Literature: The Grisha Trilogy

I've been waiting for you a long time, Alina. You and I are going to change the world

The Grisha Trilogy is a set of adventure-fantasy Young Adult novels written by American author Leigh Bardugo.

The three books are:

  • Shadow and Bone (2012)
  • Seige and Storm (2013)
  • Ruin and Rising (2014)

Set primarily in the fictional country of Ravka, there is a form of magic that exists known as "The Small Science." Those who can wield it are called Grisha, powerful practitioners considered to be a part of an exclusive class. Those who do not possess this power are called Otkazat'sya, and function normally as shopkeepers, laborers and soldiers.

In the first book, Alina Starkov is a young woman who lives the simple life of a mapmaker, traveling with the First Ravkan Army and charting The Shadow Fold, a mysterious dark region that splits Ravka in two and is considered to be uncrossable because of the monsterous Volcra that lurk within. Raised in an orphanage with no discernible magical abilities, Alina accepts this as her lot in life and the only way she can be useful to her country. Her only family is her best friend and fellow soldier Mal, with whom she has been secretly in love for years. Of course, Mal doesn't realize any of this, and treats her like a sister.

When their regiment is sent into the Shadow Fold, it is almost immediately met with disaster. The company is powerless to stop the slaughter as the Volcra attack and feed on the soldiers. Mal is nearly killed, and when Alina tries to help she suddenly unleashes a blinding light that destroys the Volcra. Alina is immediately brought before The Darkling, the enigmatic leader of the Grisha and second in power only to the King. It is discovered that not only is Alina a Grisha, but that she possesses the rarest and most powerful ability of them all: That of a Sun Summoner, and the only one who can destroy the Shadow Fold.

This trilogy provides examples of:

  • The Ace:
    • Mal is handsome, an unbelievably good tracker, and makes friends very easily. Alina muses that you could drop him anyway in the world and before long he'd fit in perfectly. But he becomes a Broken Ace later on.
    • Nikolai is brave, clever, charismatic, hard-working, and creative. As shown in the second book, he does a much better job running the kingdom than his father or older brother.
  • Achey Scars: In Siege and Storm, Alina gets one from the Darkling's shadow soldiers. It itches whenever the Darkling is near.
  • Action Girl: Part of Alina's character arc has her becoming this.
    • Tamar is definitely one of the biggest Badasses in books.
  • The Ageless: The Darkling states that he is 120-years old, but it's implied that he's much older.
    • All other Grisha are this to a lesser degree (see: Long Lived).
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: The Darkling has this appeal for Alina, encouraged by her belief that Mal has forgotten about her. She comes to despise him after the events of the first book, but a very strong attraction is still clearly there.
  • Alpha Bitch: Zoya at the school.
  • Ambition Is Evil: The second book plays with this trope and the Darkling defines it.
  • Animalistic Abomination: The Volcra are hideous winged-creatures that devour any living thing that enters The Fold.
  • Animal Motifs: Nikolai and dogs. Also applies in-universe.
  • Artistic License Linguistics: Bardugo admitted in an interview that she used various Russian words and names in not-quite-right contexts for the Rule of Cool.
  • Beauty to Beast: Poor Genya at the end of the second book.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Though the author takes some artistic license and most words are Russian-like, there are a few actual words, including "Tsar."
  • Bittersweet Ending: In Shadow and Bone Alina breaks free from her enslavement to The Darkling and saves Mal's life, but in the process she is forced to leave everyone on the sand skiff to their (more than likely) deaths.
  • Book Ends: Each book begins and ends with a chapter told in third-person, whereas the rest of the book is told from Alina's first-person perspective.
  • The Chosen One: Alina is the world's only Sun Summoner and the only Grisha with the power to destroy The Shadow Fold.
  • Consummate Liar: The Darkling. He tells Alina that he will use her power to destroy the Fold, when in actuality he means to expand it as a weapon.
    • Also, his age and his promise to Alina that he won't kill Mal. That last one is only true by technicality.
  • Color-Coded Wizardry: Grisha wear robes called kefta, which are color-coded depending on which class they belong to: Etherealki (blue), Corporalki (red), and Materialki (purple). Servants wear white and grey. The Darkling is technically an Etherealki, but only he can wear the color black.
  • Costume Porn: The above-mentioned kefta.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Magic - not what the grisha do, real magic - is considered an abomination and is really rarely talked about. It's also Power at a Price.
  • Deadpan Snarker: One of Alina's most defining traits, but Mal and The Darkling have their moments as well.
    The Darkling: What are you smiling at?
    Alina: Myself.
    The Darkling: Are you that funny?
    Alina: I'm hilarious.
  • Diagonal Cut: The Darkling possesses a rare magical ability called "The Cut" which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. He first demonstrates this power to save Alina's life just as an assailant is about to stab her through the heart. She is understandably horrified when the man splits in half before her.
  • Dirty Old Man: The king.
  • Drunk with Power: This happens to Alina when she combines two amplifiers early in the second book.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: The Darkling.
  • Elemental Powers: The etherealki.
  • Fairest of Them All: Genya is so goddamn beautiful it's ridiculous.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: For Tsarist Russia.
  • Food Porn: Subverted at first. The Darkling insists that his Grisha eat simply as the common people do, though they still get to have real sugar. Played straight when Alina goes to the palace and describes the delicacies served there.
  • Freudian Excuse: Ivan follows the Darkling because he believes that the Darkling can end the centuries-long wars that his brothers, uncle and father died fighting in.
  • Gratuitous Russian: Oh, so gratuitous. Many Ravkan words are actually Russian words in so totally wrong context, form and declension that it will make a Russophone cringe.
  • Healing Hands: Healers, obviously. Heartrenders invert this, despite also being corporalki.
  • Heroic Bastard: According to rumour, Nikolai might be this.
    • As of Ruin and Rising, It turns out it's true. Doesn't stop him from becoming the king though.
  • Hot Guys Are Bastards: Ivan (described as a "handsome bully" and generally acts pretty rude) and The Darkling.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: At the climactic confrontation of Ruin and Rising, Mal, having realised that he's the third amplifier, guides a badly-wounded and utterly broken Alina into driving a knife to his chest, taking her power to its logical conclusion.
  • I'm Standing Right Here: Alina chews out both Mal and Nikolai when they butt heads in the second book.
  • Insistent Terminology: Strumhond isn't a pirate, he's a privateer.
  • It Gets Easier: Alina is told this several times during her Grisha training, but she refuses to believe it as she barely improves. It is only when she psychologically releases herself from Mal that she finally realizes her full power, and it certainly gets easier from there.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Alina sees some of this in the ancient Baghra.
  • Like Brother and Sister: How Mal sees Alina, much to her silent torment. He comes around.
  • Long Lived: Using their power feeds the Grishas' lifeblood, giving them very long lives.
  • Love Epiphany: Mal comes to realize just how much he loves Alina back while they are in hiding from The Darkling.
  • Love Triangle: Between Mal, Alina, and The Darkling.
    • In The second book, another triangle forms between Mal, Alina, and Nikolai.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Nikolai, but he appears like more of a Guile Hero as the book goes on.
  • The Marvelous Deer: Amplifiers come from magical animals and can enhance a Grisha's power, and the antlers of the Stag would be one of the strongest possible. The catch: only the one who kills the animal can control it.
  • Meaningful Name: Otkazat'sya literally means "the abandoned."
    • Ahem... In real-world Russian, this is an infinitive verb "to abandon".
  • Mr. Fanservice: Both Mal and The Darkling are described as very handsome men. Mal in particular turns heads wherever he goes, much to Alina's annoyance.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The Darkling forces Alina to withdraw the light from the Fold with Mal inside it so that the Volcra will kill him. Hearing his screams sends Alina into Heroic Safe Mode and she reclaims the amplifier as her own, unleashing an even more powerful light and giving her the power of "The Cut," which she uses to help Mal and her escape.
  • Oh, Crap: Nikolai gets a huge one during Vasily's speech at his birthday ball. See Spanner in the Works below.
  • Please, I Will Do Anything!: Alina threatens to fight against The Darkling for the rest of her life if he harms Mal. But if he spares him, she promises to spend it "proving my gratitude." Make of that what you will.
  • Power Is Sexy: In addition to his looks, many women in the palace are attracted to The Darkling because of this. The Darkling himself has this for Alina to the point of obsession.
  • Prince Incognito: Prince Nikolai, aka Sturmhond the Privateer.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Prince Nikolai, the younger of king's two sons. And he appears to be the only one.
  • Ruritania: Bardugo modeled the country of Ravka on Tsarist Russia, incorporating Russian names and terms into the story. The buildings described even have onion domes.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: The Darkling and Zoya.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: It's said of Mal that he can "turn rocks into rabbits." He's so good he can even track a sea-serpent on the open ocean.
  • Sibling Rivalry/Sibling Yin-Yang: The two princes Vasily and Nikolai.
  • Skewed Priorities: Lampshaded by Baghra and by Alina during her Eureka Moment. When Baghra calls Alina out on being miserable even when she's living better than any peasant in Ravka, Alina realizes that the reason she's so unhappy, and the reason she's had such a hard time using her own power, is because she's been subconsciously repressing it so as not to be separated from her childhood friend and crush Mal. After that, Alina swiftly gets her priorities in order for the most part.
  • Slave Collar: The Darkling has the stag's antlers made into one for Alina.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Genya is a really sad example. Her beauty and status as a servant causes the other Grisha to shun her...and the King to take full advantage of her.
  • Spanner in the Works: Prince Vasily is normally just useless, but then he announces that he arranged a treaty with Fjerda by allowing them free assess to the roads in Ravka without interference from the First Army. While the Darkling and his army are looking for a way to invade Os Alta. On the night the most important people in Ravka would all be in one place celebrating Nikolai's birthday.
  • Wham Line: Baghra to Alina about The Darkling
    Baghra: He never intended to destroy it. The Fold is his creation.
    Alina: The Fold was created hundreds of years ago by The Black Heretic. The Darkling—
    Baghra: He is the Black Heretic!