Rating: 3 Stars ★★★☆☆
The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and the youngest, and because they haunted the Duke’s house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavesdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches.
Orphaned and expendable, Alina Starkov is a soldier who knows she may not survive her first trek across the Shadow Fold—a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. But when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed.
Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country’s magical military elite—and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift.
As the threat to the kingdom mounts and Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation.
I really liked the Russian-inspired setting in this one. The rest of it also works well. The kingdom is split by a strange darkness, in which terrible creatures loom. This darkness separates it from its ports, making trade incredibly difficult. What’s more, the country is at war with two of its neighbours, a war that has lasted for years.
“The Darkling is very keen on the idea we all eat hearty peasant fare. Saints forbid we forget we’re real Ravkans.”
I restrained a snort. The Little Palace was a storybook version of serf life, no more like the real Ravka than the glitter and gilt of the royal court. The Grisha seemed obsessed with emulating serf ways, right down to the clothes we wore beneath our kefta. But there was something a little silly about eating “hearty peasant fare” off porcelain plates, beneath a dome inlaid with real gold. And what peasant wouldn’t pick pastry over pickled fish?
Alina thinks she is just an ordinary girl. She lives in the shadow of her best friend since childhood, Mal, who is strong and charismatic. She’s not. But when they have to cross the darkness and the creatures threaten Mal’s life, she unleashes her power: light. Which makes her very interesting for the most powerful magician of all: the Darkling.
I both liked and disliked the relationship between Alina and Mal. On the one hand, their friendship is really sweet. On the other, those fits of jealousy from both of them were utterly annoying. Just get over it and kiss already.
I also found the Darkling an interesting and charismatic character and liked the way he developed in the story as well as his relationship with Alina.
“He has served countless kings, faked countless deaths, bided his time, waiting for you.”
What I really didn’t like was the portrayal of most other women besides Alina. They’re either comic-book evil for no particular reason or they’re superficial and selfish empty-headed girls. Genya is a bit of an exception but her magic is beauty for gods sake.
I stood up awkwardly.
Zoya swept me into an embrace. “It’s such an honour to finally meet the Sun Sommoner,” she said loudly. But as she hugged me she whispered, “You stink of Keramzin.”
I stiffened. She released me, a smile playing on her perfect lips.
Interesting setting and magic system. I look forward to the other books in the series.