Monday, October 29, 2012
The Gathering Dark by Leigh Bardugo
The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.
Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite—the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?
The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfil her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.
But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him?
Glorious. Epic. Irresistible. Romance.
This book's been languishing on my Amazon wish list for ages - probably since I fell in love with the cover. Stupidly I didn't buy it until I'd read Sister Spooky's brilliant review. I picked up a copy in Foyles and then added it to my urgent pile of books. Finally, I got round to it this week and absolutely loved it. I haven't felt this way about a high fantasy book since Trudi Canavan's The Magicians' Guild. However, I'm getting ahead of myself a bit - first, some background. Alina and Mal are orphans brought up in a duke's rambling estate. As with all orphans in this world they're destined for the army or servitude unless they show Grisha potential. At eight they are tested and neither show anything of interest but from that moment on Alina becomes sickly, pale and weak. Fast forward ten years and they're both still friends and in the same unit but when they come under attack Alina shows that perhaps the Grisha missed something …
I was hooked from the beginning. I know we all make an image in our mind of the world that the author has created but the kingdom in The Gathering Dark is so richly imagined that I could picture it all: moutains, hills, snow and peasant villages, the Grisha palace. My head was full of breakneck journeys in carriages and the cut-throat court politics. Alina is a brilliant heroine - I was completely by her side from the first page. She has this outward vulnerability from her obvious physical weakness and, of course, her love for Mal. Mal and Alina's relationship is the gorgeous, awkward, unaware sort - he's unaware and she's totally trying to pretend she doesn't feel anything - I loved it. When Alina is whisked away to court I sort of forgot about Mal. It became all about the Darkling for me (and Alina). Court is seductive, she's given everything she never wanted; position, rich rooms and clothes, friendship. My favourite secondary character out of all the Grisha was Genya. She has this talent for tailoring faces, hell's bells - who wouldn't want a friend like that? Alina, of course, doesn't want to be made over but the two of them become close even though everyone else looks down on Genya because of her servant status and, well, other things too.
Just as I thought I couldn't love the book more it became more wonderful. The Darkling is the head of the Grisha - both unavailabe, powerful and mysterious. Except there's one thing he wants more than anything and that's Alina. As she grows more comfortable with herself and her powers grow she gets drawn into The Darkling's seductive power. But then there's Mal - it's just all too much for me! All the threads are drawn together for an amazing finale that both brought about everything I wanted but also left so many possibilities for the sequel, the Shadow Fold. The Gathering Dark is a potent mix. Not only does it have a gutsy storyline, it also delivers characters who aren't remotely simple. Even though bad (and good) characters do awful things I still want them to redeem themselves in book two - they are all complex and mysterious with ulterior motives that have yet to be explored.
Before I start rambling on about this book's brilliance I'll stop but please - just read it.