Back in December 2011, I decided I would read nothing but YA all month, and damn, did that ever work out well. Book after book that was easy to read, yet intellectually stimulating, and full of lush, juicy plot. And it really cleared the hemming and hawing over what to read next each time I finished a book: I only had to look for the next YA book on my to-read list.
And so, by quite a happy accident, I realized that the first three books I read this year were all either sci-fi or fantasy, and I’ve decided to just tear through a crapload of books in these two genres for the rest of the month. IT HAS BEEN DELIGHTFUL SO FAR.
Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy had been loitering on my to-read list for some time, and I’ve finally gotten around to the first two books in the series this past week. The books, Shadow and Bone, followed by Siege and Storm, draw heavily on Russian folk culture, and though I profess to no expertise in this area, the real-world influence on the fictional land of Ravka gives Bardugo’s system of Grisha magic a realistic cohesiveness. Our main character, Alina, was passed over for Grisha training as a child, but as a teen, her powers are discovered by the Darkling, the very powerful, very feared leader of Ravka’s magical Grisha. The Darkling hopes that Alina’s power to summon sunlight will help him defeat the monsters in the Shadow Fold, a deep scar in the earth made long ago by an evil Grisha.
In the first book, Alina is hindered by her past as an orphan, which has created in her a powerful desire to belong and to trust. She is unable to indulge either of these needs in the political world of the Grisha palace, where she is looked down upon by the other Grisha, who have been training since childhood. She must also manage her feelings for her best friend, Mal, whom she has always loved, but had to leave behind to become a Grisha. Meanwhile, she develops an increasing fascination for the enigmatic Darkling, and finds that it is mutual.
Bardugo does a good job of dressing up the ol’ “Chosen One” plot in Russian trimming, and I can see these books drawing in many teen readers who don’t ordinarily dabble in fantasy. As someone who frequently enjoys darker, weightier fare, I was well-entertained, if not over-awed by the books’ lack of novelty and minimal emotional pull. I did find myself sincerely rooting for Alina to discover her full powers and to come into her own as an adult.
A brief, spoiler-free comment on the second book, Siege and Storm: it moves the plot forward by getting Alina out of wizard school (whoops, I mean Grisha Training) and putting her on the road, so to speak. She is increasingly forced to rely on her own skills, intelligence, and intuitions, which is a satisfying progression to behold. The plot itself, as is true of many sequels, indulges in some revisiting of plot points and conflicts that are already well-tread. And I should add that the book never transcends its YA categorization. It’s not merely about young people; it feels “young” in its lack of complexity, layers, and true innovation. But that didn’t stop me from finishing it and its predecessor in just a couple of days. And it won’t stop me from eagerly snapping up the third book, Ruin and Rising, come June.
I’ve also read Richard Matheson’s Hell House (a re-read for me, and technically horror, but so what?). On my goodreads account, I noted: “If you’ve heard of Matheson, you know he’s one of the masters of this genre, so material that in anyone else’s hands would come off tired– haunted houses, possession, “deviant” sexual practices– instead just reminds you why everyone tries to use this stuff in the first place. It’s so over the top it borders on campy, but he makes it work. Fun as hell, and just as scary.”
Other books read so far that I may or may not review: Tom McNeal’s Far, Far Away (surprising and excellent), Joelle Charbonneau’s Independent Study (meh, but a fun meh), and Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni (amazing and unputdownable*).
*I hate this word, but it is the truth.