My rating: 4 of 5 stars
3.5 instead of 4. Alina Starkov is a plain apprentice scribe in the tsar’s armies until an attack by dark creatures forces her to used magical talent she’s denied herself in order to save her own life & the life of her childhood friend Mal. Noticed by the Grisha, a class of trained conjurers, & their leader the Darkling, Alina is taken to their compound to learn how to hone her skills as a weapon to dispel shadowy forces unleashed generations ago. Alina struggles to remain true to herself amid the intrigue of court & the machinations of the Grisha.
I was fascinated by the world Bardugo has created. Vaguely medieval & ambiguously Christian, Alina’s Ravka reminded me of C.J. Cherryh’s Rusalka, as if her story could take place at a later time in that universe. Her perspective, though, is sort of straight-forward: girl-as-apex-of-love-triangle-tries-to-find-herself plot, making the characters around Alina more interesting in their familiar-but-reconfigured positions. I was obsessed with Genya, seemingly a court pet but soon revealed as a woman who is canny enough to maneuver her way through treacherous political waters. She’s an excellent contrast to Alina, whose torn desires between her love Mal & her lust the Darkling wear thin. Although the reclaiming of her powers is an interesting substitute for sex in this YA tale.
Bardugo also captures fascinating snippet of real Russian history to create Ravka–like the semi-Rasputin-like figure to the odd spartan routines observed amid the Grisha’s extravagance to the orphanage set up by a local duke. Overall, I’m kind of meh on the main story but the rest of the details are lovely, which is enough to keep me reading.