I am a big fan of Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows series its one of my favorite young adults from the recent years. I was very eager to finally start this series, based on the fact that I loved her later works. Sadly this one didn't invoke the same feelings as I had when I read Six of Crows. To be fair this is one of her earlier works, so I can give it some slack in that regard. However had I read this first I do not know if I would have read her other works. The writing in this book is not so much the problem, the author can tell a story there's no doubt about that. But my main gripe with it was that I felt that the Darkling was made the villain for the sake of being the villain. It felt very light is good, dark is bad kind of vibe and that felt very tropeish to me. Already he was seen as someone to be feared, so people feared him. I was hoping that while he could do terrible things, it wasn't necessarily because he was evil down to his core.
The building chemistry between him and Alina really had me looking forward to that being the angle. When its revealed suddenly that he is the one, that created the Fold in the first place. Outside of wanting my ship to happen, it just felt very forced and just kind of dropped into the lap of the reader half way through the first book. If something was like this revealed later, it might have had a bigger impact on me. But with it being right in the middle of the first book it created this bland feeling. I wasn't surprised or shocked, mostly just disappointed because it didn't have an impact on me. Even the way its revealed was just sort of made no sense to me. Baghra is revealed to be the Darkling's mother, and she tells Alina of his true identity. Its never shown until later, that Baghra was right. It just bugged me that the protagonist is able to be convinced by someone, without witnessing the truth until much later. Now onto the romantic pairing I was obviously not a fan of this ship. But that's because I loathe childhood friend tropes, its overdone and when one is involved nearly every time you already know who the protagonist is going to get with.
It was clear the two had a connection, and the feelings were one sided for a while. That aside it felt like the ship was being made to fit, where it didn't make a whole lot of sense from Mal's side. He only came to the realization after the fact, that Alina was taken into the Little Palace that he had feelings for her. Before that he didn't seem that romantically interested in her, considering its stated numerous times that he was known to go out and be with other women. Which that is not something that bugs me, but its clear he didn't feel on the same level for Alina as to what she did for him. It felt more like a brother sister relationship, perhaps akin to a twin bond. Clearly the romance factor regardless of everything else that is going on is more pushed to the front, unlike Six of Crows. My gripes aside I do love the Grishaverse its ripe with interesting lore, and I love all the different powers that Grishas have. Its a unique and very vivid world.
I just wished I could have felt that sense of awe in this book that I got from Six of Crows. To be fair because it did not have the same feel, as her later works it is likely that I am judging it more firmly. Its not a bad book but the reasons I stated are why I did not enjoy the first book. I intend to finish the other two books in the series and I do look forward to seeing how the series grows. Because it does deserve a chance, but if the theme continues on its likely my stance will not change much.