Title: The Gathering Dark/Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo (author website | blog)
Release Date: June 2012 by Indigo/Hachette Australia
Age Group: Young Adult
Every now and then you fall in love with a book (I do, too, for that matter). The kind of love for which the stars align and angels sing on high. It may be perfect, or perhaps its imperfections make it so. Nevertheless, it calls to you, something inside it sounding in recognition, and you know the weight of true love. This book, the one you fall for, flaws and all, or despite its blinding perfection, is the hardest to discuss and review. How do you communicate the depth of that affection in a few brief sentences? Well, I suppose you gush—you've been warned.
Sweeping, glorious fantasy romance about an orphan who must save her kingdom from the seductive and terrifying Darkling. The most compelling romance since Twilight.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?
‘Like calls to like’, is the mantra of the Grisha, the powerful mages reviled and worshipped in the country of Ravka, a reimagined, fantasy Russia. And so it is, like called to me from the heart of The Gathering Dark/Shadow and Bone, touching something deeper than an intellectual appreciation alone. Bardugo’s debut struck a chord with me, still humming with the long keening echo that remains after the sound.
We’ve heard similar stories before: Simple, ordinary girl discovers extraordinary powers and is drawn into danger and intrigue and Destined To Save The World, and, at its simplest, this is the tale of The Gathering Dark, also. Alina Starkov, orphan—cartographer in the King’s Army—and best friend to a boy who is not so different to herself, discovers a power her people have awaited for centuries. It turns out she is rather different, afterall—she is a Grisha.
‘Grisha’ are a part of life in Ravka, able to wield fire, water, or air; heal with a glance; or rip a heart from a chest. The most powerful of them can control darkness itself, and he stands alone, ruling them all: The Darkling. And the Darkling, powerful and compelling, has been waiting for Alina longest of all. He believes that, together, they will change the world.
He is not wrong. He seldom is.
For all The Gathering Dark’s treasures, from its ‘everygirl’ heroine, to its charming cast of secondary characters, it is this Darkling that shines the brightest, despite his name, and not for inspiring schoolgirl crushes alone. Compelling and enigmatic, he is, to quote another reviewer, “one of the most amazingly crafted, heartbreaking characters of YA.” It’s rare I find a character gets so deep under my skin I’m still feeling him hours and days later, itching like phantom limbs.
Darklings aside—especially when they are not our narrators—The Gathering Dark boasts a strong, admirable protagonist, as any good fantasy should, but her strength is internal, despite crippling self-doubt. Alina is likeable and capable, and the ease with which her voice flows through the novel’s pages adds to its pull. What captured me most was the intensity of feeling she shared with me, the reader; how she drew me into friendships and romances I felt passionately about.
While the world of The Gathering Dark is immersive and lovely, strange and foreign, it’s a largely character driven tale, but then, the beginnings of most heroes’ journeys are. That aside, the Russian inspiration of the world of Ravka lends it a new and exciting texture, unique from the European-themed high fantasies which have long dominated the genre.
I’m not sure I believe in perfect books, not really. For me, ‘perfect’ is utterly subjective; a feeling, not a fact. "Perfect", to me, is the book which captures my imagination, and something deeper, more profound—the kind of book I would read as a child and search deep inside myself afterwards, looking for hidden powers, and perhaps still do in adulthood. Filled with mystery, wonder, magic and dread, The Gathering Dark is precisely such a book.
Books in This Series:
- The Gathering Dark (AU/UK) / Shadow and Bone (US) June 2012
- The Shadow Fold (AU/UK) / Siege and Storm (US) June 2013