I don't even know where to start with this one.
I listened to the audiobook version of this novel... and I'm not sure if it helped or hurt (and there's a reason I bring this up and will go into later).
I was so excited about this book. The cover is so pretty! I <3 all things and all books Russian, and while I didn't know anything about it, I instantly recognized the onion domes on the cover. I thought this would be a YA book with a fantasy setting.<br/>
The book is standard YA fantasy romance-y fare, but more bland, cheezey, and groan-worthy than I was expecting. We have the (of course) special!girl! With unknown!special!powers! And the bad guy. And the pretty!mean! girls. And the more perfect than perfect side-kick/romantic-interest. It was just really boring and obvious. Tropes were tropey. Bad guy was evil and manipulative. And the protag was more than enough Mary-Sue and angsty to make me want to cry.
The magic system seems to be specialized molecular magic. It's still magic, but people are manipulating things on a micro level, and magicians ("grischa/grisha") seem to have a specialized ability - fire grisha manipulated volatile elements to make things fiery, etc..
There are three main countries involved. Ravka (our Russian setting) has a monarchy and a "first army" made of muggles non-magic folk, the then the "Darkling" which is the head-mage in charge of the "second army." Political intrigue and all of that is going on.
Alina, our protag, is a orphan who has joined the First Army as a map maker. While crossing the Shadow Fold (some sort of magical no-man's land separating the country into two parts), Alina displays grisha power, and she's taken to the Darkling. It seems she's a super-rare/only "Sun Summoner" and the key to destroying the Fold. She gets sent off to magical boarding school the Little Palace where Grisha train. Seduction, betrayal, etc. later, and she's running away/playing the pawn of the Darkling, who is trying to control her through the use of an "amplifier" (a totem that amplifies a Grisha's power). She learns how powerful she can be and she escapes.
So yay for the trilogy not leaving a hanging ending.
The setting is Russian-y. It's not quite Russia, but it borrows heavily, and that's part of the big problem for me. I kept mixing up the sexes of the characters because the author mixed up the gender of names. A LOT, which would throw me out of the story, "wait, he is a she? or is that a girl? THAT is a boy?" I'm no expert in Russian culture, but I've read enough to immediately have problems with it. The author also played with with things like kvass (which is not alcoholic, btw), grischa and other Russian standard fare. The part that made listening to the audiobook difficult was things like mixing up the sexes in names (male and females end their names different), and if she spelled things differently in the book to distance them from actually being Russian, I missed it (I'm sure I still would have caught the play with spelling, though).
The only character of any interest to me was the bad guy. Everyone else was rather cardboard (not that he wasn't, but at least he had a couple of 3D folds here and there).
I want to swear that I won't go on with the series, but the voice actor, is pretty good, and I am working on projects where I like to listen to audiobooks, but need something that I can be distracted from without ruining the story (serious litra-cha need not apply at the moment), and this author's writing certainly fits the bill of "if I lose track of what's going on, I can figure it out and not feel like I missed anything important."
I don't know... if an author is going to do something with a Russian setting, do a couple hours worth of research and don't butcher the crap out of it. The excuse of "but it's not really
Russia!" isn't going to cut it for me, and I don't think I'm the only one who would feel that way.