I absolutely loved this world. The Grisha were fascinating to say the least. They are not witches or wizards and do not perform magic; actually they get highly offended at the word. They are practitioners of what they call the Small Science. An interesting concept to look at magic in a scientific manner. Just like any elite group there is a certain level of snobbery and cliques. Nonetheless, Alina makes a few friends amongst the Grisha. Eventually she even starts to accept her new abilities and thinks of herself as one of them. Though court life is full of glimmer and shine, there is something a lot darker lurking beneath all the pleasantries. Ravka is at war with the surrounding countries, the King is practically as useful as a child, and the Abbott is a sinister presence always ready to corner Alina when she is alone. Even more distressing to Alina is that her best friend, Mal, has failed to answer any of her letters.
Alina was an amazing MC. She's kind of awkward and can never do anything very well, but that never stops her from trying. She literally exhausts herself with her studies, and keeps pushing herself. Once her powers fully flourish, Alina finally becomes the young woman she's been striving to be. She is no longer held back by her past and embraces her newfound power. For the first time in her life she feels like she has a purpose. She can help destroy the Shadow Fold and free her country from the horrors of war. She even feels desired for the first time. Always that skinny awkward girl that most guys refer to as "Twig" she's never felt confident in herself. When the Darkling, the most powerful man in the country, shows an interest in her things start to look up.
The Darkling was just as interesting. And yes you never get to know his name. He is the Darkling. I'm such a sucker for dark, quiet, misunderstood types and I fell hook, line, and sinker for this guy. I really thought that he was seeing Alina for who she really was and liked her for it. I don't think I have ever been so drastically wrong about a character's motivations. Anyway I still remain firm in the belief that there is more to the Darkling than anyone thinks. He's such a mysterious figure that you just know that he has some other deeper issues going on.
And the ending to this! I was on the edge of my seat for probably the last fifty pages. I couldn't have put it down if I wanted to. I am absolutely stoked for the sequel. Shadow and Bone was such an amazing start to a wonderful new trilogy (I'm assuming) and I highly recommend it. It's full of magic, intrigue, dark forces, and a bit of a love story. Absolutely top notch.