The One YA Love Triangle I Actually Liked

Ever since Twilight and The Hunger Games, it seems YA has been inundated with love triangles.  Generally, I have found these boring and poorly written.  After all, I have never read a YA love triangle and predicted the wrong outcome.  Our female protagonist typically has two choices: the kind and honest boy (often her childhood friend) and the dark, brooding, mysterious evil villain.  Or, if he is not a villain, he is generally at least troubled, violent, angry, or otherwise obviously the unhealthiest partner the protagonist could ever hope to find and be in a relationship with.  I can never fathom why authors would pretend that the second boy is even an option for our protagonist.  Anyone with sense can look at him and want to scream, “Run, dear protagonist!  It’s not your job to save him!”

Spoilers for Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse trilogy ahead!

Leigh Bardugo, however, takes the YA love triangle and does something new with it.  In her Grishaverse trilogy, Alina has two options: her steady childhood friend Mal and the mysterious, powerful Darkling.  Alina has been in love with Mal a long time.  He, however, seems oblivious to her existence and is sleeping around with other girls.  So it’s not particularly surprising that Alina, when separated from him, would move on.  Or that Alina, feeling lonely, overlooked, and rejected, would fall in love with the Darkling.  He actually pays attention to her.  He listens to her, supports her, and encourages her.  He finds her beautiful.  Meanwhile, her letters to Mal remain unanswered.  Alina recognizes that it is time to stop pining over a lost cause.

From the start, the love triangle is already refreshing.  Alina is not stringing two different boys along, kissing one on Monday and one on Tuesday, wondering which one she truly loves, and making them wait while she tries to figure it out.  Instead, Alina realizes that her first crush is not going to work out and then she simply begins to look elsewhere. This is not being fickle–Mal has indicated to her for years that he has no interest in her.  Alina has no reason to wait around even longer, hoping that one day he’ll stop sleeping with prettier girls and realize she’s really the one for him.  She’s being realistic when she decides to pursue someone else.

However, the real beauty of Bardugo’s love triangle occurs when Alina discovers the Darkling’s true character.  He presented himself to her as noble, caring, and attentive.  Then she learns that he was seducing her so he could control her, so he can use her power to rule over the world.  Alina immediately stops pursuing a relationship with the Darkling.  That’s it.  She does not continue to moon over him, to wonder if she should leave Mal to him, to plan how she can save him because she is the only one who truly understands him.  She burns those bridges, rebuilds her relationship with Mal, and sets about trying to find a way to stop the Darkling.

At this point in the story, Mal does finally realize that Alina is the girl for him and Alina chooses him right back.  The Darkling is still pursuing her, and Alina does feel some attraction to him, but she never allows herself to indulge in those feelings.  And this is where the love triangle becomes really original and–dare I suggest–really realistic.  Alina is attracted to the Darkling not simply because he is handsome, but also because she did have some tender moments with him, and she must be wondering how much of those moments were true, and what would have happened if they could bloom.  But she recognizes these feelings as daydreams–she does not use them as an excuse to go back to the villain.

Alina also recognizes that the Darkling has power, status, and talents that match hers, whereas Mal does not.  That is, she recognizes that, quite simply, that relationships where partners are unevenly matched often present obstacles.  If she were with the Darkling, she would not worry that her partner feels out of place in her higher social sphere.  She would  not start to worry that he does not understand her power or to feel that she should hide her talents to make him feel more comfortable.  She does worry about these things with Mal.  Again, her attraction to the Darkling is realistic here because he represents a sense of security that Alina does yet feel with Mal.  But again, Alina does not allow her feels of attraction to  lead her into an ill-advised relationship.

I really like Bardugo’s love triangle because it never presents the villain as a viable option for Alina.  Alina may be experiencing some lust in regards to the Darkling.  She may harbor some feelings of tenderness for him and some hope that he will turn from his crimes.  She may even long for the type of relationship he could give her: one with two partners of equal social status and power.  However, Alina never uses any of these feelings as an excuse to date a man she knows is morally corrupt.  She never dates him believing that her love can save him.  Rather, Alina chooses a man of integrity to give her heart to.  And that’s a relationship I can get behind.

26 thoughts on “The One YA Love Triangle I Actually Liked

  1. Tamika @paperback & flick chick says:

    I totally agree with you that this is a really fresh take on love triangles. And I also agree that The Darkling and Alina would not have been a healthy relationship. However I absolutely love the character that is the Darkling. I found him so interesting, intriguing and multifaceted. Where as I am not going to lie and possibly unpopular opinion but Mals a bit of a wet blanket/ boring and there were very few moments that I enjoyed his character.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. dawnabron says:

    Yeah, I agree with all of that BUT the Darkling was far more interesting than Mal and I will never get over it. 🙂

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Mal was kind of annoying. 😅 I don’t know why he couldn’t believe Alina wanted to be with him. It is not his job to tell her who she “really” ought to marry.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. starburntreads says:

    I really agree! This is one love triangle that really had me hooked, instead of rolling my eyes and banging my head against the wall. (Not literally. That just sounds like I’m being posessed.) Great post!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Haha, yes! Normally love triangles are so predictable and we’d all be rolling our eyes waiting for Alina to just choose Mal instead of the tyrannical villain. And then she surprises us by sensibly just choosing Mal. What a brilliant twist!

      Like

  4. Daniela Ark says:

    It think it is interesting how sometimes our bookish taste change individually as a community. I remember loving Twilight and it’s love triangle but then not so much!
    because, yes they tend to be so predictable 🙂 It is always the broody one who wins 🙂
    Glad to hear Alina’s love triangle is refreshing and realistic. Great post!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      In Twilight’s defense, it felt kind of new back then. But it was too successful for our own good, I guess, because then EVERYONE had to go and write love triangles!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      The Six of Crows duology was absolutely phenomenal so I expected this to be the same. It is good, but I was expecting a little bit more since I read Six of Crows first!

      Like

  5. saraletourneau says:

    Wow. I loved the Grisha Trilogy, too. And even though I was glad that Alina chose Mal over the Darkling in the end, I don’t think I ever thought about that “love triangle” to the degree you did here. It’s incredibly on-point, especially with how Alina realizes that no matter what the Darkling may have to offer her, his lack of morality and compassion overshadows all of that – and she knows she deserves better, and thus walks (or, rather, runs) away. That’s my kind of YA heroine. 🙂

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I’ve seen many reviewers criticize Alina for being weak, but, while she does doubt herself a fair amount, I really see her as a strong character since she tends to commit to what she believes in/what she has to do. The fact that she feels uncertain about her actions only makes her stronger in some respects since she has to work past her own feelings of inadequacy to accomplish what she does. How lovely to see a heroine NOT try to pursue a romantic relationship with a villain and hope love can change him! And she doesn’t ever waver in this commitment!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. DoingDewey says:

    This sounds like a love triangle I could live with too. The main character stringing two people along because of their own indecision is the thing that makes me hate them.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, and I can’t stand how the books want me to feel so sorry for the protagonist because they just CAN’T CHOOSE. It’s just too hard! Meanwhile, the guys being strung along get no sympathy. I know people have feelings and that those feelings are real and can seem very serious, especially to teens. However, I can’t buy into the idea that people with the responsibility to make a choice that will end the emotional pain of others can’t be expected to do so because it would be upsetting to them. :/

      Like

  7. mphtheatregirl says:

    Love triangles- never heard of this love triangle. It is really difficult for me to even find a love triangle in a book. I first discovered “love triangle” in the musical theatre world, not the bookish world.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha books are pretty popular! Netflix bought the rights to five of the books, I believe. So one day there might be a film version!

      Like

      • mphtheatregirl says:

        If I am to choose my favorite book love triangle, that would be difficult- those can easily be overlooked or not noticed. I don’t think I read many books with a love triangle in it- but defiantly read books with a romantic subplot in it

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply! We'd love to read your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.