The Darkling is many things, but above all, he is a force to be reckoned with. Ultimately, the Darkling is the antagonist of the novel, but he is much more than the black-and-white villain that his name implies. He’s the leader of the Grisha, the commander of the Second Army, a potential love interest for Alina, and the man who created the Shadow Fold. He exerts a force on the other Grisha, and Genya notes that the Grisha women feel “pulled” to him. He is also able to act as an amplifier and coax another Grisha’s power out of them or heighten what they are able to do naturally. Despite the Darkling's fame and power, very few details are known about him other than that he is incredibly old and he is Baghra’s son. 

While the Darkling does change quite a bit through the course of the novel, these changes are only superficial. The charming qualities that were so apparent while Alina was first getting to know him are revealed to be a façade. The Darkling sheds the empathetic, curious mask that he wore when talking to Alina the minute he realizes she is aware of his deception.  

Beyond this, the Darkling is a master manipulator when it comes to other people’s emotions. In several of his conversations with Alina, the Darkling is able to pivot so that she feels responsible for his actions. When they kiss after the winter fete, he makes Alina feel like she’s the reason he gets angry for wanting her. What’s more, he tries to convince Alina that she has turned into a villain for abandoning the people on the skiff when she chooses to run away from him in the Fold even though he was the one who put them in harm’s way. 

One half of the battle between good and evil, he is the inverse of everything that Alina stands for. He is cruel where she is kind, callous where she is empathetic, and confident where she is unsure. Fundamentally, the Darkling is obsessed with power and will do anything necessary to gain even more of it.