Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, the one thing she could rely on was her best friend and fellow refugee, Mal. And lately not even that seems certain. Drafted into the army of their war-torn homeland, they’re sent on a dangerous mission into the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh.
When their convoy is attacked, all seems lost until Alina reveals a dormant power that not even she knew existed. Ripped from everything she knows, she is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. He believes she is the answer the people have been waiting for: the one person with the power to destroy the Fold.
Swept up in a world of luxury and illusion, envied as the Darkling’s favorite, Alina struggles to fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But as the threat to the kingdom mounts, Alina uncovers a secret that sets her on a collision course with the most powerful forces in the kingdom. Now only her past can save her . . . and only she can save the future.
Thoughts: I’d heard a seemingly never-ending stream of good reviews and excitement regarding this novel, so I was really happy to be able to give it a try for myself. It was better that I expected it to be in many ways, which was a pleasant surprise for YA fantasy. If it had a main flaw, I would have to say that was in its relative lack of creative foreshadowing. There was a bit of flip-flopping around as to whether the Darkling was good or bad, sympathetic or manipulative, but the ultimate revelation wasn’t exactly a big surprise.
Of course, the author did set up a rather interesting world in which to use that slight cliché. Heavily based in an area with Russian linguistics and folklore, it was interesting to have a mix of a rather traditional fantasy fare with a few new additions that don’t get quite as much play. The setting seemed to me like a less violent and YA version of what’s seen in Sarah Ash’s Tears of Artamon series.
As far as the plot goes, it wasn’t a bad story. There were definite elements of a classic “fish out of water” tale, with a young woman discovering that she has powers that are not only new and strange to her but also incredibly rare throughout the entire world. Magic, politics, and the old fight between good and evil (or more specifically, light and darkness) come to play as the story goes on, making an intricate and detailed world that you can understand and relate to at first glance but that has clear signs of being deeper than the author had time to demonstrate. The banter between characters was realistic, amusing and emotional, and very rarely did I find any of the dialogue stilted or overblown (with the exception of the Darkling, but then again, “overblown” is pretty much his style).
I hesitate to say too much without giving away many of the major plot points, but as far as YA fantasies go, this one is one of the better ones that I’ve read in recent years. It was worth the time I took to read it, and even if it was a bit lacking in originality sometimes, it drew me in enough that I’m interested in reading any sequels that are written. An interesting addition to my bookshelves.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)