This Young Adult novel is the first in a series , The Grisha, set in the nation of Ravka - a land very similar to Russia at the time of the Tsars. The big powers here are the Grisha, the 'magic users'.
The story follows Alina, an orphan, who is tested for 'Grisha powers' at a young age (along with her fellow orphan Mal) they both test negative and time goes on.
When they leave the orphanage as they get older and join the army, Alina as a cartographer's assistant and Mal as a soldier. They are together on a trip through the Shadow Fold - a darkly impenetrable slash across the land, growing year by year, that houses horrors and creatures that are almost beyond imagination.
When they are part way through their sand skiff is attacked and in a blinding light Alina unleashes her magic........
After a strong start I did feel this was going to be a bit of a Harry Potter meets Twilight kind of book (Alina goes to learn how to control her magic and comes to the attention of the dark, brooding Darkling - the Chief Grisha) but it turned out to be a lot better than that.
It turns out that Alina is the opposite and also the partner to The Darkling (a kind of light/dark balance) and she may be just what is needed to sort out the Shadow Fold........you'll just have to read this quite excellent little book for yourself.
There were two things that really sold this book for me. The first was the setting, as I said earlier it is reminiscent of Tsarist Russia, the atmosphere of the place seeps off the page and stays with you long after the book is finished. The second is the characters, and this was quite refreshing for me. There are not many that feel GOOD or EVIL, most are a blurry grey, more realistic in my eyes.
The story goes on at a steady pace for the first half of the book but somewhere just past the middle things step up a couple of gears and give you enough twists to keep you from putting the book down.
All in all a very competent and well told story with many good ideas - I shall be looking out for the next in the series, believe me