The Gathering Dark / Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (ARC) - Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart. From Goodreads.
It's taken me a long time to pick up this series. There was something about The Gathering Dark/Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo that put me off, despite all the hype and how much I love high fantasy. And I have to say, my instincts were right.
When the regiment are travelling to West Ravka through the Shadow Fold - a dense cloud of darkness full of horrors that cuts off West from East Ravka - one of Alina's best friends is attacked by one of the beasts that feast on those who travel through the Fold. Alina's anger and fear releases something within her, and light comes flooding out of her, lighting up the Fold and chasing the monsters away. This mysterious ability is what Ravka has been waiting for; Alina is a Sun Summoner, and could save them all - from the Fold and the countries surrounding them that they have been at war with for over a century. Alina is taken to train as a Grisha and learn to control her power under the watchful eye of the Darkling, the powerful, dangerous man who leads the Grisha. Alina is the person he needs to destroy the Fold, and takes a keen interest in her and her learning. Alina is drawn to the enigmatic Darkling, and tries hard to impress him. But not everything is as it seems, and power has it's own draw. The fate of Ravka lies in Alina's hands, but it's down to her what fate that will be.
First of all, you may notice the two titles and the two covers. When Shadow and Bone first came out in the UK, it was released as The Gathering Dark with the blue cover before it was later changed, and this is the copy I was sent for review. I have to say I much prefer this cover and title. The current covers don't draw my eye at all, and the titles are so similar, I wasn't even sure which in the series was the first book. I don't know why they decided to change, and I wish they hadn't, but there we go. As my copy is called The Gathering Dark, that is what I will be referring to the book as from now on.
The Gathering Dark started off quite promising; it was fairly fast paced and things were moving quite quickly. I was intrigued by Alina's ability, and the Darkling, though for a long while wasn't sure why he was painted as someone to be feared. Sure, he's really powerful, and that makes him dangerous, and he's the leader of the Grisha, but he was a nice guy. Almost normal. Alina's best friend, Mal, was much more interesting with his easy confidence. But once Alina started training at The Little Palace, where the Grisha live, I started to lose interest. We don't see a huge amount of her training, we get told about it. And sure, they're not the most interesting of lessons, but not much else was happening for a long time. Alina struggles to bring forth her power on her own at first, she kind of makes friends with a few of the Grisha, she has a few conversations with the Darkling, but that's it. It's mostly internal as Alina struggles with trying to control her power, but once she's able to summon the light on her own, she finds that she reaches the limits of her power pretty soon, and spends a lot of time feeling like a failure.
Then things abruptly change and start to get interesting! But even that plateaus, with the same things happening for a while, with no real excitement. It's not until the last quarter or so of the book that things actually get moving in any way that really held my interest. But once it had ended, I found I didn't really care that much. I didn't care much about Alina and what would happen to her next, and I wasn't that bothered by the Darkling, either. I found the change in him and his motivations to be quite a let down. Not because I thought he was a nice guy, but because it's just been done before, and didn't feel like anything new was brought to this kind of character.
I loved that this was a Russian inspired high fantasy rather than your usual Medieval British inspired high fantasies. It gave a fresh feel to the story, but overall, I didn't feel like there was much that made it all that distinctive.
The Gathering Dark took me far too long to read considering it's length, and I wasn't nearly as interested as I should have been. I don't really understand the hype to be honest; I assume the later books in the series must get better, but I don't feel in any rush to find out. I just don't care enough. A pretty disappointing read, overall.
Thank you to Indigo for the ARC.
Published: 7th June 2012
Leigh Bardugo's Website