This is a book I had seen a lot of people reading and liking both here and on Twitter, but I didn’t really see a lot of hype surrounding this. I would have probably passed on it if I hadn’t received my copy for the Best-of-the-Year promotion my job does. (Btw, the best-of-the-year tag refers to that, not my personal choices for the Best of 2012.) I did end up liking this book. It’s not at the top or OMG YOU MUST READ IT NOW, but for what it was, it was enjoyable and I’m interested enough that I’m willing to check out the sequel whenever it comes out. And to be honest, a lot of my problems with the book were my own prejudices and issues with current YA.To start with, world-building. I would love to see a visual adaptation of the book because omg the pretty. I like to find fantasy settings that aren’t a retread of English/Norse/ripping off Tolkien, and if they’re really well done and the author puts thought into what they’re doing. And Bardugo does a great job of that here—a Russian-inspired setting, with both the glamorous palace life and the harsh territory Alina has to navigate during the winter. I loved the setting, and the touches of Russian folklore added to the atmosphere immensely. (Part of me wants Baba Yaga. Is that so much to ask?) I also did like the magic system, and how the different Grisha ranks were structured. I would have liked to have seen more than just one friend for Alina, but I did like the rivalries between different Grisha factions that get mentioned. Alina was a surprise. While she is the heroine with the super special power—a light summoner, and therefore the One To Save Us All—she’s actually very modest about her abilities and position. She doesn’t want special treatment, she actually has to train and hone her powers and fighting skills, and even after Alina has figured out how to use her power properly, she knows that she has a long ways to go until she’s extremely powerful (without the help of an amplifier). I liked her as a main heroine, she could have easily slipped into Mary Sue mode, but she doesn’t. There are moments of her being useless, particularly toward the end, but I never ended up hating her.I liked the set-up for her and Mal’s relationship. I do like Mal—he’s not a jerk nor does he think that Alina can’t handle herself in battle. There is a little bit of “I can’t live without you!”, but their close relationship is set up very early on in the book. It is predictable that they eventually end up together, but I liked the portrayal of the two as kids, living in the orphanage and the different antics they would get up to. I’m not so much a fan of the explanation that the reason that Alina never discovered her powers was because she couldn’t bear to be away from Mal, and Mal’s safety was what triggered them in the first place. The major reason why I’m so hesitant about getting into the rest of this series is the Darkling. Or specifically, the whole reason why the Darkling’s here: love triangle. I already didn’t like him in the beginning of the book, he’s yet another gorgeous immortal that the heroine is drawn to for ~reasons~ and the reveal of him as the Big Bad just seemed…weak. I don’t get his motives, I don’t understand why he only stopped when he did if he was so power-hungry (the volcra explanation felt weak), and he doesn’t really do much. And I’m really uncomfortable with his whole speech to Alina about “Like calls to like” and that he can still seemingly control her and her powers. I will be less keen on the next book if Alina starts talking about how powerless she is in front of the Darkling—really, just grow a spine and fight him off. (Stupid pointless love triangles, we hates them.)The other characters are largely unmemorable. The only other Grisha girl we meet is Genya, who is kind to Alina, and I like her (save for the “I must prostitute myself sometimes, but we deal.” No. Just no.). As I mentioned before, I really wanted Alina to make some other friends, but of course, every other Grisha girl who shows up is vain, selfish, and catty. The only character I really loved was Baghra, she was awesome. Particularly her whole attitude in training Alina. Again, I did enjoy reading this book, and I’m willing to check out the sequel whenever it gets released. However, the reveal and the end of the book, coupled with my own prejudices and experiences (and stupid love triangle rearing its head) is what ultimately knocked this book down. I will say at least check it out for the setting, and if you like it, keep reading. It’s not a waste of time, but I can see why it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea.