I got this one on Net Galley, courtesy of Macmillan. It doesn’t come out till June, but I’m so glad I read it now because it was so good! Really, if you need some epic fantasy to jump start your summer, pick this one up! Bardugo’s style reminded me a bit of Kristin Cashore’s and Maria V. Snyder’s. It was dark, magical, romantic, action-packed, and just plain awesome!
It’s about Alina. She grows up as an orphan, alongside her best friend, Mal. They get placed into the home of a wealthy Duke, and along with other orphans are given a home and taught to read and write. And in Alina’s world, there are a lot of orphans. They live in Ravka, a country torn in half by a thing called the Fold. The Fold didn’t always exist, but once it did, it brought darkness, death, and man-eating monsters. And, to cross from part of Ravka and go to the other, people have to risk the darkness.
The book begins with Alina and Mal preparing to cross the Fold for the first time on a military mission. It’s clear from the start that Alina is in love with Mal, but Mal is too busy hooking up with other girls to realize he has the only girl for him right in front of his nose. Any way, the friends get themselves into some serious monster attacking trouble on their voyage through the Fold, and if it weren’t for Alina suddenly releasing an insane amount of power, she and Mal would both be dead.
In Ravka, children are tested for magic early on. But, Alina’s magic was never detected and when she, along with the few other survivors from her excursion on the Fold are brought to the attention of the Darkling (second in command of Ravka), Alina’s life changes drastically. It’s decided that Alina’s magic is about bringing forth the sun or light, exactly what’s needed to battle the darkness of the Fold.
With no Goodbyes allowed, Alina is hastily taken from the life she knows and forced into a carriage that will take her to a life of magic and privilege. Because as soon as people know she exists, she’s in danger. She’s taken to the palace of the King and the Darkling, where she learns all about magic and status, light and dark, and good and evil. And it soon becomes clear that not is all is at it seems, that everyone wants something from her, and that she needs to rush to hastily learn what others have had their whole lives to study. The fate of all of Ravka gets placed on her shoulders.
There’s a love triangle! There’s magic! There’s a lot of deciding what’s best for yourself versus what’s best for the greater good. The politics, the double-crossing, the court intrigue, and the various twists and turns of this story really kept me from being able to ever put it down. I loved watching Alina learn to harness her powers. I loved watching her go from a weak, clumsy girl, to a powerful, trained, heroine. There’s fancy parties, monsters, men being sliced in half, fight scenes, prison cells, adventure, escape, and so many wonderful things here!
Alina was so loyal and brave and willing to die to save the entire kingdom. And even though Mal was such a lady’s man, I loved him too. His flaws only made him more believable to me. And I feel like the whole “falling in love with your best friend” thing turned this dark fantasy into such a unique believable story. I loved the villain! And I loved all the power plays happening amongst the court. This was a long book, but I easily could have kept reading!
Nothing was dumbed down or explained too early. I like that Bardugo made it so you had to keep reading to know what she was talking about. I really was confused about how to picture the Fold because I had no context as to what it was about, except that everyone seemed overtly afraid of it. I kind of liked imagining my own Fold and putting the pieces together later. I loved the ending and all the decisions Alina had to make. I can’t wait to read more and see where this story goes in book 2. I know it’s the first part of a trilogy, but I don’t know how I will able to wait for the next two parts. I give it a 10/10.