Published June 2012 by Henry Holt & Co. (Macmillan)
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.
I'm kind of conflicted about this one. I really enjoyed it, but it also had a lot of serious problems.
-As I said, this was a highly enjoyable book. I finished it quickly and it flowed very well. Pacing, writing, plot -- all good. And because I was so satisfied with the reading experience, I know I will read the next one, despite all of the following flaws.
-When I first started reading the book. I was excited. "Yay!" I thought. "A book about Russian mythology!" I took Russian for two years in college, but most of what I know of Russian myths I learned from the Kate Daniels series, so I was eager to learn more.
Not so fast. Ravka is basically nothing like Russia, except for some similarity of language sounds. It's disappointing how little research went into this book -- even I, with my two years of mostly-forgotten Russian, noticed several mistakes and no reference to actual Russian myths.
As a fantasy writer, you have two choices. You can either make up your world entirely, in which case you have to be sure to actually put enough effort into worldbuilding to keep your setting from looking like a crappy copy of some time in history, or, you can make your novel a reflection of a real historical period, like Guy Gavriel Kay, in which case you have to do a crap ton of research. Leigh Bardugo, unfortunately, opted for something in between these two paths, which basically means she was too lazy to do either the research or the imagining and ended up stumbling through the woods of directionlessness. If you want a recounting of the actual errors and failures of the book regarding Russian mythology and culture, take a look at Tatiana's review on The Readventurer -- she does a much better job discussing the issue than I could. But basically, let's just say that the setting was less than satisfactory.
-Oh, YA authors. Why is it that all of your characters are exactly the same? There is the shy but spunky outcast heroine narrator with latent powers that will make everyone suddenly respect her, the male friend without much of a personality who might be something more, and the hot, mysterious newcomer who teaches said heroine about her newfound abilities. Go through a list of YA paranormal or fantasy titles and you will find that nearly every one of them fits the bill. Why is this the formula that all YA authors have suddenly decided to follow? Is it too much to ask for something different here?
Fans of YA fantasy like Grave Mercy who aren't necessarily too concerned with setting quality or at least can overlook it.