Book Review: The Gathering Dark / Author: Leigh Bardugo / Publisher: Indigo / Release Date: Out Now
Fantasy novels aimed at the young adult audience tend to run along familiar lines; there’s usually some sort of pathetic protagonist (usually with a hidden power), an obvious love interest and then a rival to spice things up. Typically, this is enhanced with a smattering of action and a healthy dose of fun and romance. Leigh Bardugo’s The Gathering Dark delivers all these things, but does so in such a way that the formula really doesn’t matter. This is a guilty pleasure for those who like a bit of romance in their fantasy novels.
The story takes place in the land of Ravka; imagine Russia, but one under constant threat from a realm made of shadow, that spits out winged monstrosities. It’s a country that is locked in a war with a constant threat, and has become reliant on its cadre of elite sorcerers known as Grisha. Of course, the central heroine (an orphan called Alina) discovers that she has magical powers and gets dragged into the politics of these magical beings. The Grisha themselves are described as beautiful, almost gothic creatures, but also rife with petty politics and schoolyard envy.
Much of the book is filled with this sort of thing; it’s the Grisha who really take centre stage here, with poor Alina not really shining until much later on, and that’s the point. This is the sort of world where one of the most useful magical powers is supernatural cosmetic surgery, and it doesn’t seem at all weird. Be warned that this is not a book for those looking for fantastic feats of violence or an in-depth examination into the perils of power and responsibility. It’s a fun little romance story with fantastic trappings, wrapped up in a setting that is as delightful as it is dark. Older hands may have seen this all before, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.