Image and synopsis from Amazon:
“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.”
This book was better than I expected! I heard mixed reviews, but after finishing I can say that this is undoubtedly a fun read. The story opens with Alina and Mal, both growing up together in an orphanage. They are tested for Grisha abilities, but are deemed normal and join the army. The Grisha are basically magic wielders, although they explain it more like manipulating elements rather than creating magic. I personally love reading anything to do with magic and abilities, so I enjoyed learning about the different types of Grisha. Some summon elements, some manipulate matter and some can even change their appearance.
Alina lives in a world where the Shadow Fold has split Ravka in two. The Shadow Fold is basically this huge area of complete darkness that breeds some pretty evil creatures. When Alina is in the Fold she finally discovers a dormant Grisha power. Alina, unfortunately, bothered me at first. She was so insistent on denying her Grisha abilities that it became annoying. She constantly reminds us how unattractive and unremarkable she is. As the story progressed I did like her more, but never felt a strong connection to her as a character.
I do wish the world-building was more developed. We did not get to see much of Alina’s world other than the fold and Os Alta until the last 20% of the book. Although I did enjoy the scenes after Alina left Os Alta and we got to see more through her travels. I don’t know much about Russian history and culture, but I didn’t feel the Russian influence in the book other than the fact that everyone had a Russian name and they drank a lot of kvas. That is just my opinion! From my perspective, it didn’t feel different than any other YA novel. I keep thinking of another favorite series- The Girl of Fire and Thorns. In this series, the Spanish influence in the language and culture was obvious to me and gave the book a different feel.
I really enjoyed some aspects of the book. Alina has some great sarcastic and witty dialogue. I also love the scene when Alina finally recalls the memory of her being tested for a Grisha ability as a child. This is a great scene and helped me better understand her character. There are also some exciting fight scenes- I loved seeing Alina utilize her training. I also loved watching Mal’s character progression. I hope to see more of him in the series.
The ending was honestly very abrupt for me. I was starting to think, “Wow this is getting good!” Then it ended. I will read the next book eventually, but for now I will move on to other books. A fun read, but I didn’t love it.