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The Assassin and the Princess - Sarah J. Maas After reading the synposis, it's almost impossible to not be curious and excited about the action, kickass heroine and the romance (even if it's a love triangle, blehh). Throne of Glass lived up to my expectations in the action and kickass heroine department, but as for everything else...I'm actually not sure.I admired Celaena for being a heroine who is a warrior but is not afraid to embrace her feminine side. She's all, "Yes, I can break your neck or kill you in a hundred other ways, but also look at that dress!". While I did like Graceling indefinitely more, one of my problems with Katsa from that novel was her stubbornness to be feminine at all as though she can't be both. At the same time, I found Celaena to be too arrogant - whether it's about her beauty or fighting skills. She's Ardalan's notorious assassin, so sure, she can be proud of her badassery, but I felt like she ran over the top with it. She continues to brag about how she can win the competition, but she couldn't even beat Chaol in the beginning when she was just released from jail! Glad to know that those training sessions with him didn't humble you at all, Celaena. Though we didn't see too much of Nehemia (or as much as I would like), she turned out to be my favorite character. Nehemia had an air of mystery, which made her intriguing and only disappointed me that we couldn't see more of her character. As the Princess of Eyllwe, she was smart, strong and independent. I feel as though I'm in the minority when I say this, but I liked Prince Dorian's charm. That doesn't necessarily mean I like his romance with Celaena, but I like his character and his morality in wanting to be different from his father. Most of their romance was physical attraction that could turn into something more, but he was already willing to sacrifice a lot to publicly love her, whether he acknowledges that or not. As for Chaol, other reviews think that his relationship with Celaena was more natural than her relationship with Dorian, but I didn't get the connection that I was hoping for. I suppose these things are saved for the sequel, but I really wished the author would go further in depth with:-how Celaena's parents died-the rebel groups in Eyllwe-Nehemia and her knowledge in magicEspecially with the latter, this felt essential to me because Nehemia was battling Cain all along, but all we get is that she has genes passed down to her that lets her do what she's able to do. I'm not settling for that, and I wished we had more to go on.In the end, I probably will read the sequel to see how the story develops. If you didn't like this book, I would highly suggest [b:The Poison Study|17960628|The Most Intimate Revelations about Poison Study|Sebastian Skeat|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1370227942s/17960628.jpg|25177720], which is slightly similar in story line but with a lot more heroine development.
Ink - Amanda Sun Ink is one of my biggest book disappointments of this year so far. Japanese setting? Yes, please! Drawings move? Unique - tell me more. Beautiful watercolor cover? Even better! The premise of Ink drew me in, but the actual book made me facepalm and growl at the book. So while I did like the drawings in the novel (yay! pretty pictures!), the Japanese setting, and the idea of interweaving Japanese mythology and folklore into the story to make it very original, it was not enough for me to continue reading.The WritingNot bad, but not brilliant either. Numerous times, the author mentioned the blooming cherry blossoms and the general setting of where Katie lives. Nothing is wrong with this, in fact it's great that the author included these details into the novel, but I wished she did more. As someone who's never been to Japan and has only experienced it vicariously through anime, I was disappointed that Amanda Sun didn't include more imagery on how beautiful Japan could be. As she didn't do this, the writing felt choppy and action driven. Personally, I felt that certain scenes were quite unnecessary and only dragged out the plot. Katie describes how she would bike to school (okayyy), and how she would immediately look for Tomohiro, who would be nowhere seen. What was the point of this besides emphasizing how much of a stalker Katie is (but more on that later)? The PlotI wish I could tell you more about the plot, but I honestly couldn't tell you where this was going if I was held at gun point. What I got from this story is that the plot is driven by the romance. There's nothing really wrong with this, but it's not a story for me, especially when this novel had so much potential to be original and exciting. Also, if you're going to be all about romance, at least make it good. Katie's and Tomohiro's love for each other seemed to happen too fast for it to be believable considering how little they knew of each other. The Character, or rather, Katie GreeneI have not read a character that I've wanted to throttle in quite a while, so Ink frustrated me to no end. She had no hobbies for her own besides the occasional doodle and learning Japanese in cram school (I guess??), but no, most of her time is dedicated to stalking Tomohiro, the love interest. The worst part of being inside her brain is that she refers to him as "the guy that put his best friend in the hospital - who does that??" and will bring up other negative rumors surrounding him, but when she's around him and he suggests that he's dangerous (insert the "I'm-dangerous-I-need-to-drive-you-away angst from Tomohiro), she thinks, "Maybe he's is dangerous after all. No shit, Katie! I'm ashamed to share my name with you. Katie's friends even had the courtesy to warn her about getting involved with Tomohiro, but these precautions fly over her head, naturally. Her little annoying self-conflicts over Tomohiro would repeat in the never ending circle of life the more she stalked him. For the love of god, please, please, please, pleeeaseAnother irritating trait of Katie Greene is that she came off as immature. When her aunt was happy that Katie was making friends and merely suggested that Tanaka could be "more than a friend - wink, wink," Katie's immediate reaction is "Eww." Isn't there a better response instead of making sounds that you would make for a parasite or something equally "eww"-worthy.I personally did not like Ink, but I know other readers have enjoyed it, so give it a try. If I've scared you off, which hopefully I have because this book should be thrown against the wall, I highly recommend [b:Stormdancer|10852343|Stormdancer (The Lotus War, #1)|Jay Kristoff|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1337359560s/10852343.jpg|15767096] by Jay Kristoff; it's original, action-packed fantasy, has mythology mixed in, and even takes place in Japan if you like Japanese culture!
Under the Never Sky  - Veronica Rossi Ah, this is another book that's difficult to review, so I'm not going to even bother giving it a star rating. It didn't take me long to finish the book (probably due to boredom as there's nothing else to really do except read), but I wouldn't exactly say I was excited and it was a definite page-turner. I felt that lots of scenes weren't necessary and only dragged out the book when Veronica could insert more character/romantic development or world building instead. As many other GR reviewers have pointed out, the world building was extremely sketchy. As a sci-fi/dystopia/apocalyptic (these are the general shelves I've seen for UtNS, but honestly I'm not sure how far this book can be categorized as such), the novel lacked explanation of the Aether storm (besides what is it, what triggers a storm?), why did our future world resort to Pods for safety, or why "Outsiders" are not apart of the Pods. With the title and the unsatisfying description of the Aether we got, I always imagined the starry universe and the Pods as different planets. Finding out that they can just travel on foot to another Pod (instead of flying in a space shuttle, which is what I had in mind) was disorienting and I finally realized this 70% into the book. Clarification is important, I see. Even an explanation for what Cinder is would be nice (other reviews tend to forget about him - I don't blame you; he's not exactly memorable really, but I thought I would throw it out there). As for the romance...It was *dramatic pause* love at first sniffI'm hilarious; don't judge meOverall, if you like unbelievable romances that cut to the chase in the romantic department and you like action scenes, you should read this book. As for me, I'm skeptical if I will continue with this series though I'll probably go to the prequel about Roar and Liv because ROAR.
Touched - Corrine Jackson Let me start of this review by saying that I was ready numerous times to not finish this book. Not a great way to start a review, right? but whatever, bear with me The romance seemed cheesy to me, mostly because I felt like their love declarations were coming up too fast, so I just found their love unbelievable. The main reason why I continued reading til the end was because of my morbid curiosity to see if my predictions were right (naturally, they were *scoffs*). From other reviews, many people compared this novel to Twilight, and while I can definitely see why they draw up that comparison, I liked the idea that a person could heal, but absorb the injuries in order to do so. I liked Remy - to a certain point. I liked how she wants to defend herself and not be a damsel in distress. At the same time, I didn't care for the narrative voice, which I can mostly blame on the writing. I haven't heard any teenager ever say "frick" as an expletive, and I was disappointed with how unnatural some of the characters acted or talked. I would have liked to hear more about Remy (what does she like to do when she's not studying and spending time with Asher, ect.), but we met our hero too soon in the novel in my opinion for us to get further development for our heroine. One thing that bothered me also was I didn't understand our villain's motives. It was futile to try to understand motives though apparently, because the villain is just batshit crazy and kept changing plans of what to do to Remy for me to keep up with it. One minute Gabe wants to "get revenge" on her (for what, pray tell?) and the next, he wants to give her to the Protectors for money. In the end he was going to push her off a cliff. Where is the sense in that?
The Immortal Rules - Julie Kagawa Overall, The Immortal Rules wasn't bad, and I understand why people would like it. My biggest issue is that I wasn't excited and completely immersed with the story as much as I would have liked. I like Julie's take on vampires. They were not romanticized, and numerous times I just made a disgusted face or said, "ewww vampires!" As I should.As much as I love my share of romanticized vampires (Adrian Ivashkov, my eyes are glued on you), I loved how badass and gore-filled Julie's vampires were; it all seemed very natural. Despite this, vampires are nothing new, and I found myself getting bored when Kanin was teaching Allie Vampire 101. As for the characters, my personal favorite was Kanin. He was intriguing and mysterious, and I hope to hear more about him in the sequel. I liked how he was idealistic in wanting to help the humans, and how even now when he lost a lot of naivety and hope, he still wants to help humans by giving them a chance to stay alive as a vampire.For our lovely heroine, I liked her character development a lot as she went from looking out on her own to looking after others. It was easy to understand her mentality for survival, but I couldn't really relate to her probably because my life is nowhere near as screwed up as the vampire society she lives in thank god. Zeke, the love interest, was sweet and protective. So despite having nothing against his character (in fact he is very admirable), I wasn't thrilled by him or the romance.One of my biggest qualms with this story is some of the lack of character development for the other characters like Jeb and Ruth. I understand that both are ingrained with the idea that vampires are eeeevil, but after Allie saves your ass so many times, you ought to reconsider. Maybe. But do they? No, they do not. Ruth remained the "mean girl" trope, who was jealous that Zeke was falling for Allie instead of her, and spent the whole novel glaring at Ally and trying to find something wrong with her when she wasn't pursuing the love interest. I really wanted character development for Ruth where she reevaluates her relationship with Allie, but then she dies, so there's that.I may read the sequel to see if it gets better and see where it goes, but it's not really a priority as I kept a straight face for the majority of the book instead of swooning, laughing, and cheering on the characters like I wanted to.
Deathless - Catherynne M. Valente Actual Rating: 4.5 stars Though I knew little about Russian folklore when I started Deathless, Valente entranced me with her novel between her beautiful prose, the characters, and her modern retelling the folklore that takes place in Leninist/Stalinist Russia (which I loved that I understood after learning about Russian history this year). I loved the fact that Koschei and Marya Morevna were complex characters that the readers felt bittersweet but hopeful for them too. The writing was poetic and the reader can really appreciate how Valente repeats certain phrases and scenes to complete the thought. The writing reminds me a bit of Laini Taylor but at the same time not at all because our heroine hopes for magic and love, and the magic interwoven into the story is inspiring. This is such a crap review, so I'm just going to leave you with this quote to make up for it. “I do not tolerate a world emptied of you. I have tried. For a year I have called every black tree Marya Morevna; I have looked for your face in the patterns of the ice. In the dark, I have pored over the loss of you like pale gold.”
Breathless - Brigid Kemmerer Nick. Nicky. I cannot wait for Spirit already just to hear how this develops.
Deity - Jennifer L. Armentrout I've always had mixed feelings on this series because it's almost impossible to ignore all the similarities it has to Vampire Academy. However, I continue reading it because it's entertaining, it gives me nostalgia with VA, and each book has more originality (to an extent) than VA. While Deity did deviate from the VA plotline much more, I was still skeptical reading it the whole time. The writing and insults could have been better and more mature (instead of "daimon-butt!") and at times I couldn't take the characters seriously.Spoilers below:- I didn't really care for how the gods were portrayed to act and dress like teenagers/young adults. Artemis was actually wearing pink camouflage cargo pants and a hot pink tank top, and Hades repeated called Alex "luv" (spelled this way too). I'm not sure where Armentrout was trying to go with this characterization, but I don't think the gods, who have been around since forever, should be at this level of maturity. I don't know how Rick Riordan pulled off gods in a mortal setting without ruining my entire perception of them, but I couldn't find myself to respect the gods in this book.- I'm a bit in disbelief that Seth would buy into Lucian's plots so easily. I liked Seth a lot because Aiden seemed like a Dimitri-but-not-as-awesome-Dimitri to me, so it was such a twist that he's actually evil. It seems like his motivation to take power from the gods isn't good enough: he's only doing it for Lucian's approval and reorganize society so mortals are their servants. He doesn't seem to care enough about half-bloods to truly want to advocate a better life for them, so I'm not convinced by his motives. In the end, I'm deciding not to give any star rating. As always, this series was entertaining because there was always action, but there were too many issues for me to give it a stellar review. Hope it improves in the following books!
Froi of the Exiles - Melina Marchetta Sagra! What can I say?Melina Marchetta certainly didn't let me down with the sequel of The Lumatere Chronicles. It was good to see the previous characters again and see what their lives are like three years after Finnking of the Rock. And while I loved the older characters and having their point of view, I loved the new characters too. They had a great sense of humor - very sarcastic like me lol and I loved their extremely complex relationship with each other. And while I was waiting for a touching reunion scene where the characters (namely Gargarin, Arjuro, Lirah and Froi) shared their feelings with each other, I'm glad they didn't because none of them will stick to their character if they used their words perfectly. I was actually waiting for this with Beatriss and Trevanion too, and it feels like I've been waiting 13 years myself for them to get back together. What will it take for you two perfect beings to be happy again??Froi's development as a character also surprised me a lot because I never knew I would grow to like him so much when he was introduced as a thief and almost-raper from Sarnak. I grew so sympathetic of him because he just wants a place to belong, and as much as he loves Isoboe and Lumatere, he feels the excitement of Charyn and his family here. If there's one reason to read this book besides the well-developed characters, it's for the plot. Oh geez, Marchetta gives so many hints and back-stories that resurfaces later and everything just fits like a puzzle! This is literally me throughout a lot of the book. Everything just made senseMy advice? Write down page numbers when information (any information) about a character is revealed. I kept flipping back to previous pages to reread when I found certain facts about someone, and the plot is that intricate that it definitely helps. I was in the middle reading the novel, and when there was a big reveal, I knew I already wanted to reread it again to understand all the foreshadowing because Marchetta is a literary genius. Okay, one last thing! The writing is incredible. Marchetta manages to write to pull at the heart strings between how she characterizes and how she reveals the story. For example... “I don't despise you for what you allowed to happen to me. I despise you because when I was released, you refused to be found and I needed you more than anything in my life. Not to mend my broken bones, Arjuro. I needed my brother to mend my broken spirit.” Do you see why I need a bonding moment between these two?
Requiem - Lauren Oliver Actual rating: 3.5I really enjoyed this one! Buuut, reasons for why it's not a 4 star are down below. Spoilers ahead. I tried to hide them, but if you're really scared of them, don't continue on just in case.There. Must. Be. More. After convincing myself that the publishers have not ripped me off on my copy of Requiem, I'm half begrudging respect for Lauren Oliver for taking a risk in that ending, and the other half is pissed off and annoyed. Endings to a series are tricky, especially with dystopias where the author does not only have to conclude the characters' lives but also suggest the changes (or not-changes) the dystopian world is headed towards. The ending to this novel and this series was simply unsatisfying to me. I didn't fully expect that the society will be overturned as it did in The Hunger Games/Mockingjay, but I would have liked a more concrete ending of what will happen to this society where love is eliminated. I can only assume that the Resisters are going to try to take down deliria-free communities/cities, symbolized by the taking down of the wall, but we don't hear another peep about DFA and the government again only that the Resisters won in Portland, but what about a national turn in events?. :/ Notice how I'm not even mentioning the lack resolution of the love triangle?Unfortunately, Alex and Julian faded to background characters that only seemed to be in the peripheral vision. However, what I loved about Requiem was Lena and Hana's journey. Lena has changed so much since Delirium, and even from Requiem when she is more naive to the wilds and human nature. Now, she truly wants to be a part of the movement and have a chance to love. For Hana, she was conflicted over keeping up with appearances and hiding her less-cured-like emotions. While some other readers didn't really like Hana's POV, I thought it was a good edition to the story to create more suspense from the back and forth POVs, and it was interesting to see how Hana dealt with her inner conflicts of what she should do and what her heart tells her to. I wished Lena had more time to realize that Hana isn't another zombie with the cure. Another note, how awesome was Hana when she convinced Fred to stay at the house for him to blow up? Too bad we never know what happened to her in the end This novel was Alex-lacking. *pouts* This was such a huge disappointment for me, not only because I like him as a character and want him to end up with Lena, but we don't see any fuzzy heart-warming Alex-Lena moments until the end. I also hoping for more of a confrontation between them about his time in the Crypts and her relationship with Julian. I guess I'll just resort to writing fanfiction in my head for this. Also, though we all guess that Lena will end up with Alex, what's going to happen to Julian?? We'll just never know.With this series, I've always thought it had a lot of potential. I was incredibly impressed by Pandemonium with the complete change in Lena as she fights for survival and what she believes in. I see that still in Requiem, thankfully, but it still feels like it's missing something. Though most of the books I read are for pleasure, so they don't send me into a frenzy trying to analyze it, with dystopias, I've come to expect an ultimate message about/to society, which I didn't really get out of this series. Sure, love is not a disease. Okaaaay. But it's not until literally the last pages that I get the feeling that the message may just be: Don't build [the metaphorical] walls around yourself to avoid pain and passion. I'm glad to have something to hang on to now besides "love is not a disease," but I really wished that Oliver made this clearer (or at least what the message she wanted to convey if this is not it) earlier on.Last note: For those who read the spoilers, I apologize for the rambling. :')
Vain - Fisher Amelie Actual rating: 2.5 stars Basically Sophie about Ian:I'm sorry I couldn't help myselfOkay, so just some quick points...Things I liked:- Character development: I was really impressed by Sophie's complete turn around in character. It started with her self-realizations while she was still in California that she didn't want to be the person she currently was, but she didn't know how to change it. As the story goes on, you see how much she truly loses her selfishness and starts caring for the children and the caretakers in Uganda. Her relationship with Pembrook also showed how much she changed throughout the story, and I liked how he continued to encourage her.- Africa setting: It's not often that I get to read a book that takes place in Africa. I liked the incorporation of the LRA and the happenings in Africa that can spread awareness to the readers. Amelie should have mentioned Invisible Children though. Things that could have been improved:- The romance: Don't get me wrong, I liked Ian! However, when he explained to her why he loved her, he basically described all the lusty reasons of why he would love her. For example:“That might be when I first became aware. Possibly it’s the way your jeans hug your thighs every timeou take a single step though. All I can think of when you’re around me are those damn legs, how they’d feel in my palms, how they’d feel wrapped around my waist.”Now I don't doubt that Ian truly loved Sophie, but this whole speech from here is just about her sexiness! She has so many more redeeming qualities since she came to Uganda, but he disappointed me when he didn't mention her new selflessness or caring nature for the children. Wasn't that the whole point of the novel?- One more thing: I don't know how these people function if they are surrounded by such good looking companions. Sophie and Ian are caught in gunfire, and all she can think about is how sexy he is protecting her. Sigh. Shouldn't you be more concerned about not getting shot, Sophie? So lusty, man.
Finnikin of the Rock - Melina Marchetta After hearing a lot of stellar reviews of this one, I decided to give it a try. At first, I couldn't get into the story. As a fantasy book, the reader needed to adjust to the setting and conflict of Lumatere and the surrounding land in Skulendore. I also had trouble connecting to Finnikin in the beginning, who just seemed distrustful and a bit arrogant. Once I kept on reading though, whoa did it pick up. My character by far is Evanjaline; I loved her wit and how she challenges the other characters with her hope and on their beliefs (seriously, Finnikin, women can be superior too). All the characters soon grew on me, and I liked the interactions between all of them. Marchetta also writes with different POVs, which she did very well. Hearing from Froi's point of view was surprisingly funny to me, with how he noted that everyone around him was "just pretending [that everything was okay]. I also teared up terribly during the parts with Trevanion and Beatriss. They seemed to have the truest love before, and to see it broken was horrible, but I respect how they both need time to heal. "I only gave it 4 stars for the slow beginning, but otherwise, I definitely recommend this one!
Timepiece - Myra McEntire Spoilers of Hourlgass ahead!If you are about to read Timepiece, make sure you remember what happened in book one. I thought I did, but I made the mistake of starting Timepiece only to realize that I really didn't and I had to quickly reread the first one again.This was literally my reaction:"AVA KILLED YOUR DAD!?!?!?"I also couldn't remember what Cat did to betray everyone. This is more than a slight problem.Anyway, I enjoyed Kaleb's POV much more than Emerson's. Because of his ability, he was very in-tuned to other's feelings and his development as a character of using his abilities for good and not evil was nice of McEntire. And compared to Emerson, who was jealous of Ava and alluded her to be a slut, Kaleb is much less judgemental and he's actually trying to help Ava more after what happened in Hourglass. However, I think some of the angst he had didn't belong. Knowing his history between his mom, his dad's death, and the problems he has from being an empath, Kaleb is certainly entitled to be very emotional. But really, I didn't really see the point to having Dune be a possible conflict/love interest for Lily, which only caused pointless drama and jealousy for Kaleb when nothing real even happened between Lily and Dune. For some time, I also couldn't tell if Kaleb loved Emerson because he seemed constantly jealous of Michael and it seemed beyond-friend behavior. :/ Speaking of Lily...whewwww she's one heck of a character. She was strong, independent, and fiercely loyal to Emerson. Her personal past was interesting, and I liked how everyone respected her grandmother's wishes to keep her ability a secret (as true friends should do!). I would also like a round of applause for this girl because Lily is quick in thinking up plans to gain the upperhand. She's sly when bending the rules instilled by her abuela and when she deals with the villains. I believe she also makes really good coffee. Overall, I could use a Lily.Other notes:Is it just me, or does anyone else have a hard time seeing Michael and Kaleb as best friends once upon a time? In my rereading of Hourglass, I noticed how there just seems to be constant , insecurity and jealousness between them, and though their friendship seems to be improving in this novel, I find their friendship hard to buy. Hmm, I realize this review seems to mostly rant about the characters (exception of Lily because Lily is awesome), but it was overall a good sequel with nice pacing and interesting concepts about time-travel.
Girl of Nightmares - Kendare Blake I'm done....When I read Anna Dressed In Blood, I fell in love with the characters, the plot, and how original the story was. A few months later, I slightly forgot the glory of Blake's novel, and so, this one swept me off my feet once again.The character development between the two books in this series is amazing. Cas starts out as the lonely ghost-hunter with no roots, but he learns how to trust his new BFFs - Carmel and Thomas. Blake uses show-not-tell so the reader can look back on Cas' development when he feels betrayed and even like a third wheel with his friends, which he would have never known to feel beforehand. Thomas was a great friend and character, who was always loyal even when - let's admit - Cas seemed completely reckless, but Thomas stood by his side to watch his back. As for Carmel, certain times I did get a bit annoyed and sad by her actions, but you can't really blame her for being overwhelmed by the paranormal. Still, I loved how protective she was of Cas and Thomas, and her funny grouchy attitude. Then, there's Jestine. Basically, she's suspicious to those who are paranoid (like me and Cas).The plot was intriguing as ever. Blake truly keeps up the suspense and Girl of Nightmare lives up (if not surpasses) the horror level and reputation of Anna Dressed in Blood. To be honest, I didn't feel so scared when I read the first one; the sequel was another story. At one point of the novel, I was really scared shitless, so much that I had to put down the book and walk away from all the creepy dead things happening in the book. The end of the book also left me in tears, but I am very satisfied with it, and I'm glad that the series isn't going to be dragged out like some others that I know.
Skinned - Robin Wasserman Had to drop this one. It held an interesting concept, but I just couldn't get past the mopey heroine and I kept reading a bit just to see if she'll become more badass, but alas, I couldn't continue.
Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo Actual Rating: 4.5Spoilers below!When, I first started reading Shadow and Bone, I didn't know what to make of it. I loved the Russian setting, but as Tatiana and other reviewers pointed out, the author clearly did not do her research when it came to the Russian vocabulary. Alina Starkov should be "Alina Starkova," "Grisha" is actually a name, and kvas aren't alcoholic but all the characters treat as though it is. There are so many others, so if you get miffed about this sort of stuff (I know I cringed whenever they used Alina's full name), this book will annoy you endless. Despite these blunders though, Shadow and Bone completely exceeded my expectations!Just when I was thinking that Bardugo directed her story in one direction, she completely surprises the reader and changes everything we know about this book . The romance that started between The Darkling and Alina was too fast paced for me to believe that they were falling in love. Sure enough, SHAZAM he's actually using her. Pacing wise, Shadow and Bone didn't linger on any stage of Alina's journey for too long. We have a glimpse of her life before she was aware that she's a Grisha, her adaption to the Grisha life in Little Palace, her escape with Mal, and the ending when she kicks some major ass. I find often times that an author can get easily wrapped around the stage where the main character adjusts to her new life (in this case it would be when Alina moves to Os Alta), but Bradugo moves the plot along efficiently. I figured that this book was part of a series (what YA aren't part of a series these days?) so I knew there was more to come, but when I was 20 pages from the end, I was so on my toes. Actually, I was on my toes for all of the second half of this novel. Kudos to you, Leigh Bardugo!As someone who loves tortured characters, I bought The Darkling's secretly-caring act because deep down he's probably extremely lonely and he just wants someone who could be his equal...though he did end up enslaving the only person in Ravka that could go toe to toe with him. Bardugo makes him out to be the villain but assuming he doesn't die, he has a lot of room for character development. What I really liked about this book was the comparison of Alina and The Darkling. Alina is nothing like The Darkling, she's not evil - she just wants to be accepted, which we can all relate to. Alina starts out as a naive character who is just learning how to use her power; The Darkling is an ancient power who knows how to play in politics. She has the mercy that The Darkling does not, BUT the reader is given the sense that she is a little greedy and possessive her power that the collar gave her. This sets up an interesting aspect for Bradugo to get into in the sequels of how power comes with corruption.It was interesting to read about the dynamic of Ravka's culture. Everyone eats the same meal - the privileged Grishas have to eat the same food a commoner might. I wished Bradugo could go more into the world building a bit, but overall it was a nice balance between plot, characterization and world-build.