Alina and Mal are orphans who grew up together in a fantasy version of Russia. This culture and setting are an interesting starting point for a dark story where the people are ruled by aristocracy, and live in fear of the Grisha. We have a Cinderella girl who goes from rags to riches, but instead of a smitten prince taking her to the palace, it is her power. Alina and Mal are both tested for Grisha powers as children but Alina manages to hide her power so deeply that she is even herself unaware of it. As a character she’s frustrating and annoying but she does improve as she grows into her powers more and more. You can see her potential as a force to be reckoned with.
As per usual in YA novels with YA protagonists, we have something of a love triangle. On the one hand Alina has always loved Mal, and on the other she is mesmerised by the attentions of the Darkling – the most powerful of all the Grisha. Mal is an inconstant lover – I just can’t like him because he pays Alina no attention when she is ordinary and moons over the Grisha girls, and when she is revealed as Grisha he is all over her. I didn’t like how quickly that change took place and it disposed me against him basically for the whole series. The Darkling is your typical bad guy who might be a tortured soul or might just be plain pure evil. He’s a fun character and I think he’s largely responsible for making the book worth reading.
The writing is pretty good and as a book it’s well executed. I enjoy the motifs ‘like calls to like’ and other phrases which resound through the novel. I still sometimes find pieces of it echoing in my head – such is the power of repetition! Unfortunately there is some other less enjoyable repetition, like serious overuse of the word ‘wending’ – how can you manage to use that more than once in a novel?
So if you like YA fantasy and don’t mind there being as much relationship drama as there is interesting action then you’ll love this book. But if you’re more into action than introspection then read something else! I’d be happy to give recommendations.
My rating: 3/5