Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Square Fish / Henry Holt & Company
Publishing Date: June 5, 2012
Ravka is a nation torn by a veil of darkness, the Shadow Fold, teeming with monstrous creatures who feast on humans. We meet Alina Starkov, initially someone who seems to be good for nothing. Alina serves in the First Army as a less-than-talented Mapmaker, where she feels overshadowed by her best friend, Mal, who grew up with her in the orphanage Keramzin. When she and her regiment are under attack while crossing through the Fold, a power she did not know existed is awakened within her. Before Alina has a chance to even realize what has happened she was whisked away to the Little Palace to be trained as a Grisha. The Grisha are a group of magically elite people, who use science, and small amounts of magic to shift the way the world works. Lead by The Darkling, the Grisha are used to serve the King and the country with their unique powers. With this newly found power, Alina has to face the facts of everything she has ever known, and everything she is coming to know. Secrets exist within both the new and old, and a decision is to be made that will forever alter the nation.
The cover is beautiful, and it definitely drew me into the novel more. The first I’d ever heard of this novel was through Bookstagram, which is ultimately how it ended up on my TBR. The things I had read and heard from other readers really enticed me into this series, though I would have ended up picking it up eventually considering how stunning the cover artwork is.
I definitely felt like this novel was well written. It is a Russian Folklore with a touch of a Dystopian feel. It was paced so well that I found myself turning the pages without even bothering to check page count. I read this novel in a single day, and I very rarely do that. The novel keeps your attention all the way through. Bardugo did a great job with her use of Russian words to keep the cultural part accurate, and I loved that, as well. Her use of color-coding the Keftas was extremely helpful and creative in the novel. I really tried to narrow in and focus on what each color represented early on, and ultimately I was glad that I did.
I don’t really feel like there were any cons to this novel. I will say, however, that I wished the “Before” chapter had been a little longer and had more detail as it was the intro to the book and left me initially confused. Also, though this novel is “dark” and definitely has a clear representation of good vs. evil, it did have a stereotypical “YA romance” feel throughout. It was portrayed well and kept my attention, but for those who are looking for high fantasy with little to no romance, this would not be the book for you. Romance definitely isn’t the focus of the plot, but it is used heavily throughout, so just bear that in mind.
The characters in this novel were so well-written. They developed with their own personalities, thoughts, and emotions, and that’s really what made the plot twist in this book work so well! I think my favorite development to watch was the protagonist, as she starts off weak, feeble, and insecure. I also thoroughly enjoyed the development of The Darkling. I can’t go into too much detail about either of these characters without spoiling the fun of the novel, so I’ll just leave it vague. Alina reminded me of a bird with a broken wing, she just needed time to heal before she could fly. The Darkling is mysterious and sexy, though I remember specifically thinking during reading “for someone his age, his emotions sure are very raw and easily touched.”
We also have Mal, Alina’s best friend from the orphanage. Mal irritated me for most of the book seeing as he was the greatest tracker in all of Ravka, yet he was completely oblivious to what was right in front of him. He could track an animal or person for hundreds of miles from a snapped twig, or a footprint, but with his nose so close to the ground he forgot to look at eye level.
During Alina’s time at the Little Palace, we meet other characters, Grisha characters, and here’s where I got to have some fun! Genya was a favorite of mine as she is the kind of person I could get lost in conversation with for hours. I’d envy her beauty eternally, but her personality really resonated with me, I WANTED to be Genya’s friend. We also met Nadia and Marie, who were probably the most annoying characters to me. I honestly have no idea how Alina put up with them, ever, considering how two-faced they were. The Little Palace reminded me of high school, to be honest.
If it’s like high school, where’s the popular “mean girl,” you ask? Meet Zoya, the bitch I couldn’t wait to see get taken down. Honestly, if it were up to me I would have killed her off quickly. She is every freshman girl’s nightmare, and that’s portrayed really well within the book. Within high school we also have teachers, so where would we be without Baghra? She was that teacher who made you feel stupid every single time you failed, she stripped you of your confidence, and of everything you had and left you feeling completely naked no matter how many layers of clothes you had on. Following Baghra, we also had her martial arts teacher, he was one of my favorites, Botkin. Botkin was similar to Baghra in that he relentlessly tore Alina down, but when she did succeed he would give her small bits of praise to bring forth hope in her heart. He also happened to defend Alina from another student later on, and this is how he warranted my favoritism!
Theme & Conclusion:
A Russian Folklore Dystopian of good vs. evil, with a heavy focus on the battle of being ones own enemy, this novel touches on so many different themes. A taste of coming-of-age, a dash of self-discovery, and a hint of war, Bardugo really includes so many elements into her novel that you can’t fathom putting it down. I rated this novel a PG-15 for the, at times, graphic violence and deaths, along with the sexual suspense, and so on. Call me old school, but I wouldn’t want my 13 year old reading about make out sessions and things indicative of sex taking place later on. I rated this book 5 stars because it kept me going for hours on end with no ability to put the book down longer than a quick potty break. I would definitely recommend this novel to MANY people.
“The problem with wanting,” he whispered, his mouth trailing along my jaw until it hovered over my lips, “is that it makes us weak.” – The Darkling
“The moment our lips met, I knew with pure and piercing certainty that I would have waited for him forever.” – Alina
“Why can a Grisha possess but one amplifier? I will answer this question instead: What is infinite? The universe and the greed of men.” – The Darkling
“People, particularly big men carrying big rifles, don’t expect lip from a scrawny thing like me. They always look a bit dazed when they get it.” – Alina
“There’s nothing wrong with being a lizard either, unless you were born to be a Hawk.”