorically, how much of Alina is left?
In the “Before” section of Ruin and Rising
The boy brought the girl this tale, and others too, all the new stories he could gather, in the early days…and he would tell the story of a river, tamed by a powerful Tidemaker and trained to dive through layers of rock, seeking a magic coin.
This is part of a story that Bardugo later fleshed out into a short story, in The Language of Thorns. I knew the concept of TLoT were stories that her characters in the Grishaverse would know from childhood. I didn’t expect to see one of them mentioned in the trilogy itself, so that was a cool little easter egg for me.
The start of RR finds Alina in captivity once again. Different captor but one that wants to use her for his own means, same as before. Her companions have hit an all-time, ragged, low, but through shared trials, their bonds grow stronger. Together they continue to be brilliant and creative, thinking their way through obstacles and inventive use of magics to solve problems. This book is where the secondary characters really begin to shine and develop as three dimensional people. It’s also nice that along with the hetero-normative love story of Alina and Mal, there is also a lesbian love story brewing on the side between Tamar and Nadia.
RR took several unexpected twists and I appreciated being surprised by them. It is the skill of Bardugo that creates empathy for the Darkling despite the atrocities he has committed over the centuries. Alina’s journey from obscurity to sainthood, a title that never sets easily on her but she wields to her occasional advantage, is an epic journey. I really enjoy Bardugo’s world building and the Grishaverse.
Last year in the cannonball gift exchange I received Six of Crows. When I requested it, I was unaware of it’s place in the Grishaverse, it had just been recommended to me by a friend. Once in my hands, I realized I needed to read Shadow and Bone first, to the TBR shelf SoC went. A year has past and now another cannonball gift exchange has come, and I am now finally ready to read Six of Crows!