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.
When I thought about reading this book, I was a little worried it would fall into the cookie-cutter mold we are starting to see in fantasy/sci fi for young adults (you know-strong but reluctant heroine, some romance, monsters, etc.). And it has those things, but it has much more.
Setting: Ravka is clearly based on Russia. Setting is becoming more important in YA novels, and Bardugo does a great job building a desolate and scary land. It is a land ruled by nobility that is selfish and childish.
Characters: Alina is believable as a heroine, mainly because she recognizes that she is not perfect. She knows that there is much she doesn't know about herself and that she has made-and will make-mistakes. She tries to do what is right for the masses, but knows it won't be worth it unless she takes care of herself, too. She reminds me of one of my favorite heroines, Katsa from Graceling.
The Darkling is a great character as well...but I'm not going to say much about him since a large part of the experience of this book, for me, was figuring out his story.