Format: Audio (CDs)
Narrated By: Lauren Fortgang
Original Publication Year: 2012
Genre(s): YA, Fantasy
Series: Grisha (#1)
Awards: Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee
The setting is Ravka, a country reminiscent of Eastern Europe which has been engaged in war for 100 long years. Ruling the country is an ineffectual king and a mysterious and feared figure known as the Darkling, leader of the magical Grisha. Alina Starkov is an orphan who has grown up feeling sub-par in just about everything. The only bright spot in her life is her best friend and fellow orphan Mal who is as talented and handsome as Alina is plain and dull. Their lives are turned upside down when Alina comes to the special notice of the Darkling.
The lovely thing about this book is that it’s a tale you’ve read many times before but it feels fresh. It’s exciting to read something original, but there is also something immensely satisfying about reading an old-fashioned story told well. After all there is a reason tropes exist – they have proven across time to touch something in most people. However, they can feel tired and unoriginal if not done well. This book takes the average-boy/girl-with-an-important-destiny story and dresses it up with a number of mysteries. What is The Fold and how did it come into being? Who exactly is the Darkling? Most people’s magic if they have any reveals itself when they are a child – why does Alina’s manifest so late?
Alina is a great perspective character and I found it easy to slip into her skin. She has a wisecracking sense of humor and has spent much of her life feeling inadequate compared to others that she is not easily seduced by the power thrust upon her (though I suspect this will become an issue in future books in the series). The reader sees only what she does and as such I was seduced by the Darkling along with Alina and was just as taken aback when the story takes a darker turn.
And the story does take a darker turn. It is a book that is split tonally. The first half takes place in a boarding school for kids who can do magic (the Grisha) and has an almost Harry Potter-esque feel with Alina (the formerly powerless orphan) slowly finding her way and developing some unexpected friendships. Everything crashes down about midway through as truths are revealed and Alina must flee and undertake a quest. Both halves were equally enjoyable and it was nice to have some variety.
Overall impression of the book was a good one. This particular trope is a favorite of mine but it can so easily go wrong and I think Bardugo admirably avoided all the pitfalls and created a fresh and engaging story.