So, I went into this book knowing a bunch about the worldbuilding the author had done, and nothing about the plot. Combine this with the fact that it reminded me a lot of Sheryll Jordan's Winter of Fire (poor girl whisking into a life of status and power by a mysterious leader figure, the whole idea of light vs dark or warmth vs cold) the plot definitely didn't take the direction I thought it would. I appreciate that as a story, it's probably better this way, but I was totally shipping the Alina/the Darkling, and it took a long time for me to adjust to/accept the fact that he was actually a cruel, manipulative megalomaniac, and that the guy who I'd overlooked as the childhood love interest who usually gets shunted aside for the new shiny paranormal guy was actual the One True Love. So I'm unsure how I feel about the second half of this book. It's not bad - as I said, it's probably a better story - but it just isn't what I wanted, exactly.I realized as I read this book that I have now read widely enough in this genre to identify most of the tropes that keep popping up, and I definitely identified a few here: the plain heroine, the hot oblivious (or is he?) childhood friend/love, the whole flight arc and wilderness survival arc bit, the servant BFF who is nicer than all the bitchy popular/court girls, etc etc. That said, there were a bunch of twists that I never saw coming, particularly in terms of the Darkling, probably because I mistakenly thought he was the 'hot, arrogant, paranormal lover'. And I'm sure this is what the author was banking on. (Speaking of which, it was brilliant to set up the priest as a red herring bad guy, with help from the parallels which you couldn't help drawing to Rasputin.) So I think it's cool that she was able to 1) use the tropes in a very original way and 2) use enough of them to make you assume she was using ones she wasn't.I also really like the worldbuilding, even though I did initially feel like I was sort of dropped into the world without enough explanation about it. I liked the idea of using Russia as a cultural touchstone.I did spend a lot of time being annoyed about how passive Alina seemed to be - everything that happened seemed to just be happening to her, every change in her circumstance wasn't something she had control over, even when she ran away it was because she was told to. But then when she finally took charge, it was really awesome. And maybe that was the point of all her passivity: to lead her to the point when she realized that she had to act. I also liked the idea of her power being so subject to her conscious or unconscious mindblocks and her conception of the truth.