Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Review: The Gathering Dark by Leigh Bardugo

UK cover/title of Shadow and Bone

Rating: 4/5 
Release date: May 2012 (UK)
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

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?
 Glorious. Epic. Irresistible. Romance.

It's been close to two weeks since I read THE GATHERING DARK, and my thoughts, upon starting this review, were conflicted.

While I LOVED the book upon finishing it and mentally rated it an automatic 5 stars, it hasn’t really stuck in my mind as much as I thought it would, and I find myself having to look up pretty important names - of the winged creatures (volcra), of the different orders, and of many secondary characters (like Genya, one of Alina’s Grisha friends). However, this means that the aspects of the book I did like and remember are pretty clear to me, and after thinking it through, I can confidently say that I still love this book for the characters alone. For me, it boiled down to some things I didn't like about the world-building vs. the characters:

I'll start with the negative and say that much of what remains a little murky to me has to do with world-building. The overall framework of the world feels very natural. I loved the Russian-inspired setting, and even the simple incorporation of Russian words lends it a very rich feel. This, combined with the magical elements and the Grisha hierarchy, gave me that rare feeling of truly believing that this world exists somewhere. It just worked - but in a very general, atmospheric sense. In terms of the story itself, I found myself not caring about, or really even remembering, the difference between the Corporalki, Etherealki and Materialki. This wasn’t really explored much beyond what each Order actually consists of, and I found the training pretty vague (though hopefully this will be explored more in the second book). I didn’t particularly care about poverty in Ravka, or their struggles with the Shadow Fold, or the fact that the country was divided and families potentially separated… except when the characters were directly involved.

Artist Keith Thompson's beautiful map of Ravka, taken from
 Leigh Bardugo's official site

The characters make up for this sketchiness. Alina was a likeable, funny, and strong heroine, though I was expecting – or at least hoping - this given the great reviews. The relationship between Alina and Mal was sweet and built upon a strong foundation of friendship. Their banter and chemistry was great, and Mal’s changing feelings grew out of that in a way that didn’t feel sudden at all. What really surprised me was the Darkling. For the first half of this book, the Darkling seemed like a YA clich√© – dark (literally… he whips up darkness), good-looking, mysterious, powerful, etc. – and Bardugo does a really good job of whipping out his character (his personality, even) in the last 50 or so pages. Without spoiling too much, he is an excellent example of a YA character whose unnaturally long life has actually affected him. His motivations are not only realistic given all that he’s seen, but almost convincing in the warped way that he views them, and rightly gives Alina pause in one of their exchanges toward the end of the book. I can’t wait to see the characters continue to evolve.

General thoughts: 

This book was also just plain entertaining. It was fast-paced and had a decent amount of action, and the plot elements were familiar without being too predictable. While some of the secondary aspects of the world-building weren’t really memorable to me, Bardugo set the stage for a really great trilogy, and these are things that will hopefully be fleshed out more in the following books (and maybe could be cleared up with a re-read). The characters were surprisingly complex and refreshingly interesting, the romance was sweet, and the story was entertaining and hard to put down. I found myself re-reading passages for days afterwards. THE GATHERING DARK is definitely worth a purchase (or two).

Side notes: 
       1. I was utterly disappointed by the UK cover. It's nice and all, but doesn't compare to the US one! (left)
       2. It's random, but I loved 'the Cut'. The Darkling actually has a SIGNATURE MOVE, like when you used to play Street Fighters and Rose had her giant sash, and there was that guy with knives for hands. The Darkling actually cuts people into two with pure DARK. 
       3. Also, weird that there are two books coming out this year that uses the term 'Darkling'! Elizabeth Richard's Black City comes out in November 2012, though from what I understand, her Darklings are a vampire-like species. 


  1. Yay! New book blogger! Welcome to the book blogging community! I hope you enjoy it here as much as I do!

    And I don't think I knew that Shadow and Bone had a different title in the UK! Weird, but I like the UK title and the US cover! I also really enjoyed this book, though I'm sorry to hear that the world-building wasn't quite what you wanted it to be!

    1. Aw, thank you Natalie! I completely agree. UK title + US cover would really have been the ideal combination... looks like we relate to both markets! :)

  2. I have to read this book soon! It just sounds right up my alley. Great review! I'm a new follower =]

    Teresa @ Readers Live A Thousand Lives

    1. Definitely read it! Let me know what you think if you do. And thank you! I'm following you too, it's nice to meet other new bloggers. :)

  3. When I went to Barnes and Noble last week, I was going to buy this book. It was on the top of my list. But it was only available in hardback, which was close to $20, nearly the whole amount of my gift card. I was so bummed that I had to put this book down because I've been waiting and re-reading the synopsis and reading reviews and waiting.... I've heard really great things about this book, so it looks like I'll be doing some more waiting until it comes out in the US in paperback :)

    1. Aww, no! I'm sorry to hear that. I would lend it to you if I lived in the US! That's crazy expensive. Hopefully you'll be able to find someone who has it, because it was really good. :(

      Your haul this week was great though, so looks like you'll have tons of good books to read while you wait! Do you use Goodreads?


I love meeting other bloggers and readers, so let me know what you think! I try to always reply to comments, either directly or on your blog.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...