This set of mini-reviews is a little different that others — I’m going to talk about two recently-completed trilogies that I’ve enjoyed since the first books came out. The first is a YA fantasy series where the magical elite, the Grisha, manipulate matter down to the very atom to summon and mold the basic elements in the world. The second is a genre mish-mash that combines a dystopia with a crime procedural to explore big questions about what it means to be human.
I’ve tried to avoid spoilers as best I can, but there may be some hints of developments in the first and second books of each series that I needed to include in order to talk about what I love in each of these trilogies.
The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising
At the beginning of Shadow and Bone, Alina Starkov is a cartographer in the First Army of Ravka, a fictional, Imperial Russian-esque country where magic is possible. Ravka is split down the middle by The Fold, a place of magical darkness that few can safely cross. It soon becomes clear that Alina is more than a cartographer — she is one of the magical Grisha and her power is to summon the sun. As a sun summoner, Alina may have the power to destroy The Fold forever — if she can master her powers with the help of The Darkling, the most powerful Grisha in the world.
There are so many things I love about this series, but the center is always with Alina. She’s a wonderful heroine for this book — snarky, smart and brave but also insecure, impetuous and real. I also love the setting and the world building that author Leigh Bardugo managed throughout the series. The mythology is clean, the rules of the world are set, and the major questions raised in one book are answered in another. I listened to all three on audio book, narrated by Lauren Fortgang, and thought they were stupendous.
One other thing I want to mention is that this book actually has a bit of a love rhombus (square? quadrangle?) between Alina and three other men: her childhood friend Mal, The Darkling, and a Ravkan prince, Nikolai. Normally I’d hate this, but it works well in this series because there are credible reasons that Alina would chose or reject each of these men that are more serious than just their inability to be honest with each other (as seems to be the case in many YA love triangles). Alina and Mal, for example, have learn how their relationship changes when Alina is no longer dependent on Mal and when she has to make choices about the responsibilities of her power. I love the way it shows that teenage relationships can have real conflict.
If you enjoy fantasy novels, this is a series I highly recommend.
The Last Policeman Trilogy by Ben H. Winters
The Last Policeman, Countdown City, and World of Trouble
As I was trying to figure out what to say about this series, I realized by original review of The Last Policeman pretty much sums it up: “The Last Policeman has a lot of the character-driven, introspective sorts of features that you get in literary fiction because of the overarching problem of a world-ending catastrophe, but adds a whodunit murder mystery on top that keeps our main character and the story from bogging down too much in those philosophical questions. Ben H. Winter’s writing is quite lovely — very noir, without being over-the-top — and Peter Berkrot’s narration captures the gritty idealism that drives Hank Palace to keep on keeping on in the midst of the end of the world.”
But that’s not to say that the books are static in any way. One of the things I loved about this series is the way the major questions change in each book as the end of the world approaches. What is the point of solving murders when we’re all doomed? What is the point of being civilized when civilization is crumbling? What do we owe the people we love, and how would we spend our last days on earth? Hank stays remarkably, wonderfully consistent, but the demons he battles with change in each story.
Having just finished World of Trouble a few days ago, I can confidently that Winters absolutely sticks the landing of this trilogy. This is another highly recommended series.
Disclosure: I purchased all three books in The Grisha Trilogy and the first two books in The Last Policeman Trilogy. I received a copy of World of Trouble from the publisher for review consideration.