The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice: Audiobook Now Available!

Storytelling was outlawed. Magic had all but vanished.

That all changed when the woman in black came to town.

Branded with the black stamp at a young age, Brent thought he would end up a vagrant like his father. His craft was telling stories, but the Order had long forbidden any weaving of tales. When Brent sees the woman in black, she leads him into a menagerie of tunnels beneath the earth where his life falls into the nauseating, but beautiful, mist of the dead.

He finds friendship in Rho, a young woman who hides her face with a tree branch while roots and vines bow to her every whim. Together, they embark on a journey to explore the world, escape the watchful eyes of the Order, and discover the woman in black’s secrets.

For thousands of years, the mist and the tunnels were under the sole guardianship of the Council of Mist Keepers. But as new monsters enter the mist, and magic is forced out of the shadows, the Council searches for young blood to join their ranks and Brent’s next in line.

Content Warning: This book is rated 16+ for mentions of death, violence/sexual assault, adult language, alcohol use, and psychological abuse/trauma.

The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice is now available in audiobook format!

Over the past month I have worked with the fabulous Jack Nolan to produce an audiobook for The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice.

Jack has done a phenomenal job bringing my characters to life!

I have a select number of free audiobooks to give away (in exchange for an honest review). If you are interested, please fill out the form below! I’ll select recipients in the coming days.

Book Review

The Good Nurse – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆   (4.5 / 5 stars)
Audio Book Performance: ★★★★☆ (4 / 5 Stars)

We go to hospitals expecting our lives to be saved.

Yet, for many unsuspecting victims, that wasn’t the case.

Meet Charles Cullen – possibly one of America’s most prolific serial killers. Over the course of a 16 year career, it is believed he killed at least 40 individuals…but some believe he murdered upwards of 400. For years, he acted under the noses of hospitals, injecting patients with lethal levels of insulin and other drugs. Why? What did he hope to gain? What did he see in doing this? Author Charles Graeber may be one of the only individuals granted an interview with Charles Cullen, and in this, be one of the few people who can put together the events that ensued.

As with any true crime narrative, one thing you have to remember is this: the story is an examination of a killer, but it is also about the victims. Graeber does not do anything to romanticize Cullen, but rather shed light onto the perverse nature going through this man’s head. Charles Cullen saw himself as a victim, using his own “trauma” as a method to justify his terrible ways. In no case are the victims blamed for what Cullen did, and nor is his mental illness seen as justification for what he did. While Cullen suffered through depression most of his life, and experienced great trauma in childhood, this is not an excuse; this is foiled by his friend, Amy, who has suffered similarly, but did not turn to murder. No; Cullen is a ruthless individual, manipulative and emotionless in his crimes. 

When writing these types of novels, I believe it is important to make this distinction. As a reader, it is important to remember that too. Personally, I love true crime; I love examining the minds of these killers…because part of me cannot FATHOM someone ever going to these extreme actions. (I do have to say, as a writer, it is a great character study as well.) 

One thing we do not ever truly get an answer about is WHY Cullen did all of this, and truthfully, there might not be a “why”. His apathetic nature was a cry for attention, and whether he got a rush or wanted to cull the pain of others, even Cullen never quite sheds light onto it. 

But, what this investigation does show is the failings of bureaucracy in a corporate structure (such as the hospitals Cullen worked at through his 16 year career). If there were better employment records, more adherence to ethics and morals, and less red tape…would someone like Charles Cullen have succeeded? Or would his victims be alive today? I was happy to hear that the State of New Jersey has increased their oversight laws since Cullen was arrested. But I am sure more “Angel of Death” killers are out there today, even if they aren’t killing by the tens (or hundreds). 

Overall, this was an intriguing true crime novel (and audiobook) that kept me engaged and curious about what will happen next. While I wish we might have gotten more of an insight into the court case as well as Cullen’s motivations, I know sometimes that is limited to what is offered by witnesses and the convicted himself. Definitely an intriguing case overall.

But remember: do not put Cullen on a pedestal. Remember his victims. And celebrate the heroes. 

What’s it about?

After his December 2003 arrest, registered nurse Charlie Cullen was quickly dubbed “The Angel of Death” by the media. But Cullen was no mercy killer, nor was he a simple monster. He was a favorite son, husband, beloved father, best friend, and celebrated caregiver. Implicated in the deaths of as many as 300 patients, he was also perhaps the most prolific serial killer in American history.

Cullen’s murderous career in the world’s most trusted profession spanned sixteen years and nine hospitals across New Jersey and Pennsylvania. When, in March of 2006, Charles Cullen was marched from his final sentencing in an Allentown, Pennsylvania, courthouse into a waiting police van, it seemed certain that the chilling secrets of his life, career, and capture would disappear with him. Now, in a riveting piece of investigative journalism nearly ten years in the making, journalist Charles Graeber presents the whole story for the first time. Based on hundreds of pages of previously unseen police records, interviews, wire-tap recordings and videotapes, as well as exclusive jailhouse conversations with Cullen himself and the confidential informant who helped bring him down, THE GOOD NURSE weaves an urgent, terrifying tale of murder, friendship, and betrayal.

Graeber’s portrait of Cullen depicts a surprisingly intelligent and complicated young man whose promising career was overwhelmed by his compulsion to kill, and whose shy demeanor masked a twisted interior life hidden even to his family and friends. Were it not for the hardboiled, unrelenting work of two former Newark homicide detectives racing to put together the pieces of Cullen’s professional past, and a fellow nurse willing to put everything at risk, including her job and the safety of her children, there’s no telling how many more lives could have been lost.

In the tradition of In Cold Blood, THE GOOD NURSE does more than chronicle Cullen’s deadly career and the breathless efforts to stop him; it paints an incredibly vivid portrait of madness and offers a penetrating look inside America’s medical system. Harrowing and irresistibly paced, this book will make you look at medicine, hospitals, and the people who work in them, in an entirely different way. 

Book Review

Nebula Andra: Synchronicity Abyss – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆  (3.5 / 5 stars)

 Anya has always had a psychic connection with her friend, Raymond. But, she doesn’t know anything about him other than his name: not the way he looks, not where he is located, nothing. So when Raymond cuts off contact with Anya, she leaves home with only his name and heirlooms from her family. But, along the way, as she meets friends old and new, she discovers the how deeply entwined her destiny might be with the Dark Lord Kyros…and the future of her world. 

Enter Messier Andra and the world of Wasp Garafia and venture with Anya as she travels with Evalyn, Edwin, Zain, and the others she meets along the way in her pursuit of  her friend Raymond. I loved the magic in this: combined with astrology, we each “nebula” grants its user a different power. Anya is a skilled Cancer – mastering the Nebula of Sound with her music. But you have ones who can control time with Virgo, or Leo with Light, and more! This was a great way at defining the magic, and in this element of world building, I have to give the story kudos. 

The middle of the book sagged for me though – primarily due to pacing. The beginning and end move slower, focusing on Anya’s start of the quest and the competition at the end. To me though, it felt like the middle the book moved at a very alarming pace, introducing us to new characters and perspectives, just to get us to the competition at the end. If we were given a chance to sit with these characters more, and the adventures that ensue, I think the middle would have thrived more. 

Yet, despite the uneven pacing, the characters pop and the magic in this world is phenomenal! I personally think I would love to have Virgo, the Nebula of Time. The way each character has control of their nebula, and how it influences their decisions and power, is remarkable. Really, I’m just greedy, and wanted to see *more*. 

That being said, I am definitely going to check out the sequel in the near future to see what Anya does next. Will she stick by Ray’s side now that she knows his secrets? Will her friendship with Edwin remain in tact? What about with Zain? And will Evalyn save her brother? There are so many questions that I hope will be answered in the next book…especially with the reveal at the end! 

What’s it about?

The first of an epic fantasy series that takes you into a world that mixes magic with astrology. Anya Ciran sets out across a country torn by a dark lord in order to find a friend she’s only met through telepathy. But how will she find him when all she knows is the name that she gave him–Raymond?

Book Review

There’s a Giant Trapdoor Spider Under Your Bed – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3 / 5 stars)

It’s a sleep over! No big deal, right?

Well, so the kids think…until they claim a giant trapdoor spider is under their bed. Now they have to escape giant trapdoor spider and all the terrors that come with it…while keeping their friendship in tack!

As with a lot of these “Dark Corner” tales, I don’t feel like this quite landed. While the premise is clearly interesting, it took a lot of backtracking and reading to really understand what was happening. The idea of venturing into a child playgroup and experiencing their trepidation and horrors while playing is one of great interest. It was, in a twisted way, like watching an episode of the Rugrats or another cartoon, transporting us to a realm of childhood imagination.

Overall though, I just thought the execution could have been a bit better to really hit the point home.

What’s it about?

The thrill of a sleepover becomes sheer terror as kids voice their greatest fears into existence in this cheeky, vividly cinematic tale by New York Times bestselling author Edgar Cantero. Lights out.

It’s bad enough that its venom-dripping chelicerae can slice through flesh like warm butter. Worse? It’s right there under the bunk. It’s a fact now. To make it through the night, the children must obey the rules: don’t get out of bed, stay out of the shadows, and don’t wake the beast. But as the threats multiply, so do the rules of survival. And with the safety of dawn still hours away, the fun is just beginning.

Edgar Cantero’s There’s a Giant Trapdoor Spider under Your Bed is part of Dark Corners, a collection of seven heart-stopping short stories by bestselling authors who give you so many new reasons to be afraid. Each story can be read in a single sitting. Or, if you have the nerve, you can listen all by yourself in the dark.

Book Review

True Loaf- Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 / 5 stars)

One day while tending to her bakery, Riley receives a request for a strange ingredient from the forest. Not one to turn down a customer, Riley ventures off to find this ingredient…but it’s not as easy as she imagines.

True Loaf is quite a short story reminiscent of Balkan Folklore. While I can’t say much without giving it away, I will say this: I initially intended to rate this story 3 stars. But after I read the author’s analysis of the story, I bumped my rating up to 4. The clear construction of the tale is reminiscent of many fairy tales, and it is clear a lot of thought went into it. The ultimate ending requires a bit of thought, all to make the story better, just like any folktale. 

So I will say, if you read this short tale, take a moment to ponder what it means. A lot is hidden in these few pages, much more than meets the eye.

And if you run a bakery, be wary of the requests you might receive from strange men. 

What’s it about?

A Short Story Inspired by Balkan Folklore

When a strange man puts in a strange request at the bakery where she works, Riley must go on a mini-adventure to find one unusual ingredient. Along the way, she realizes that things are not always what they seem.

Book Review

A Girl Called Ari- Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5 / 5 stars)

Starla has always lived in the city. Ari lives outside it. But, when their lives cross in a twist of fate that sends Starla to the outside, soon the two girls discover that they might have more in common than they imagined. They both want to go to the city, a place that seems to drip with safety and prosperity. But, as they venture across outback towards the city (or Alice, as Ari calls it), both Starla and Ari have to decide why they want to return to the city in the first place.

In a story reminiscent of Mad Max, A Girl Called Ari takes us to a post apocalyptic world where individuals – young and old – just want to survive. Starla and Ari serve as foils to each other: the posh and proper girl from the city with the rough and rogue girl from the outside. Yet, it is clear they both have the same goals: safety, peace, and a full belly. It is their friendship that makes the story overall shine. 

A dystopian story can always be fun, especially when it has elements of Mad Max! Filled with action, wild dingos, and flawed characters, there isn’t much to NOT love about A Girl Called Ari. The writing as a whole was cinematic, and I could picture the two girls venturing back towards Alice without difficulty.

My hang-ups lie in pace of the story. The story starts with a bang, as many cinematic post-apocalyptical movies do, and it took a few chapters to really understand the full situation Starla found herself in. The hierarchy of the city, as well as the situation of the apocalypse, are up in the air. As Ari mentions though, it never really mattered how the world changed. It’s just how it has always been. Personally though, I would have liked to have a bit more set up around this dystopian future, just so I had a better sense regarding the stakes at hand. 

Overall though, A Girl Called Ari is wonderfully cinematic, and I have full intentions of reading the sequel in the near future to find out what Ari and Starla intend to do next. 

So, if you love Mad Max, fast-paced stories filled with action, and dystopian tales, then this will definitely be the book for you! 

What’s it about?

In a distant future… A world divided… A walled city in a devastated wasteland…

For Starla, a struggle for power becomes a struggle to survive when she finds herself on the wrong side of the wall. Lost in the wasteland, she faces warring factions, bloodthirsty creatures, and the endless burning sun. And then there’s Ari… who is she really? And can she trust this girl from the wasteland to lead her back to the city gates?

One thing’s for sure, Starla’s once privileged life will never be the same.

Book Review

Ruin and Rising- Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5 / 5 stars)

After the Darkling’s attack on Os Alta, Alina, Mal, and their allies have been forced underground with the Apparat heralding Alina as a Saint. But, as Alina’s own quest for the firebird has taken precedent in her mind, and the power she shares with the Darkling continues to haunt her every day, she has to choose what her future holds…and what she wants the most. Will she lead Ravka to peace? And if she does, what will her future look like?

In a satisfying conclusion to the Shadow and Bone trilogy, we venture back to Ravka with Alina as she stands off one last time against the Darkling. While the end of the series was certainly predictable in some aspects, Leigh Bardugo’s execution really made Ruin and Rising shine as a conclusion to the series. By far, in my opinion, it was the best book of the series, really letting each of the characters shine, with a satisfying ending that made perfect sense for the characters. 

While I still hold that Six of Crows is a far better book, Leigh Bardugo paints a beautiful image of a world enshrouded by darkness. But, through it all, we have light. This is not just Alina’s powers; this comes down to the characters: the way Nikolai has come into his own, the way Mal “becomes a blade” (as ridiculous as that sounds), the way Genya takes her destiny by control, and the way Zoya shows herself as more than just a bitter squaller. Each of these characters cast a light onto Alina’s story, and without them, she may have fallen into the Darkling’s influence.

The Darkling is a remarkably influencing villain, reminiscent of many light/dark connections in fantasy. He’s toxic, manipulative, and his terror influences Alina as well. Leigh Bardugo does a fantastic job showing this internal struggling in Alina. Truth-be-told, the way her story ends is the only one that made sense due to this power struggle.

Now, I do want to comment on Mal’s character as I know he is controversial. Is he the perfect guy? No. But I think he is the most human character in the series. His reactions to Alina are normal: he’s worried she’s losing herself, and he doesn’t see himself in her future. Yes, he supposedly flirted with others and was jealous over Alina’s flirtations with others…but Alina was just as guilty. Plus, I did not anticipate THAT surprise in his character arc (although, it definitely reminded me of Harry Potter). 

Overall, my problems with the Shadow and Bone trilogy as a whole come down to tropes common in YA that I don’t like: love triangles (or in this case, a quadrilateral),  misunderstandings between characters , and a first-person narrator who is, for lack of a better word, “the chosen one.” But, I knew these would all be the case going into this book, so I was able to take them in stride. 

Overall, I give the entire series 4 out of 5 stars. Shadow and Bone might not be the most *original* story in the world, but it takes some of the best aspects of fantasy and bundles them into a world ripe with magic. I am so happy I read this series with the TV show out, and I cannot wait to return to the Six of Crow’s Duology. Certainly, Shadow and Bone offers the necessary background to make Six of Crows pop, and without it, I don’t think that book would really shine. 

For lovers of YA fantasy and elemental magic, I highly encourage you to check out Shadow and Bone

Really, overall, the Grishaverse is amazing…and it deserves the hype it has received in my opinion. 

What’s it about?

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

Book Review

Siege and Storm- Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 / 5 stars)

After escaping the Darkling, Alina and Mal have fled across the True Sea to hide. Yet, their salvation is short lived, leaving at trail of bread crumbs for the Darkling to find. Alina is pitted once more against friends and foes to save Ravka – and the world – while hunting for the final two amplifiers that will bring her powers to light. But, who can she trust? And why is she seeing the Darkling everywhere she goes? And is her own desire for power turning her into what she fears the most? 

I may have an unpopular opinion here, but I actually liked Siege and Storm far more than Shadow and Bone. The story allowed me to sit more with Alina, Mal, as well as newcomer Nikolai, as well as really get to know the world of the Grisha. It’s those slower moments that really let the worldbuilding shine, and while some stuff meandered for a bit, I thought it meandered in just the right way. This might not be what everyone enjoys, but for me I reveled in the chance to really get to understand the world and characters more.

Speaking of characters, the slower pace by far let us see them more. Alina is granted more autonomy, making decisions about her future, rather than being treated like a pawn in the Darkling’s game. Mal’s reactions to everything is human (more on that later). And Nikolai, well, I understand why people adore his character. He is absolutely repulsive and charming in the best ways. 

Alina’s growth as a character is noted: it’s an example of the corruption of power, and how she and the Darkling are two sides of the same coin. Yet, the Darkling thrives in, well, darkness…while Alina strives for the light. But, it requires equal sacrifice from both of them…to the point of dehumanization.

It is because of this that Mal’s reactions make sense for me. I’ve seen on social media that Mal is probably one of the more controversial characters. Personally, I think he is the most human character in the story…and I think that is why people struggle with accepting him as Alina’s love interest. In no way is he perfect. He makes mistakes typical of any young man – jealousy being the prime example. But, in some ways, he’s no worse than Alina as well who is worried about Zoya taking him away. Really, the way I interpreted Mal, is someone not quite cut out for the crazy world that has taken over his best friend. He wants to protect her, but he doesn’t think he can. He doesn’t feel like he belongs. So, instead of speaking to Alina about it (just like Alina withholds information about the Darkling from him), he turns to fighting, he turns to the bottle, and he turns to somewhat toxic behavior. This doesn’t make him a bad character; it makes him human…and in my opinion, that is what Alina needs in both a partner and a friend: someone who is human, someone who wants her to be human. Whether that person is Mal or someone else (though by the way the prologues and epilogues are…I am pretty sure Mal is endgame for her), that is the best option. So yes, while Mal isn’t the “perfect partner”, I do think some of the discourse around his character (which I try not to get involved in) is unwarranted. 

Perhaps that is just how I interpret it though, and some people might see his behaviors in a different light, which is totally fine.

Yet, Alina’s relationship with Mal is one of the reasons why I knock off a star from the book as well. A lot of their issues fall under the “constant misunderstanding trope” – whether it is about Alina’s powers, Mal’s happiness, Nikolai’s flirtations, or the Darkling. While I don’t mind the misunderstandings, one after the other caused the plot to drag a little bit…especially when things could have been resolved with a simple conversation. 

This, coupled with some of the standard YA tropes that I don’t like overall (love triangles being the best example), impacted my overall rating.

Still, I find that Siege and Storm was better than Shadow and Bone. I was worried, since some people told me they couldn’t get through this book. But for me, this was just the right sweet spot, and provided the perfect bridge as a middle book in the series. 

If all goes to plan, I should finish Ruin and Rising before I finish the TV show. 

What’s it about?

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm. 

Book Review

Coraline – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆   (4 / 5 stars)
Audio Book Performance: ★★★★☆ (4 / 5 Stars)

After moving into a new flat in a big old house with her parents, Coraline is finding herself facing the ultimate test: boredom on a rainy day. She has explored everything…until a mysterious door leads her to a house identical to her own, but even more fantastic. There, she meets her “Other Mother” a woman identical to her mother but with button eyes. Everything seems perfect! Until they want to replace her eyes with buttons as well. Now, Coraline has to escape her Other Mother’s clutches and save her own parents…otherwise she will be stuck forever.

Of course, I have seen the movie Coraline. It was years ago, but it still sticks fresh in my mind. Delightfully reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, Neil Gaiman brings to life the story of a girl who wants more out of life. Or…so she thinks. But with the opportunity to have everything, she learns that having everything doesn’t really mean anything. It’s the boring days that make life count. 

Creepy in every way, Gaiman paints a picture of the experiences Coraline goes through as she fights her Other Mother. The monsters are the type that will haunt nightmares, all while showing Coraline’s strength and determination to overcome them. In a way, they are a message for growing up: escaping temptation, accepting new things, and learning to embrace selflessness. These are messages that adults and children can all carry.

I will say, some parts didn’t hold my attention and I think were better translated onto the screen. In addition, the ending was a bit slow, considering the anxiety pumping action throughout the middle of the book. Perhaps this was the audiobook narration and not the tale itself. It is hard to tell at times. This can be the case with Neil Gaiman’s writing though; its poetic nature can wind in just the wrong direction, losing the reader for a moment in both good and bad ways. 

Overall though, Coraline is a wonderful story that both adults and children will like. Just remember though, if you find a strange door in your house, be careful where you put the key. Otherwise, you might just find your Other Mother! 

What’s it about?

“Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house. . . .”

When Coraline steps through a door to find another house strangely similar to her own (only better), things seem marvelous.

But there’s another mother there, and another father, and they want her to stay and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.

Coraline will have to fight with all her wit and courage if she is to save herself and return to her ordinary life

Book Review

Shadow and Bone- Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.75 / 5 stars)

Alina has never considered herself anything important; an orphan, a mapmaker, a nobody. She is just one face in the army, nothing like the infamous Grisha who display insurmountable power. But, as they cross the Fold one day, Alina unleashes a power beyond her wildest imagination. At first she doubts it happened, but when she catches the attention of the Darkling, she discovers that she is the lone sun summoner in Ravka…and she might help change the world.

Truth-to-told, I entered Shadow and Bone skeptically. Already, YA as a genre enters uncertain territory for me. Sometimes the books work, such as Six of Crows, but others lean too far into being YA, and I struggle to connect with the characters. This is particularly true for me when it comes to YA books narrated in the first person. 

While overall, I enjoyed the plot of Shadow and Bone – and have full intentions of reading the rest of the series and watch the TV show – some parts of this book just didn’t work for me. 

But first, let’s talk about the good: the Grisha are full realized magic users, both who face admiration and discrimination on both sides and in different ways. The worldbuilding around them is sound, and Ravka as nation is full realized. While Six of Crows as a true story about characters, Shadow and Bone is a teenager’s perspective on the world around her. Alina is powerful, and she slowly comes to terms as to how to utilize her abilities…which she unknowingly suffocated throughout her life.  But, she is also a realistic teenager; she trusts the wrong people, she doubts herself, and she easily can be manipulated. Yet, her conviction shines; like her powers as the Sun Summoner, she is also the light. She stands up for what is right, and holds herself to a high standard, to meet the ones she admires. This is a standard YA protagonist, but at its core, it works. 

Overall, I loved the  plotline. The Darkling does indeed make a (spoiler) fantastic and complex villain that manipulates Alina for his own uses. Certain characters shine above the rest as well with Genya being my favorite. The idea of an amplifier to make abilities stronger seems to also play into some of the ideas with Juda Parem in Six of Crows (and I suppose I’ll learn more about that as well). Bardugo has obviously put a lot of care into this universe. 

Yet, I do take issue with a few things in the story. While Alina is a fantastic protagonist, strong in her own right, the plot – for the most part – happens around her. She is thrown from one location to the next, not really in charge of her destiny until the very end of the book when she fights back against the Darkling’s influences. This could be viewed as a magnificent example of character growth though, which is quite typical of many books. Truthfully though, Alina is somewhat bland too. While I can tell you she is the Sun Summoner, has a strong moral compass, loves teasing Mal, and tends to belittle herself…I can’t tell you *much* about her. She’s in her head a lot, as most teenagers are, and she’s a survivor. So on one hand, kudos to Leigh Bardugo for writing a believable narrator, but on the other…I just wish there was a bit more.

I also tend to be hesitant with certain tropes in YA fiction…especially the love triangles. These triangles have of course been latched onto by the fan base on social media about whether Alina belonged with the Darkling or with Mal. The Darkling is a fantastic villain, as I have mentioned, but he’s manipulative. His relationship with Alina is one of power, that is uncomfortable to an extent. Alina is 17 and the Darkling is, well, ancient. I have never been one for those romances with such a big age gap, and I was excited to see her go back to Mal, her friend, the one who has fought to protect her. I know, I know, a lot of people think Mal is bland and boring. I didn’t think so though (especially with the bonus letter at the end of my edition). Mal is a soldier, like Alina, and he’s young…trying to balance his duties with the love he didn’t know he had. Yes, he can be a little in his head and annoying in instances, but what teenage boy isn’t? 

Granted, Mal being the influencer over Alina’s powers also doesn’t sit right with me either. Her powers unlocked to save him; she unlocked them again when she stopped fretting over him; and again, she unlocked them to save his life. I hate the idea of an heroine’s powers being tied to a love interest. 

Overall, I did like the story though. I’m in love with the Grishaverse and have intentions to read the rest of the books in it. In fact, I still basically read this book in one sitting (with a few small breaks), so it kept my attention from start-to-finish. Since I went in with lower expectations for this book, I can definitely say that the book surpassed them. 

What’s it about?

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.