by Leigh Bardugo
Plot Summary: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.
Review:Why did it take me so long to read this book?!! It's one of those fab unputdownable stories, that immediately grab you and force you to keep reading late into the night, even when you are longingly looking forward to sleep. But needing to know what happens next is more important! I found Leigh Bardugo's writing so crisp and concise and wonderful, and the main character, Alina, was such an engaging narrator. Alina's journey in this story was very exciting and full of interesting character self-discoveries. And the cast of characters were all equally engaging, from her fellow Grisha who were jealous and awed by Alina's power, to Alina's main teachers who were colorful and eccentric. And then there was the Darkling who was surprising in his own way, and such an intriguing character! I was very surprised by the role he played in this story, and by what I feel are unexplored depths to his character that will be great fun to discover in the next book. The romance is very sweet, and surprising as well - not quite as conventional as romances in YA fantasies tend to go, and I appreciated the depth to it.
The world-building was very unique - there were complex elements, that the author was able to convey without slowing down the pace, and indeed I felt like the backstories of characters and the history of the Ravka were given in a way that kept the plot going while meaning behind the characters actions were crystal clear. Although with so much richness to the worldbuilding I felt like this book was toned down a little to fit YA when it could have easily become more high fantasy - focus was deliberately pulled back to the characters when more could have been given about the country. This is not a criticism though, I mean it more as a compliment to the richness of the storytelling. There are hints of this story becoming much more epic, and I really look forward to seeing how it all develops.
I only had a tiny problem with one part of the resolution which I don't want to spoil for anyone, but I felt like the solution to Alina's problem was a little too easy, but then the predicament she was in was pretty dire so it would have been difficult to get out of it. But it's not too big a deal because there were parts of the ending that I absolutely adored and thought it felt so right for the story. Because of the down-to-earth, compassionate Alina, the enigmatic Darkling, and the fast-paced narrative that combines so many aspects of stories that I like (new-found powers, special school, forbidden romance, quest and magical battles) I highly recommend this book and I can't wait to get my hands on the next one!
And unrelated to the review, I just found out that voting ends for the first round of the Book Blogger Twitter Con Awards on March 8th, so I just wanted to say that I would so appreciate a vote for Bookish Whimsy (Bookish Whymsy as it is mispelled on the site) for best new blog! Thank you so much! (/end self-promotion :D) Link to the voting form