Small disclaimer that this review isn’t spoiler free.
The Pain Of Reading A Really Good Bad Book
I have finished the Grisha Trilogy. Yes. My journey has come to an end. If you have followed me a little on various social media platforms or if you’ve read my reviews of the first two books, you know how frustrated I have been with this book series. My secret hope was that the final chapter of the story would redeem the whole thing and turn me into an avid fan. Instead I’m sitting here struggling to sort out my own thoughts and feelings because the truth is that the Grisha Trilogy is too good to give it a bad review and too bad to give it a good one.
The universe of the books is amazing. I had my problems at first, but I love the orders, I love the different armies, the scientific approach of magic. I simply adored it. I love how frosty the books felt at time. When it comes to world building, it’s an astounding piece.
It’s similar with the language, the poetry behind it. I have marked several parts of the books instead of just single lines. That’s rare for me. But it happened more than once that I was blown away by an entire scene. The metaphors that are used are magnificent, the dialogues witty. I love repetition as a stylistic device and Leigh Bardugo is generous with it. I think there’s something special about it when the significance of certain things get hammered into the story, carving it out and leading the reader into a specific mindset.
Personally, I think the pace was off at times. I had the feeling that there were scenes that would have worked splendidly in movies. The sneak attack of the Darkling for example. In the middle of the dialogue all hell just breaks loose. It feels very Hollywood like. I can almost see the scene before my eyes. The problem is that to me it ripped me out of the rhythm of the story. I found the need to track back a few lines, asking ‘Wait, what?’ while I was wondering if maybe this was just one of Alina’s visions that I didn’t take seriously until someone was killed. That being said, I think it’s a very personal experience. I can see that other people might love this kind of exploding narrative and I won’t hold it against the books even though I found it unnerving.
So all in all I wouldn’t have anything to really justify my problems with the Grisha Trilogy. It’s an amazing world, it’s well written, that the pace was off to me at times can be excused by simple stylistic preference by the author. Five star series, right?
No. Sadly not. Because there is Alina and a love story that I just can’t buy.
The Love Story Of The Century. Or Something Like That.
I’m pretty sure that I would have given this series a solid 10 out of 10 if I had loved Mal the way I was probably supposed to and had connected to Alina in his love for her Tracker. I just couldn’t.
From the very beginning, I tried to love Alina and to a certain degree, I really did. I think she might be one of my favorite female characters, at least in this genre. I get her fear, her frustration, her hopes. I love all of her friendships. The twins, Genya, Zoya. More than anything probably her relationship with Nikolai. But except for a very few moments, I just couldn’t get her love to Mal. When they bicker or joke around, that’s when I started to see it, but those moments are way too rare. For the most part, the hero of Alina’s story is the pouty child in the background. There was too much manpain involved, too much hurt pride. I couldn’t take Mal seriously at all.
And since I couldn’t take him seriously, I also couldn’t get her conflict. Her flirty friendship with Nikolai was way more tempting and even the stalkerish passion of the Darkling had a stronger pull than the love of her life. That frustrates me to no end. Because I’m not the kind of person who is annoyed with love stories. I’m not the kind of person who roots for the villain. I’m the kind of person who cries like a baby when it feels like the good guy is going to sacrifice himself for the greater cause.
Instead I was almost disappointed about the happy end. That says a lot. The book would have saved some credibility if Mal had stayed dead and Aline would have died as well or just never recovered from her loss. Instead they get together and it leaves a bitter taste on my tongue that he only really allows her to love him again once she’s nothing special anymore. Throughout the whole book it doesn’t feel like Mal is really the noble soldier who tries to protect Alina at all cost. He feels like the sulking boyfriend who can’t handle that she’s the one who matters in the world instead of him.
I have such a huge problem with Mal and I don’t really want to. What I want is to be happy for them that they both made it out of it alive. I did love the last chapter. I loved that they got the orphanage and that they still keep their friends in their lives but I just can’t help that I feel meh about the whole thing.
Saving The Good Things For Last
So. I will give this book a 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads and a 7 out of 10 on my own scale despite the fact that I simply can’t stand Mal and therefore the whole motivation of the trilogy falls flat. The reason why I don’t want to tear it all down is because despite the fact that I couldn’t quite connect with the two real protagonists of the story, I could connect to almost every side character and I fell in love with them a little.
More than that though, I fell in love with both the Darkling as the villain and Nikolai as what I see as the true hero of the story. The Darkling has touched me in ways I wish he hadn’t because one should never feel pity for a cruel mass murderer. It’s as simple as that. But either Alina’s mercy or the depth of his actions and what we know about his story is to blame for the fact that he felt more real and more human than the actual love interest.
Where the Darkling is the most interesting character of the series, Nikolai is the most complex. I think I still don’t see through him a hundred percent and his motivation for a few things will forever remain in the shadows for me. But he’s probably the one I loved the most and when he was changed, it was the first time I hated the Darkling enough to hope he’ll lose and the scenes with him were the only time in this book, I really felt my heart beat faster. To me, whether or not Nikolai would be saved was somehow more important than all the amplifiers and the Fold and the fall of the Darkling combined. His scenes in general tended to give me chills from how amazing they were, whether it was the revelation of his heritage, exiling his father or his desperate attempt to become human again.
And as weird as that might sound, a book that can make me feel this strongly about any character remains a good book. I still think that my problem with Mal is justified but I also think it might be personal.
Despite all the flaws and despite all my personal problems with the Grisha Trilogy, I still know a good book when I see one. Leigh Bardugo did a great job building this world and its rules. It’s the main reason I’m excited about reading Six of Crows and it’s also the reason my review sounds quite harsh but has to be put in relation with the skill behind the writing and the mass of books out there who do a way worse job at character building and telling a unique and well-crafted story.