This book really disappointed me— and I’m not just talking about the romance because I’m biased when it comes to that. This story had such an interesting premise, with several diverse cultures living in a steampunk-Soviet regime, and a brilliantly-organized militia. The execution of this concept was the main problem. The story focused solely on Alina’s training with the Grisha, which would have been interesting if it wasn’t told so vaguely; instead of having in-depth descriptions of the court and its operations, the alliances, and the way the different Grisha groups interacted, Alina instead provided a whiney training montage of her Grisha tasks. (E.g. she hates working out; she doesn’t like the steambaths; ew, make-up; “I can’t make light on my own!” Look, I get that she’s in a compromising situation, but she’s also discovering real power for the first time. And she’s not the least bit curious?) Alina had a few theory books that were interesting—books she refers to as boring— including one that described how energy was used in Grisha powers. I was fascinated by that, by the physical manifestations of power, and how it could affect the holder; this could have given the Darkling more dimension, and showed that someone could become a slave to their own abilities. Instead, this never came up again.
I’m starting to resent love triangles. I especially dislike THIS love triangle because both guys are such losers: the Darkling can’t resist using everyone around him and Mal can’t get out of his own perspective long enough to lead. I mean, sure, relationships are nice—but the theory books about power were so much more interesting! In a book like this, plot should not take a backseat to romance.
Generally, this was just not a story for me. I just got too nitpicky over it: I also thought that “the Darkling” could have used a real name. (You know, to be less conspicuous.) I also thought that the majority of the court was one-dimensional. Marie, Nadia, and the other Summoners come off as ditzy and naïve. While I’m sure that Alina’s street smarts put her ahead of them, I thought that they were all written off as idiots too quickly. Even Genya, during her sympathetic period, couldn’t understand anything outside of superficiality; in fact, she develops feelings for, and fails to impress, a Fabrikator named David who has no interest in appearances. If she had more of a personality—perhaps stronger allegiances, a history, hobbies, fears, etc.—her switch to the dark side would have come off as less cold.