I need to say something. Before I started blogging, I hardly read any fantasy. I told myself I’d outgrown it or that it simply wasn’t my cup of tea and the closest I got was magic realism as I love Latin American fiction. Then I started blogging and being offered the chance to read more and more fantasy set novels and I realised I liked some of them. So when I was offered the chance to read a proof of Leigh Bardugo’s The Gathering Dark by the lovely Nina at Indigo, I had to say yes. I expected it to be okay, to be a four star if I star rated at best. I was wrong. I loved it and loved the world of the Grisha.
There is a lot I loved about this novel; the world Ravka is beautifully written and feels real. The Russian influence on names also really worked for me personally. The idea of the shadow fold and the sinister creatures that eat flesh, the army, the Unsea everything just felt so visceral and real. Alina is a member of the army who has to cross the perilous Unsea and Shadow Fold with best friend, Mal. However when it goes wrong one day and Alina unveils a secret power she didn’t even know she had, everything changes and the Darkling, a prince like character, takes an interest in her.
As well as being a fantasy, this novel contains a rags-to-riches element as well as Alina is pulled from her previous difficult life to a new luxurious one and has to learn how to harness her ability at the same time as well as working out who to trust. I adore fish out of water plots so I really enjoyed this and loved Alina’s teacher, who was a scene stealer!
There is a hint of a love triangle, but it’s so subtle that it works and doesn’t compromise the novel. Mal is amazing and I spent a lot of the novel eagerly waiting for him to be on the next page. The Darkling in comparison is self-assured and seductive and very layered. There is a twist that with hindsight I should have guessed, but I didn’t so credit to Bardugo there.
I adored this book and you might be able to tell this. This is an assured, slick debut that reinforced to me how I have to break personal prejudices about fantasy as it is pretty awesome. Bardugo’s prose is stunning and her technical control is something to envy as she manages to stay away from those big info-dumps that always put me off fantasy too. The characters seem to leap off the page and feel so real and the fantastical elements are beautifully described.
I recommend this novel to all fantasy fans and all YA fans too; even if you think you don’t like fantasy, please try this one and you just might be surprised. The Gathering Dark is published by Indigo, from whom I received a free proof copy for my uninfluenced review (thank you!), and is published as Shadow and Bone in the US.