Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Indigo/Orion Books (UK), Macmillan (US)
Release Date: May 2012 (UK), June 2012 (US)
Find On: Goodreads | Amazon UK | The Book Depository
‘I’ve been waiting for you for a long time, Alina,’ he said. ‘You and I are going to change the world.’
There is so much to love about this book.
Let us start with Ravka. This highly fantastical world is a work of pure ingenuity and imagination. Leigh Bardugo masters the art of show-not-tell as she recreates this masterpiece in the reader’s head. I wasn’t even aware of this map until after I had finished reading the book but it is exactly how I pictured it. The Shadow Fold, a deadly strip of thick darkness, runs across the length of Ravka and is home to flesh-eating creatures known as volcra. This Unsea is the perilous ground Alina Starkov and her First Army regiment, including childhood friend Malyen Oretsev, must cross to reach their destination. As they prepare for the crossing, the author slowly unravels the concept of The Grisha, soldiers of the Second Army and the elite citizens of Ravka. We have the Corporalki, Etherealki and Materialki, with different coloured keftas defining which order a Grisha belongs to.
There is a lot for the reader to familiarise with at the start, but the world-building is sensational. Ravka is hardly a place of paradise, but I found myself (and still find myself) longing to crawl into the pages of the book and firmly rooting myself there for the rest of time. I want to own keftas in every single colour – including black – and attend The Little Palace and gawk at the Darkling. Nameless, mysterious, and described on the blurb of my copy as ‘creature of seductive charm and terrifying power’, the Darkling will undoubtedly have the same effect on countless readers as he did on Alina. You are all welcome to fall for him, this leading figure of the Grisha, but make sure you don’t forget about Mal...
Mal. In the future, where the technology is available to transform fictional characters into real people, you will be my first choice. Alina is so darn lucky. How did Leigh Bardugo manage to create such a realistic, caring, and perfectly flawed character? Yes, he gets things wrong, but he is so wonderfully human that my heart did little cartwheels every time his name appeared on a page. I wanted to marry him, and grow up in an orphanage with him, and eat hard cheese with him. Where the Darkling is all danger and excitement, Mal is comfort and reassurance. The friendship between Alina and Mal is beautifully crafted and weaved into the plot with ease. Personally, the Darkling doesn’t do it for me (though I wouldn’t mind borrowing his black kefta). Mal is the one.
With both the Darkling and Mal, it sounds almost like a love-triangle, doesn’t it? I can assure you, it doesn’t read like one. And that is as far as I can elaborate without telling you everything that happens. What I can guarantee is a beautiful romance that I’m certain a lot of readers will appreciate. The plot is an intricate and dark one, and never once did I feel as though the romantic elements overshadowed the (arguably) more significant aspects of this story. Instead, it complemented the rest of the book and even aided the character development. Leigh Bardugo knows her stuff. The pacing is superb, the climax is faultless, and the immaculate blend of fantasy, action and romance really did make this book ‘unputdownable’.
If you have even the slightest interest in immersing yourself into this remarkable story, I beg you to give this book a try. Yes, that’s right, I have resorted to begging. And while I’m at it, who do I have to beg to for the next book? I need it right here and right now.
(On a side note, I would recommend visiting the Speak Ravkan page on the author’s website to anyone who is planning to read this soon or has already read it. If you are like me and you hate reading a word one way only to find it is pronounced a different way after you are done, then that is worth checking out. Unfortunately for Genya, she will forever be GEN-YAH to me and not JEN-YAH.)
Rating: 5 stars