Weekly Reads: Roundup #2 (The Grisha trilogy, The Impossible Knife of Memory)

Welcome back to Weekly Reads!

Remember how I said I wanted to keep up a human pace of reading a book a week? So that went out the window immediately. I’m honestly surprised because I’ve started playing Pokémon Go on my commute and that eats up a lot of the time I used to spend on reading. Maybe that’s why this is a roundup of four books instead of six? Anyway, here goes.

The Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising) by Leigh Bardugo

The Good: The setting/premise is pretty awesome. It’s a sort of vaguely pre-industrial alternate Russia at constant war, with a mandatory army service for citizens and Grisha (magic folks). The Grisha can either summon an element of some kind, alter the human body in some way, or enchant materials and objects. Years in the past, a shadow summoner created a sea of shadow (the Unsea) full of monsters that cuts off parts of the country. This situation is full of promise.

The Bad: Yeah, so this is one of those times where everything else falls short of the potential of the world and situation the author created. The plot is okay, trope-y and not very surprising but it doesn’t drag. The characters aren’t totally typical, but other than the protagonist, most simply aren’t in focus long enough to reveal much, since the protagonist/narrator Alina spends plenty of time not with them. (It takes a certain finesse to keep characters feeling vital and interesting when they’re not present and I wasn’t getting that here.) And the protagonist just…feels pretty flat, honestly. It also felt as if some of the characters’ actions/feelings/etc. were retconned in later books in small ways, so the arcs didn’t have a strong sense of continuity (“I didn’t notice I wanted you until you were gone/I knew I loved you all along!” etc.), and sometimes it felt like characters were paired off for the sake of pairing them off without any real meaning. Occasionally, there’s a neat line and/or some stylistic flair, but more or less I slogged through this because of the setting to see if it held any pleasant surprises. It mostly didn’t. I did tend to like the before/after passages where she describes Alina and her bff, Mal; their childhood feels more interesting than a lot of the events in the books. …so it’s also another one of those books where all the character backstories seem more interesting than the main narrative.

Overall: This is probably a five. It has some moments and is inoffensive on the whole, but the meh or predictable or even “who actually cares about this character?” moments outweigh the cool idea. (And that’s not a slam on predictability: I don’t mind being able to predict stuff, I just mind when the book pretends it might go left when we all know it’ll go right. Or when the book pretends it might go left when we don’t really care which way it goes because we’re not emotionally invested in the character’s decision. Eye-roll predictability. That’s the problem.)

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Good: This book has a few main relationships, all between the protagonist, Hayley, and important people in her life. The relationship between her and her father (a soldier with severe PTSD), the way he’s impacted her psyche, resonates even in its avoidances and absences. Maybe a little too much, if you’ve had any life experiences having/being close to someone with a mental illness or an addiction.

The Bad: That relationship does feel in some ways dramatically overwrought (certainly less subtle than in her other books I’ve read, Speak and Wintergirls), especially as the book slips into the father’s memories (or maybe Hayley’s memories of his memories?) and near the end. (I’m not sure if it overdoes it exactly—I have a biased perspective from a sometimes dramatically overwrought real life.) The other main relationships—between Hayley and her love interest Finn, her best friend Gracie, and maybe her former stepmom Trish—were less developed and felt more sketched in rather than in full colour, often told in instances they should’ve been shown. The dialogue was good at pencilling this in, and I almost came to like Finn, but there just wasn’t enough there.

Overall: This could be a difficult and trigger-y book if you’ve had certain experiences. I don’t really know how to rate it or to recommend it or not as a read—I don’t think it’s as well-written as other books I’ve read by the same author, but it deals with a different form of trauma and that might resonate with some people (probably the same people it might be a hard read for). Teenage me probably would’ve related to this book, but then it might have also been misleading in other ways (because in books, dramatic gestures can fix things in ways real life doesn’t allow). That misleading aspect makes me extra hesitant about this. I’m unsure if I’ll keep it.

Thanks for joining me for another edition of Weekly Reads—by next week, maybe I’ll have read something I am sure I like! I will certainly try. (And I’ll probably read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, so there’s that.) See you next time!

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