Review: The Gathering Dark by Leigh Bardugo

The-Gathering-DarkSeries: The Grisha #1
Published by: Indigo
ISBN: 1780621108
ISBN 13: 9781780621104
Published: May 2012
Pages: 305
Format reviewed: Paperback
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites
Related Reviews: Siege and Storm (The Grisha #2)

‘The Gathering Dark’ – also known as ‘Shadow and Bone’ by Leigh Bardugo is the first in the Grisha Trilogy – the second published in 2013 and the third, in 2014.

We meet orphans Alina and Mal, first and just quickly when they’re young and then suddenly when they’re young adults, in the army, in which the story than continues. Mal is a solider and Alina a cartographer, until a battle almost to the death reveals something about Alina she wasn’t even aware of.
Then we’re trust into a grand, rich world that’s set in a Russia-inspired fantasy, used with a bit of artistic licence, to create a distinct atmosphere and tone in her novel. The author takes the time to explain what their daily life is like, which enables you to identify with the characters even if we’ve never known anything like what they’re going through.

The main characters of Alina and Mal aren’t set to become favourites, though Alina’s wit and how she deals with others is different to most books and hence, refreshing to see. Mal is possibly one of the weaker characters shown; yet he still manages to feel like a main character despite his limited time on the pages. Alina’s friend Genya is possibly the most interesting, certain facts of her life never confirmed, and then left in mystery.

Then we have Darkling, a character that supposedly has another name that is never revealed. Mysterious and surprising, I as a reader felt I knew where this story was going only to then be almost rudely surprised as it turned into a slight cliché – yet one that was well done. I almost felt like I wish it had remained in the direction I thought it would be heading, and yet I am interested to see what develops in book two.

Overall this book is a mixture of the cliché and familiar, yet surprising and thought-provoking, as we read about almost typical boarding-school bitchyness with makeovers and balls, done somehow in a non-annoying way. This book manages to provide guilty pleasures in beautiful prose, using these plot lines in a way that aids the character and plot development.

However, there are several issues. Wrong instances of names used, as in Russia males and females have different variances of the same name. For instance, Alina’s last name is Starkov – yet this is the male version – her name should be Starkova. There are other instances of males having feminine names also, such as Ilya.

Then there is the drink, ‘kvas’, which is actually non-alcoholic yet they seem to become drunk off it in the book.

However, if you have no knowledge of Russian and stay away from Google, you won’t notice these inconsistencies and after all, not every author can use Russian tones as perfectly as Catherynn M. Valente in her ‘Deathless’. Artistic licence is used and while it may break the mood for those who know – making them wonder why this is incorrect, then feeling unable to immerse in the novel – in the long-run these instances aren’t integral to the plot.

Though YA, I feel this can be enjoyed by all ages, including those not always enamoured with the genre. I was blown away by how much I enjoyed this book. It had the same beauty offered in ‘The Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ by Laini Taylor, how the setting, culture and characters in dress are so picturesque you can picture it vividly, and wish to become part of it.

I read this book in a day and promptly started recommending it everywhere I could.

If you’re interested in trying out the style, there is a free short ‘The Witch of Duva’ that I highly recommend – though the novel is better simply because of the characters and immediate plot. The free short is a companion folk tale, contains no spoilers, and is not required to enjoy The Gathering Dark.

This review was originally posted at SentientOnline on the 12th July 2012. 


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