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.
WHAT I KNEW GOING IN
This is a series I have been eyeing for a while now. It first caught my attention when I was working my way through the Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard. Part of this was its proximity on the shelf and the other part was hearing my coworkers say good things about it. I had a great amount of curiosity when it came to the series. I also had 50 other books on my to-read list. So I put it on the list of books that I will buy and read eventually.
Fun fact about that list: it’s not as much a list as it is an amorphous entity containing countless titles that will eventually be a part of an actual list. There is no rhyme or reason to where books fall on this ‘list’ because I am very much an impulse shopper when it comes to books.
It got moved up on the list when I learned there was going to be a Netflix show based on it. Then one day I finally gave in and bought it because I knew the show would be out soon. I have a thing with TV shows based on book series where I have to read the book before I watch it. So I did, not knowing much about the book beyond the description on the back and the fact there is a duet somehow connected to it.
There is a bit of a time jump between the first two main scenes that threw me for a bit, but the story quickly reeled me back in. I always have a soft spot for found families, even if it’s just a single person. So the dynamic between Alina and her best friend, the boy she grew up with, was something I latched onto pretty quickly. I also enjoyed how she went about introducing the world state leading up to the reveal of Alina’s unique abilities. It paints a clear picture without feeling like she is holding your hand or doing an exposition dump. This story hooked me pretty quickly.
WHAT I LOVED
The world-building was very well done. You can tell that Ravka is based on Russia (I mean, look at the character names), but it’s not a carbon copy. The world is rich and varied and seeing the difference through the eyes of someone who went from having nothing to being viewed as a future savior and the favored one of the most powerful men in the kingdom.
The Darkling is an interesting character. He is both enigmatic and charming, but he also has an undeniable connection to the Fold, a strip of darkness and death that is slowly crippling this kingdom. A previous Darkling created it and now people are looking to him to find a way to end it. And that way could very well be Alina.
I know this sounds like the oh-so-common YA fantasy trope of the teenage girl who discovers her power and becomes extra special because she is the only one who can save the world. And yes, she is special and yes, she could very well save her country. But trust me when I say this story does not indulge in tropes. It may play around with some of them, but Leigh Bardugo has a different story to tell. And Alina Starkov’s story is one you don’t want to miss.
WHO I RECOMMEND IT TO
If you are looking for:
- A coming of age story featuring someone who has had to fight for everything
- Well developed characters and realistic dynamics between those characters
- The juxtaposition between those with political power, magical power, and those who have neither
- The impossible choices that come with being the person who is supposed to save everyone
You should read this book. It is a fascinating tale that I devoured in 3 days (only reading at night before bed because my life is chaos and that’s my only reading time). I went from there to Six of Crows, book one of the accompanying duet. I am still waiting to grab a copy of Siege and Storm so I can finish out that story. I am probably going to get the final duet as well, so I can have it.
I started reading because I was interested in the show. It quickly added a new name to my list of favorite authors.