- Page Count: 358
- Release Date: June 5, 2012
- My Rating: 5 stars
Goodreads book description:
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.
Ok, I’m going to finally try to explain my UNDYING LOVE FOR THIS AMAZING WORLD… calmly. Yes.
So basically, this is the book that got me into book blogging. This time last year I read a couple YA books each month, but didn’t really connect with anything. Then I picked this book up and… was done with the entire trilogy in 2 days. I went into it knowing absolutely nothing, so maybe just ignore the hype and have fun. (I’m not going to summarize the plot here, though, because that would take forever AND the book description above is accurate).
I really like light fantasy books with creative worlds, magic, fast-moving stories I can get invested in, characters I can connect with, and fun plot twists. This book has absolutely everything. And I know some people complain about the whole “chosen one” girl with super special powers narrative, BUT this series takes YA tropes and actually uses them well instead of throwing them in as some kind of checklist.
Mmmk there are very minor spoilers starting now…
I absolutely adore the characters in later books (NIKOLAI IS EVERYTHING) but the best parts of this first book are the worldbuilding and The Darkling. Somehow this series made me sympathize with a mass murderer and actually want him to succeed? I’m usually not someone who blindly supports the villain, either (and I am super reluctant to call him a villain). I was reading this at a time when I was getting pretty tired of overly simplified “dark” characters, so I really appreciated how complex and REAL he ended up being. And for everyone who says this romance happened quickly… pretty sure he’s meant to be a whole lot more than a love interest? And, no, it’s not a healthy relationship; it’s messy, manipulative, and brilliantly done. I will defend The Darkling any day.
I just love how complicated everything gets and how nobody is purely good or evil! No matter how creative fictional worlds get, I still want some basic realistic elements in the relationships. Even the most evil people truly believe they’re doing something positive/helpful, so it was great to see such vivid characters.
So anyways… there are also other characters besides The Darkling! I ended up really liking the main character of Alina. She doesn’t have the best attitude and makes some poor decisions, but her strong backstory & flaws are part of what made her so relatable. (And these characteristics had believable cause, rather than the her just being generally cranky like many other “tough” MCs in books I’ve read lately).
And yes, there is a love triangle… BUT IT WORKS. And I liked it. I feel kind of bad about how so many fans just shove Mal aside, though. He was actually a totally lovable character, too! He was just in the unfortunate position of being contrasted with two extremely charismatic characters, so I cared about him the least.
But can we just talk about what an amazing writer Leigh Bardugo is?! This whole world is so freaking authentic. I LOVE medieval fantasy worlds and will never tire of them, but they are all sort of the same. The Grishaverse is seriously unlike anything I’ve ever found and I just love it SO MUCH. It’s this fantasy Russia-type world that feels like it’s been there forever and will totally continue doing its thing long after the book ends. I don’t even know how she made it feel that real but it’s awesome and this better be a movie.
The story managed to establish a strong sense of history, a class system, and culture super quickly, but I think the way the magic works is what really made the world real for me. Like there are clearly defined rules so THANK YOU. I get really hesitant when a new magic system is introduced in most stories because it usually creates a ton of plot holes or else is just some vague concept that jumps in whenever the story needs a quick save. The magic in this series is really well done… like there are clearly defined limits to what magic can and cannot do. And all of this is established without an infodump as the story progresses. Hallelujah.
Basically, this whole world is amazing. The characters are all so wonderful. The story is an emotional adventure full of plot twists and drama. And the series got even better as it progressed, so if you weren’t completley into the first book maybe still check out the second one? And if you read Six of Crows first don’t look for an identical story here — they’re very different but both really fun!!
See my Q&A with author Leigh Bardugo!