Age: Young Adult
Rating: 3.5 stars
Rating: 3.5 stars
Rosie Thinks: I didn't really know what to expect out of this book. It looked like a solid fantasy, set in a world based around historical Russia and with an interesting magic system. But then came the reason why this book stayed as a sample on my Kindle for months and months - LOVE TRIANGLE. Oh, those two words make me want to throw my Kindle onto an eight-lane highway, then put my head through a wall and claw my eyes out. For me, there's not much worse than a dreaded, Twilight-style love triangle - I hate them. So, so much. But this book had been taunting me for months, constantly appearing on my 'recommended' list on Goodreads, so I finally decided to take the plunge (mainly because I was stuck in an area with limited internet and no other samples on my Kindle). And I'm seriously glad I did! It was completely enthralling, and the LT was nowhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be. It was really only torturous for about twenty pages - manageable.
Now that I've got my LT rant out of the way, what's this story actually about? Mal and Alina have been the closest of friends since they were brought up as orphans together in the same household. As they grow older, Mal starts to shine and Alina's left in the shadows, pale and withdrawn. This all changes when they're attacked and Alina saves the day by letting loose an incredibly rare and near-mythological power, heralding her as a Sun Summoner. The Darkling, leader of those with magic ('Small Science'), realises her potential and whisks her away to learn to become one of the magical Grisha - it's about this area where the novel really began to pick up pace and hook me in.
As far as magic systems go, I quite liked this one - it's not overly complicated, but is incredibly unique. Some aspects are similar to other stories I've read but on a whole, I enjoyed learning about it. I also really loved how this world is based off old Russia. I've read way too many medieval-style fantasies (GoT, LotR), and if it's not medieval it's usually based off the Middle East or an Oriental country. I saw that a few people were quite critical of historical errors, but my view of it is that it's fantasy - the author can do whatever the heck he/she wants! So despite the uniqueness of the world and the magic system, I found that at times, the story-line went too close to cliche, especially towards the end. I could predict a few things that would happen, but there were enough unseen twists and turns that I wasn't too worried. The only other thing in the story I wasn't fond of was the way the religion was handled - or rather, wasn't handled, because it was barely ever mentioned except as a plot device, and I would've loved to see what the religion was even based around.
I really liked Alina though. I found that Bardugo could have easily let her situation and power become her personality, but she developed Alina beyond that, which was very refreshing! Alina's quiet and self-conscious, but also fiery and loyal. It was amazing to see her develop, and the way her character changed throughout the novel. With a few exceptions, the other supporting character's weren't overly cliche and I found myself liking several of them.
I wrote the majority of this review after reading only the first book, but now that I'm done with the whole trilogy, all I can say is this: go and read this now. The first book is just a taste of what the other two are like. So while I do rate this first book as a 3.5/5, I'd easily give the whole series a 5/5.