The setting and magic system are both good here. This is the perfect introduction to Ravka, and to the way the whole Grisha society works. Alina – lead character – is such a great foil for the audience to experience the world through. As she becomes acquainted with things outside her realm of understanding, so too does the reader. It’s not confusing or over simplified either, it’s just casually injected into nearly every moment of the story; it all serves a purpose.
As great as Alina is, the Darkling is a more intriguing character. This is a person with depth, who believes in his motivations fully and with conviction, it definitely felt like the Darkling was written with a heavy sexual subtext. It’s never erotic, and in fact I think many teens would completely miss it.
Lastly, the plotting itself is phenomenal. This is a real hero’s journey from start to finish. I was glad that Bardugo didn’t spend an outrageous amount of time showing us Alina’s training. Rather, she skips ahead in order to really get to the good stuff. It allowed Alina to do her natural growth in power off-screen, without boring the readers, which I appreciated.