Shadow and Bone (and subsequent books)
by Leigh Bardugo
This trilogy (including second book Siege and Storm and third book Ruins and Rising) traces the life and actions of Alina Starkov, who discovers an amazing innate power to summon light as a teenager. She enters a world of privilege and intrigue, a pawn of others, and must learn not only to manipulate her powers but to navigate confusing and frightening events, searching for a way to serve her country, stay alive, and still be herself (as she figures out who she is).
The abilities of the Grisha are not magic, but manipulation of the natural world, and called the Small Science. In the course of the novels, though, Alina encounters and participates in the world of black magic.
This was not the Small Science. This was magic, something ancient, the making at the heart of the world. It was terrifying, limitless. No wonder the Darkling hungered for more.The books are written for teenagers, which means that while they contain some mature content, the language is fast-paced and not challenging. I read the first book at the end of a long day at airports and on airplanes. I was tired and anxious to be home and it was perfect; it kept my mind occupied and entertained but didn't require very much serious thought.
One of the main characters is a Rasputin-like advisor who tries to force Alina to do his bidding while presenting her to the peasants as a living saint. In the course of the book, she's seeking out black-magic-formed amplifiers created by one of the "saints," through stories passed down through the centuries. There's a lot of ambiguity, not so much in the plot line as in the background and environment, about religion and faith. Alina isn't particularly faith-filled at the beginning of the books and doesn't question her belief in the religion (which is ill-defined), but the events would seem to have given her great reasons to do so. The blending of religion and faith and the Small Science and magic may be disturbing for some parents.
I have grave concerns about the final events of the third novel. It's difficult to express myself fully without spoiling it entirely, but Alina takes an action I believe is immoral and only necessary because the author wanted it that way (not because the trilogy could not be resolved another way). Fighting a war as they do in a book like this often requires physical sacrifice, but the way it's portrayed in this particular book is troublesome. It's similar to the problem I had with the end of the Divergent series; I'd like books to give our teenagers examples of the kind of daily sacrifice that develops in a relationship not heedless sacrifice for the sake of some grand gesture.
For those who are concerned about such things, there is also a same-sex couple in the third book. It's not presented as a major plot point; they are just two of the main characters who are in a relationship which of course means it's a significant statement.
Seeing the books, First Son (who is 14) asked if he could read them. If he asks again before I return the second and third to the library, I'll let him, but I don't think I would seek them out. There are a few other books set in the "GrishaVerse" but I don't feel much desire to read them myself.
Kansas Dad received the first book of the trilogy as a gift. I checked the second and third out from the library. The links to Amazon are affiliate links. The opinions in the post are my own.