Step into the Fold - a journey through the Grishaverse

Fantasy has become one of the most prominent genres in modern literature, and it isn’t hard to see why. C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia), J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter), Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials), Brandon Sanderson, George R.R. Martin (A Game of Thrones), they all helped establish the fantasy genre as one of the most creative, most effective at separating the reader from reality and offering them legendary experiences, neatly packed into books of oftentimes particularly masterful prose.

Teens’ inclination towards fantasy as their go-to genre these days has prompted the appearance of more fantasy book series than you can count, but the higher expectation of popularity and success has also diminished their quality: the same few prompts and cliches, similar worldbuilding and plot points, unidimensional characters… So years after the appearance of series that obsessed us and so many generations before us, there’s a sad deficit of good, strong fantasy worlds and series to follow.

Thankfully, though, Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse isn’t the case, and we’re here to tell you why it’s one of the best worlds in today’s fantasy landscape.

The Grishaverse is not to be taken lightly. After reading only one of its books, you will find yourself unable to form coherent sentences about what you have just read: you will enjoy it, you will love it, it will break you, it will ruin you and leave you equally whole and empty at the same time. Practically, you will experience all the affiliate feelings a reader might recognize after knowing the wrath a book you so thoroughly devoured leaves behind. The best advice one could probably give you before you start reading the series is “Proceed with caution”.

As a little introduction, you should know the Grishaverse is made out of three series, in chronological order: the Shadow and Bone trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising), the Six of Crows duology (Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom) and the King of Scars duology (King of Scars, Rule of Wolves). Leigh Bardugo started her career as a writer in 2012 when she released Shadow and Bone, an absolutely outstanding debut novel, especially for that period of time, when the Young Adult genre was escalating like never before. From then on, Bardugo’s work started getting better and better – and keep in mind, when she started out, she was already on a whole new level.

Starting off from real-life aspects such as the military, Bardugo adds the prospect of magic in the equation and because both are backed up by science, this battle between them creates an unforgettable story, told throughout several books. Powerful forces fighting for dominance over the most dangerous place in the land, a seemingly impossible to pull off heist conducted by six teenagers and a young king’s struggle to rule a country while keeping a dark secret - tangled up together, meaning to exceed all expectations. Sounds promising, right?

What makes the Grishaverse so special is its ability to satisfy any kind of reader, as it features all the indisputable “good traits” of a good story. The first of the many things this universe does incredibly well is its representation. Though it’s become a stereotypical conservative talking point, representation in literature can sometimes feel forced, whether it’s because the prose just isn’t good enough or because the author doesn’t know how to include diverse identities without reducing their characters or oversimplifying their plot to only address the characters’ differences. In the Grishaverse, characters of all races, sexual orientations, religions, and body types come together organically, and nothing ever seems added in just to fill a diversity quota. Not only that, but every single character is three-dimensional - what makes them special isn’t the only component of their personality we, the reader, get to see and be the judge of. Bardugo doesn’t shy away in the least from highlighting the implications of these differences, but they never become definitory. Saints, morally gray teenagers, and villains will most likely take your heart and rip it to shreds with their diversity and in-depth explorations of motives based on premises ranging from loyalty, love, and integrity, to greed, fear, and loss. The author goes even further, she refuses to let her characters be defined by one word at all, which ultimately helps build one of the most realistic worlds in fantasy. In the Six of Crows duology, for example, a band of six is formed to pull off a heist, but everyone is helpful in more than one way, and though they all have more prominent attributes - some are the brain, some the muscle, the eyes, the heart - they’re all their own complex people, and the split responsibility cliche is completely avoided.

And on top of that, Leigh Bardugo excels in her complex, yet easy to read writing style, providing intriguing and well-structured plots, wildly beautiful descriptions, and intense, action-packed scenes combined with wholesome moments that will take you on a journey through all possible emotions and through a land with numerous regions inspired by places we all know - such as Russia and Amsterdam - with strong foundations of different races, traditions, beliefs and occupations that represent worldbuilding at its finest and will definitely absorb you into its world. But a fan-favorite part of the Grishaverse is Bardugo’s portrayal of trauma. Most of the characters we follow throughout the three series have had their fair share of dangerous experiences, and that, something dissatisfyingly rare in fantasy, shows in all the right ways. Their spot-on, realistic trauma is something they take with them everywhere, not conveniently leave out of battle, or grow out of at the end of the book. Fantasy, a genre in which the plot tends to take a humongous emotional and physical toll on the characters (looking at you, George R.R. Martin) is the perfect means to educate teens on the scope of trauma and what an authentic recovery journey really looks like, and the Grishaverse does just that. The beauty of fantasy is perhaps rooted in the sharpness of its realism, and the Grishaverse is nothing if not real, honest, and raw.

articol scris de Ana Nițu și Ilinca Sotirescu