by Leigh Bardugo
First sentence: “The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and the youngest, and because they haunted the Duke’s house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavesdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches.”
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I know I’m not the last person to read this one, but I feel that way. Especially since (even with its myriad of glowing reviews) I was planning on skipping it altogether. Until I got handed an ARC of the second one. Then I figured, sure, why not jump on this bandwagon.
For those of you under a rock: Mal and Alina are orphans in a country vaguely patterned after Russia. They grew up in an orphanage, best friends and companions. As they grew up, they went to school and joine the country’s First Army, Mal as a tracker, Alina as a cartographer. And all is fine, until they cross the Fold — a patch of solid darkness full of Evil Things — and Alina saves everyone by bursting into light. It turns out that she’s a Sun Summoner, someone that the second most powerful man in the country, The Darkling, needs desperately. Suddenly, Alina finds herself thrust in the middle of the most powerful community in the country, that of the magic-maker Grishas, trying to figure out what’s real, and how on earth she’s going to handle herself, let alone save the country.
One of the things I really appreciated about this book was that the magic and the setting were all very unique. I think I’ve read Russian-influenced magic books before, but Bardugo has taken the heart of Russian culture and woven it through her book. That was something I could get behind and appreciate. I also liked that the magic was organic: for the most part, the characters’ magic was something that was inside them, a natural talent. I liked the diversity of magic, and how — when things were going well — everyone could work together to create something greater.
All that said, I didn’t really adore it wholeheartedly. I liked Mal well enough as a friend (and I was glad for the Lets Be Friends First element), but there just wasn’t a strong enough connection for me (showing rather than telling, maybe?). And while I was fascinated with the Darkling, I didn’t like the twist near the end. It felt.. forced… to me.
Even with the drawbacks, I am curious to see where Alina’s story goes from here.