I had heard about this book series, but never really gave them much thought. Then I read a sample of the first one, and couldn’t wait to read it! It’s fantasyish, but not too crazy, which is good for me because I can’t get into major fantasy and sic-fi stuff – that’s more my husband. I really like the characters, and the world, and the sass (both the leads are so snarky, it’s quite refreshing)!
My summary: So the main character, Alina, and her best friend Mal – the boy she’s secretly in love with, are both orphans who are now in the army. While their unit crosses “the Fold” – a black abyss filled with creatures that feed on those who pass through and are only afraid of light. While crossing they are attacked, she and Mal are both injured, but the creatures are scared away by a blazing light that seems to come from nowhere. Well, the light came from Alina, and it’s revealed that she is actually a Grisha – belonging to an order of people who practice the “small science” and are able to control various elements. Well, as a “Sun Summoner” she is the only of her kind and the Darkling – who leads the 2nd army (the army of Grisha) takes her to their palace and trains her control her power, before she discovers that he is the creator of the Fold and is seeking to control her and her powers to expand it and take over the various kingdoms.
The main character, Alina, I really like, she’s pretty flawed, but she knows it – and that’s the kind of protagonist I like. I’m not the fan of the perfect ones who complain about being perfect, or the ones who are flawed but too arrogant to notice.Alina is pretty average so being the “Sun Summoner” throws her off for a while and she revels in the attention she was never able to get for most of her life; she’s also pretty stubborn, dangerously optimistic, and incredibly selfless. Mal is a great male lead also, and undergoes such a serious transformation – I feel like he has aged about five years just in this book. He starts out cocky and irresponsible,but by the end we see the fierce loyalty of him, his need to protect those he loves, and his innate cleverness. The Darkling is really interesting, so slick and charismatic. The fact I was believing him right along with Alina shows how great his complexity is.
I thought the progression Alina goes through was believable, and the romance is done very well. She was infatuated and seduced by the Darkling, but I think she knows it wasn’t really genuine. There is a unique bond between the two of them that I am sure we will find out more about – and that connection has a strange control over her, like an out of body experience almost. She’s been in love with Mal for a while, but decided to try and forget him when she was taken to learn with the other Grisha, and I thought that was the right move for her. It allowed her to really come into her own, and figure out her capabilities and her powers.
When she learns the Darkling is going to enslave her to use her powers for himself she runs away, Mal finds her – and we all learn that the major transformation he’s gone through is the realization that he is in love with Alina, and that he’s having to live with the repercussions of his reckless decisions throughout his adolescence and in his journey to find her. Also, he’s know as a really good tracker, and it’s ridiculous how good he is, I feel like there is something more to him – maybe he’s Grisha too? And ya, their romance was something I was expecting to happen, but I also wanted to it happen, and it was done in a non-corney way. They had a tender moment or two, but all of them were laced with the danger and the realities of what they are about to face. Really I think it’s an anchor for both of them, they grew up together, are best friends, and I think Mal is going to help guide Alina morally as she learns how powerful she is while she is going to keep him grounded – it’s a really good partnership.
I liked the secondary characters too and hope to see more of them in the next two books. Genya was interesting, and though her loyalties are questionable I think she’ll come around. For most of this one the other Grisha were all a bit materialistic and vapid, but as the intensity escalated and the Darkling’s plan to basically plunge the entire continent into darkness begins to surface, you can see their loyalties begin to waver and more depth emerge in the various characters.