I looooved this novel!! I really loved the setting, with the references to Russian culture which made the various settings really vibrant. I loved the concept of the Grisha, and how Alina tried to fit into their world. Having Alina discovered as Grisha was a good technique to show readers the Grisha culture and a way of learning about this in more depth, however Alina didn’t entirely settle into their world. Leigh Bardugo still made it clear that Alina didn’t quite fit with the rest of them – through her discovered power as a Sun Summoner, as well as showing a clear divide between herself and the other Grisha.
I liked Alina as a protagonist – her never faltering love of Mal that shone through out the narrative and made her really likeable as a selfless character. The Darkling was intriguing as a character, but I’m not entirely sure I liked the plot twist based around him. It was clever because you never saw it coming until it was pointed out to you, but because of this it didn’t feel entirely true. It felt a bit out of character from the person we the readers had been introduced to, but that might just be me. In some ways it felt like you could cut this novel clean in two so far as plot goes, as there were two clear divides in the narrative.
The romance was sweet, because it wasn’t overdone and didn’t take centre stage. Without giving the love interest away (though once you start reading the novel I’m sure it would be obvious), it felt completely natural because of the set up Bardugo devoted to the earlier parts of the narrative.
The setting gave this story an edge, as combined with the concept of the Grisha and amplifiers etc, it gave the overall narrative a fresh feel to it. Plus the ending was beautiful – as I was nearing the end of the book I was terrified that Bardugo wasn’t going to give us a happy ending. I really wanted Alina to triumph over the antagonist, and Bardugo really cut it close. Due to this, the tension through out the novel was nicely built up to this crucial point in the story, leaving us wondering along with Alina as to whether she was strong enough to triumph after all. What was especially nice was it felt like a good end to the story – it could quite easily have served as a standalone novel, but there was also the hint of a possible direction for a sequel to take. It had an open end feel to it, but not so much that it was unsatisfying as an ending.
I would give it a 5/5, as it very nearly left me sobbing in relief at the ending. I would definitely recommend this as a young adult read – the concept and setting were wonderful and didn’t feel overdone. I really can’t wait to read the next two books in the trilogy!