Awesome set up, immensely readable, and a book that left me begging for a sequel. I think this book just rocketed into my top five YA fantasy books, there was so much good in it. But oh that damn YA structure, this book could have been a whole lot more.
Young orphan Alina struggles through military life in faux-Russia. The country is cut in half by “the fold,” a magically made pitch black area full of nasties that not even the lands Grisha (mages) can contain. In order to bring supplies in from the coast stealth runs through the fold are mounted by the military. During one of these runs nasties attack convoy, and Alina passes out when attacked, only to wake up and learn she saved the day! Yeah, hidden powers and chosen one storyline to follow! She is a sun summoner and might be the answer to destroying the fold.
Oh don’t get me wrong I love the set up. For once a logical explanation is given to way the slightly awkward turns out to be powerful, why the main characters are all beautiful, and why the evil baddie is doing evil bad things. Several clichés are turned around throughout the book; always a plus. The magical system has some potential and is leaked to the reader gradually, avoiding boring info dumps.
The Darkling, a man who heads all the Grisha and holds power unique to him was easily the most compelling part of the book. Is he evil, misunderstood, or even a bit immature? He seems to be whatever he needs to be to get to his goals, his near immortality giving him insight into other people others only dream of. He actually feels like a real power, weaving people’s emotions and expectations as well as showing truly impressive feats of magic.
There is also a tender friendship between Alina and fellow orphan Mal. Once again the author makes it authentic; the heartache of a secret crush, the longing, the fights and the joy. Written well enough that I would believe it ending in either love or abandonment, without so much foreshadowing that one or the other seem like a foregone conclusion.
But oh that damn YA. Why are the Grisha, the most powerful humans in the land, playing dress up in court and acting like high school gossip queens? (And if the Grisha check every child in the country for talent why do they all acted like silver spoon aristocracy, with only Alina thinking to buck the system?) Every major male character save one is a love interest for someone (which to be fair is the reverse of a lot of fantasy out there). Is Alina going to be the most powerful Grisha around or will she moon over the men in her life the whole time? And my hopes of a more in depth look at so many of the interesting aspects of this new world just wouldn’t fit the YA structure.
Oh well, an entertaining read, decently tied up at the end but with obvious need for a sequel (that is already out). I can nitpick, but I really want to read the next book so that is what really matters.
3 ½ stars