Alina Starkov is an orphan of the Border Wars. Along with her best friend Mal, their army regiment enters the Shadow Fold - a sea of darkness. There, they are attacked by monstrous volcra. As a cry of desperation, Alina's repressed powers unleash a great light. She is a Grisha - those with talents for the "Small Sciences". During her trial, she meets an unlikely ally: the Darkling. He's a mysterious and powerful man, who has plans for Alina's power - to destroy the Fold.
I received this book as a birthday gift from a very good friend of mine. I just got around to reading it recently. The cover didn't really stand out to me that much, but after reading it, I realize there's a few more clues in it than I thought. It's actually a very well thought out cover, and I thought I would mention that. Overall, though, there's nothing that physically stands out about this novel.
The setting was the first thing that truly intrigued me. It's fairly easy to tell that this takes place in a fantasy world that is only similar to the world we live in today. With that being said, there were strong Russian influences in language, names, and buildings. The book continues with that setting until somewhere near the end, when all of sudden Bardugo throws in the word "Verloren". This is a German word that means "lost". At that point, I was, at the very least, confused. Maybe this will work itself out later in the series (for example, the entire universe isn't Russian influenced, but different cultures influence different regions), but it left me conflicted on the setting.
The minor characters in this book were fairly good. Some of them were predictable, no doubt. They were the personality-less, gossipy girls that always seem to pop up in novels. But, Bardugo really redeems herself with Genya. She's a "Tailor" Grisha, which means she can alter physical appearances. One would think that she would end up being like the others, but she was written to be a person, with feelings and independent thoughts. Genya ended up being one of my favorite characters in the book. Now, that leads me to the main characters. I had no big complaints over them, honestly. There was a romance that I felt was unnatural, but that just proved to be my instincts. I think that they were all well-written and again, no complaints in this aspect.
In the end, this book has ended up being toward the top of my list. It's different from what I've read recently, at least in the setting. I adore the concept of Grisha, and in a way it reminds of bending from "Avatar: The Last Airbender" (which dominated no less than a year of my life). With its unique concept of Grisha and setting, I believe that this could be a refreshing novel for many, and would recommend it to anyone.