Apologies everyone for not blogging as much as I should be at the moment, with the release of a book comes all sorts of interesting delays…but that doesn’t matter because today boys and girls we are going to talk about the gorgeous Leigh Bardugo.
I really struggled with this blog because these are meant to be broad recommendations and not reviews and I want nothing more than to disseminate these amazing stories, write essays and find all the tricks used. It’s the writer in me to want to pull a book apart that I love and see how it all works underneath.
For those who’ve read my Firebird Fairytales (hi guys!) it’s pretty obvious how I feel about Russian fairytales so you can imagine my reaction when I stumbled on Leigh Bardugo, someone who feels as intensely about them as I do.
I have a really incredible partner who understands my interesting ways (crazy) so when I read my first Bardugo story The Witch of Duva, he was very understanding when I freaked the fuck out with excitement. I know I went a bit backwards with my first reading choice but I was a hardcore fan from that moment. Not only was it different enough to be a new fairytale but it’s structure was familiar enough that it feels like it could slot into a canon of the original. It’s ending was horrific and haunting in a way that only a good Russian fairytale can achieve.
The next day I went to Dymocks and cleared out their entire stock of Leigh books with enough enthusiasm and gesticulation that it was almost interpretive dance, much to the amusement of the sales staff.
Look at those covers…damn, I had no chance to resist them.
Okay so the first series I annihilated was the Grisha Trilogy. It draws you into the fascinating world of Ravka that Bardugo has created. There is a stark difference between the war ravaged lands and the lush Little Palace but the world building in this series is intense and in equal parts Russian derivative and original creation. The structure of the magic wielding Grisha is fascinating and I could’ve happily read a whole book all about magic lessons.
Our story begins with Alina, orphan and apprentice cartographer in the Ravkan Army. She saves her childhood friend Mal (more on him later) when a dormant magic deep inside of her flares to life in his defence. This rare gift is instantly scrutinised by the Leader of the Grisha, The Darkling. Here is, in my opinion, one of the greatest characters I’ve seen in a long time. The Darkling is magic incarnate with the ability to summon darkness as Alina’s rare gift is to summon light, earning her the title of The Sun Summoner. Alina is taken back to the Little Palace in order to learn about her gift and the pale orphan that’s always been overlooked is suddenly seen as the Saviour of Ravka.
The books move through a series of betrayals, love’s and losses as Alina struggles with her power, her heart and her duty to bring peace to Ravka. It’s really difficult for me to keep my mouth closed and not spoil the whole series for you but if you love fairytales I can’t recommend it enough. Bardugo has created a world so rich that it almost outshines her protagonist. The stories are laced with symbology and theres iconic elements that give it its fairytale quality. What it also does really well is question the concept of power and magic and what it costs to claim both. Alina herself is not your typical likeable character either; I could’ve punched her in the face on more than one occasion. She can be a real whinger but rallies when she needs to, like a lot of people. She’s not perfect, she has shit self esteem right to the end despite the things she achieves. There are a few things I really took issue with in the series so I’ve added a spoiler section at the bottom of this blog for those who’ve read the series and want to hear my rant.
This brings me to Bardugo’s newest (and my favourite) Six Of Crows.
The story starts with criminal protege, Kaz (I’m so in love with this guy) putting together a team to break into the Ice Court and retrieve a hostage, the creator of a drug that can enhance a Grisha’s power but also ends with their death as the magic and addiction eats away at them.
The characters in Kaz’s crew are all vivid and individual. They have a incredible chemistry in their interactions and the scenes between Nina and Matthias had me laughing uncontrollable.
As a writer Bardugo levelled up in this series. It seems easier, like she’s more confident in her own magical ability of story telling. It carries less of the epic fairytale and more of the fantasy. It’s written so visually that you could see it transposing easily into a tv series (a movie would not do it justice- seriously get onto it Netflix).
Honestly, I think Leigh Bardugo is just getting going and if she ever decided to write for adults she would redefine whatever genre she decided to choose.
Also, I’m about 98% sure she washes her hair in virgin tears because it’s kind of magical. Yeah, I got hair envy AND writer envy. In the best possible way. She seems like a really kick ass, scarily clever person and if she ever comes to Melbourne I’ll be first in line with an offering of cake and cocktails. Read her. Buy her books here.
Keep reading ONLY if you have read the Grisha series…here there be spoilers:
Oh hi there, so glad you’re still with me to read about the major issue I had with the Grisha trilogy. I’ve talked about this with a few people (my understanding partner had to pull me up because I was in full blown rant mode after book 3 was done) and before I begin I want to make something really clear….writing books is fucking hard. It’s a long and involved process for a writer and decisions made in books, even if YOU, the reader, think they are wrong, have still been considered long and hard by the author. It’s their story and ultimately your opinion doesn’t really matter.
The following is purely my opinion as a reader. As you can tell I’m a huge fan of Leigh Bardugo and I respect her immensely so this one thing I take issue with doesn’t diminish my over all love of the series.
As stated above I’m really blown away by the character of the Darkling. He’s the rare type on antagonist that I could fear, love and respect. He is someone that has lived for hundreds of years, the only one of his kind, awaiting his opposite that can summon light to balance to his darkness.
Alina is that person, that balance and when she appears there is a relief in the Darkling that he doesn’t have to be alone anymore. Alina is very young, immature and still holds a flame for her childhood friend and crush Mal.
I take MASSIVE issue with Mal as a character. I know this is the unpopular opinion and many ship him and Alina from the start but he made me grind my teeth in fury. Mal is that guy that you are mates with as kids who you have always been there for and then becomes the popular boy in high school that all the girls throw themselves at. As the best friend you have to put up with his womanising crap and be the mate and shoulder to cry on when it doesn’t work out. You are the only girl that stands by him and he doesn’t know you exist UNTIL suddenly someone else (in this case the Darkling) starts to treat you like you are special and important and then for the first time, the boy you have been waiting on, realises that you’re desirable and only then decides you’re worth his time. This is Mal in a nutshell. Until he goes to the Little Palace during a celebration and see’s Alina, blossoming with power and beauty from her months away, standing with the Darkling, her equal in power, that he realises his epic mistake of not giving her the time of day. It was only when Alina is cut off from the sun that is Mal that she learns of her own value and starts to shine. I know, I know..they grew up together, Alina’s always loved him, he’s a good guy in many ways…all true but I don’t think he’s good for HER. She’s been not worth his time until she’s suddenly worth someone elses.
This is not to say that the Darkling doesnt treat her badly, he does but they are the only ones of their kind, they actually do belong together and its obvious (especially in the later books) that Alina has considerable influence over him. She’s meant to be the light to his darkness, the only person that could (if she’d wanted to) sway him because they are equals, that could teach him another path. He actually says this in his comments about her being the one that could make him into a better man. But she chooses NOT to.
(Image courtesy of artist warika on Pinterest)
From a writing perspective the scenes between the Darkling and Alina are so charged that it hurts. They have a chemistry together that goes beyond physicality and beyond magic. Scenes between Alina and Mal are not like this. They are filled with guilt and regrets and hurt. Mal doesnt, will not, ever understand Alina the way the Darkling will- that’s actually explained in the books.
Mal treats Alina like shit, especially in the second book. She reaches out to the Darkling because Mal being a selfish, self absorbed git, isolates her when she needs him the most. His actions are not the ones of a conflicted man in love. They are the actions of a man who is jealous that he’s no longer the sole focus of Alina’s world.
The Darkling, for all of his faults, is only really acting the way I imagine a hundreds year old person would act. There is a coldness, a focus on his goals and the lives he takes don’t matter to him because a human life is a flickering candle flame to him because he’s been so isolated and disconnected. He acts in many ways they way I imagine a vampire would act after hundreds of years (yeah a teenage girl wouldn’t hold their attention, sorry but no). He’s waited for Alina to appear and he needs her on a fundamental level. They are the only ones of their kind and he finally has a chance to alleviate his loneliness. The way Alina responds to him is intense as you imagine it would be. She tries to deny it for the rest of the series but he is the only one that doesn’t make her feel alone. He even chooses to become her villain (‘Fine, make me your villain’) because he would be anything she needed him to be. He never wants her to hide her power, who she really is, unlike Mal who just wants her to ‘normal’ so he can be the special one again.
I would’ve been happy if Alina and the Darkling killed each other in their final battle. I half expected it to happen. But she ends up with Mal, running the orphanage, normal with her power gone. It was an ending that I could understand but really cut me sideways. Bardugo does comment about Alina missing her power though which is something, there is a part of Alina that will never filled, satisfied or happy. Maybe, like me, she wonders if she could’ve changed the Darling’s mind and had an immortal love that shook the heavens.
I know, this is a rather intense opinion and it’s a credit to Bardugo that I had such a strong reaction to it. I don’t like it when women end up with men who make them feel less than what they are to make themselves feel better…I’ve been in that kind of relationship and so I fucking balk at it in a book.
I will read the series again, probably many times, and perhaps I will feel differently about Mal because I’m not so drawn to the Darkling. Maybe I will read the scenes between him and Alina differently, maybe I will stop feeling like she ended up with the shitty consolation prize.
Yeah, I know, I love the Darkling WAY too much. Which probably says a lot about me. It says even more about the prodigious talent of Leigh Bardugo. I wait to see what she does next with high anticipation. I hope its a book of fairytales. I know it will be stellar regardless.