Alina Starkov’s one constant in life has been her best friend, Mal. Raised in a brutal and harsh orphanage, they could have been torn apart as children when they underwent the mandatory testing for Grisha powers. Neither of them revealed any, and they grew up and began their service in Ravka’s First Army, only for Alina to display an ability to summon sunlight. Taken from the life she knows, Alina is brought to the capital and instructed with the other Grisha, but the Little Palace is full of secrets, and none is more enigmatic than the Darkling himself, leader of the Second Army.
If you’ve been considering reading the Grisha trilogy, now’s the time. With the recent release of Six of Crows, the first book in a companion series, the Grishaverse is on everyone’s radar, and we’ve got a discussion post on Six of Crows coming up here on Coven Book Club.
Ravka resembles pre-Revolution Russia, which I love because a lot of fantasy takes place in societies that resemble pre-Industrial Europe. Russian peasants at this time did have pre-Industrial lifestyles, so by basing Ravka on early 20th-century Russia Bardugo creates a world where the common folk have pre-Industrial, ‘standard’ fantasy lives, but the military has access to rifles and the king’s court is sumptuous. In comparison to Ketterdam and Fjerda, which we see in Six of Crows, it seems that Ravka is, in general, further behind in terms of technology, which again reflects Russia’s standing a century or so ago. The parallels with Russia make Ravka stand out amongst other fantasy cultures and provide much of the background for the conflict between Alina and the other Grisha.
The central conflict, however, centres on the Grisha as a whole, and the core of this is another reason I love this series so much. The Grisha are those with supernatural powers. You’d think this would mean they carry political and social power, are perhaps even revered, but in fact in Ravka they are effectively conscripts, while in other countries in their world they are hunted and murdered as ‘witches’. I loved reading about a world where characters with such supernatural power (and they are powerful; some Grisha, for instance, have the capacity to stop a person’s heart) are ultimately so powerless when it comes to their own fates.
It is this powerlessness, the way Grisha are abused and taken for granted, that serves as the reason behind many of the antagonist’s actions. His mother taught him to stand up for himself and that he deserves respect, but he takes her teachings too far. We learn all this from her, for she blames herself in part for the destruction he’s wrought; she strives to redeem him not only because of her own guilt, but because she loves him all the same. I really appreciated the nuance this added to his character, that we got to see him through the eyes of someone who loves him unconditionally, but is not blind to his faults.
If you’re looking for an epic fantasy set in a richly-developed world and featuring compelling characters, you’ll want to pick up the Grisha trilogy.
Nicola lives, reads and drinks copious quantities of tea in Edinburgh, Scotland. You can find her on Twitter.