This gripping debut novel, with a touch of magic and romance, is about two orphans thrown together during a century-old war and will keep readers burning the midnight oil.
Leigh Bardugo sets her tale in a Russia-like land called Ravka, where Grisha (practitioners of "the Small Science," or "witches," as the peasantry calls them) aid Ravka's king, and peasants subsist in a wartorn land. The orphaned protagonists, Alina Starkov and Malyen Oretsev, grew up in the home of Duke Keramsov, who opened up his estate as a refuge for orphans and war widows. Now 18, Alina, who narrates, and Mal serve in the King's First Army. As they cross the dreaded Shadow Fold, which separates Ravka from its only shoreline, hundreds of volcra--vulture-like, sightless birds with slashing teeth--attack the crew. The volcra threaten Mal's life, and in Alina's effort to save him, she unwittingly unleashes a blinding light that scares off the predators. Her talent attracts the most powerful Grisha of all, The Darkling. He recognizes Alina as a Sun Summoner and whisks her away, separating her from Mal, the only sense of home she's ever known.
As Alina becomes seduced by the attentions of The Darkling himself, she must choose between using her powers in service of someone else's plans or embracing her power to do what she believes is right. This first book of a planned series feels complete, yet it beckons readers for the next installment for answers about the fate of Ravka and some key characters. --Jennifer M. Brown, children’s editor, Shelf Awareness