The Lives of Saints

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Lives of Saints Book Poster Image
Brief, bloody, lushly illustrated tales of the Grishaverse.

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Educational Value

The author draws inspiration from stories about Christian saints who were often pious believers (but here not in a god, but in other saints) and also underwent trials and suffering. Readers can think about how these stories bring depth to the Grishaverse and the characters who inhabit it. They can also think about how fantasy writers engaged in world building shape their imagined worlds, starting with maps of the realms they invent and continuing on with exercises such as this one and the fairy tale book The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic.

Positive Messages

There are harsh lessons in these short tales that often end in martyrdom, but not necessarily ones the author is trying to convey to readers through them. This collection is more an exercise in how different realms in the Grishaverse would view their world through religion. Still, the lessons include choosing faith over fear, and that piety will be rewarded, as well as bravery, ingenuity, vigilance, charity, and seeking the truth (though often the reward comes in the form of sainthood after death).

Positive Role Models

Each brief tale is the story of how a saint achieved sainthood. They often suffered greatly or died because they were outcasts or those with special abilities that were exploited or misunderstood. They still spoke their truth and held onto their convictions and offered hope to those who prayed to them.  

Violence

There are lot of martyrs here, and a lot of people brutally punished for their treatment of the future saints. People are eaten by demons, poisoned, attacked by bees, drained of all blood, stoned to death, drowned, torn apart by wild animals, burned on pyres, killed in battle, and beaten. A woman is murdered by her scorned lover, a man is decapitated, and there's talk of mothers smothering their starving babies so they don't have to watch them suffer.

Sex

A quick mention of kissing.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A boy falls asleep drunk and wakes up possessed by a demon. A drunk man gets killed in battle.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Lives of Saints a beautifully illustrated keepsake for fans of Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy and Six of Crows duology who are mature teen readers. Those unfamiliar with the "Grishaverse," as it's often called, will be less interested. Bardugo also previously published a book on fairy tales from this realm called The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic. The Lives of Saints is along a similar vein, expanding on the Grishaverse, but this time through the origin stories of their saints. There are lot of martyrs here, and a lot of people brutally punished for their treatment of the future saints. People are eaten by demons, poisoned, attacked by bees, drained of all blood, stoned to death, drowned, torn apart by wild animals, burned on pyres, killed in battle, and beaten. A woman is murdered by her scorned lover, a man is decapitated, and there's talk of mothers smothering their starving babies so they don't have to watch them suffer. The rest of the content is really mild by comparison: some drinking (with major consequences, including demon possession) and a mention of kissing. Avid readers of fantasy have an opportunity here to think about how fantasy writers engaged in world building shape their imagined worlds, starting with maps of the realms they invent and continuing on with exercises such as this one.

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What's the story?

LIVES OF THE SAINTS starts with Sanka Margaretha from Ketterdam who distracted a child-eating demon every time children crossed over its bridge by throwing jewels at it. Eventually Margaretha made a jewel so big that the demon drowned pursuing it. She is known as the patron saint of thieves and lost children. Many lushly illustrated stories of saints and the pious worship of them follow, some include miracles, and often the saints are misunderstood and martyred. One story shows how a small group of faithful soldiers who pray to Sankt Juris, patron saint of the battle weary, are kept warm on a bitter cold night while the rest of their company freezes to death. Another shows an independent and skilled weaver woman outsmarting a cruel sorcerer to become the patron saint of unwed women. Through these many stories you also find out why the town of Girecht is cursed to produce horrible beer, how the Ice Palace and the sea wall at the port of Os Kervo were built, and how wolves were domesticated -- all through the help of saints.

Is it any good?

Fans of Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse will thoroughly enjoy these lushly illustrated, brief, and often bloody stories with a fantastical religious bent. If you're in the fantasy writing business of world building, drawing a map of your world will earn you at least a B+, a timeline of monarchs or a family tree is about an A-, while creating your made-up world's religion is definitely extra-credit territory. So here's an A+ for Bardugo for adding depth to her Grishaverse, much the same way her fairy tale book, The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic, did.

Many saints are martyred, as is common in Christian stories as well. Unlike the well-known Christian saints, some of these saints have more unexpected titles. There are the patron saints of unwed women, hospitality, and even archers. They add some whimsy to what could otherwise turn into a dour affair where lots of ignorant townspeople turn against one misunderstood pious recluse after another. Grishaverse fans will devour this quick read that will add to their knowledge and enjoyment of the series.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why The Lives of Saints was written. What does it add to your understand of the Grishaverse?

  • How does religious practice shape characters in the Grishverse series? How does it shape characters in other books you read? How often is religion a part of fantasy stories? What does it add to the reading experience?

  • Who is the right audience for this book? Would someone not familiar with the Grishaverse enjoy it?

Book details

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For kids who love fantasy

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