Alina Starkov’s story closely follows the structure of the classic hero’s journey, chronicling her transformation from a common orphan to a symbol of hope for the people of her homeland. 

Alina’s own journey begins when she learns that she is the Sun Summoner after entering the unknown reaches of the Shadow Fold and unconsciously triggering a long-dormant power that she possesses when her oldest friend is attacked by the volcra. This moment coincides with the “call to adventure” and it sets off a chain of events that faithfully mirrors the steps commonly seen in the hero’s journey. This will eventually pit her against the Darkling, the enigmatic leader of the Grisha and the villain of the novel. The Darkling’s plan to seize control of her power to expand the Fold forces Alina to act and precipitates such a radical change in her that she becomes his true counterpart and the only person who has a chance of defeating him. The climax of the novel is true to form for any heroic journey and it finds Alina facing down the Darkling to secure both her liberty and her true love’s safety.  

Alina spends much of the novel struggling with her self-limiting beliefs and self-control. These are integrally connected in Alina and feed into one another as her self-limiting beliefs continually hold her back from being able to control her power and her inability to use her power reinforces those beliefs. At the heart of her struggle is a deep-seeded fear that becoming the Sun Summoner will tear her away from the man that she loves, Mal Oretsev. But once Alina lets go of her self-limiting beliefs and overcomes her fear of losing Mal, she is finally able use her power. This also coincides with an essential step in the hero’s journey: the transformation. For Alina, this transformation is internal and represents a moment of huge personal change that allows her to embrace her role as a Grisha and positions her as someone capable of freeing Ravka from the Shadow Fold. This transformation is also what allows Alina to muster the strength and resolve necessary to survive the trials she endures on leaving the Little Palace. Alina’s determination to retain control over herself continues to inform her character and impact the events of the novel. It is the threat of losing the control she fought so hard to grasp that causes her to flee from the Darkling’s clutches.  

The Darkling’s lust for power drives him and much of the plot forward as even his position as the second most powerful man in Ravka is not enough to satisfy him. Craving ever more power, he seeks to not only control the Shadow Fold but to use it to become a tyrant ruling over Ravka and the countries that surround it. But the Darkling’s desire for power isn’t limited to his ambitions for the Shadow Fold and he spends a considerable amount of time attempting to gain Alina’s loyalty and allegiance. This results in him instigating an intense relationship where desire, deceit, and rage intertwine to weave a snare meant to capture Alina’s obedience. But the Darkling’s hunger for power is what leads him to his own undoing, for in trying to control Alina he makes her his enemy.  

Mal rejoins Alina, and even though their relationship has been changed by the hardships they’ve endured, they remain steadfast and committed to one another. Much of their journey consists of the pair renegotiating the perimeters of their friendship in the face of the changes both have undergone during their separation, but ultimately this brings them closer than they have ever been before. The moment that Mal confesses his feelings for Alina is presented in a way that alludes to the fact that the two are meant to be together. One of the book’s most important scenes unfolds just as Mal and Alina kiss for the first time, and the plot hastens toward the climax as the stag enters the glade the two are in. But Alina realizes that she cannot bring herself to take the stag’s life even though it is the only way to guarantee her liberty. A pivotal point for the plot, this choice also becomes a defining moment for Alina’s character as it illustrates that she is fundamentally different than the Darkling. Where she chooses to spare the stag from being part of the Darkling’s scheme, he acts with ruthless disregard for the creature as he enters the glade and kills it to fulfill his plan.  

Alina’s display of mercy is what truly establishes her as the Darkling’s opposite and positions her to be the one to stop him. The climax happens when the Darkling takes Alina and Mal back to the Shadow Fold to participate in his plan to gain control over Ravka and the surrounding countries by threatening their ambassadors with the Fold. Though she doesn’t understand this until the moment that the Darkling attempts to kill Mal, the mercy she showed the stag allows her full control over the amplifier. In saving its life, Alina’s power comes full circle, and she is able to save Mal, using it where once it was the very thing that jeopardized their relationship. Now equal to the Darkling in power and opposite in motivation, Alina is able to subvert the Darkling’s control and free herself and Mal from the Fold.  

The falling action of the novel leaves the hero’s journey unresolved when Alina and Mal flee to the west in hiding. While Alina has faced the Darkling, there is no guarantee that he is dead or has otherwise been stopped because of her resistance. This ambiguous ending suggests that Alina’s story is not yet finished. Though she has found some measure of peace now that she’s putting distance between herself and the events that took place in Ravka, she is still yoked with the burden of the amplifier. Here, the amplifier takes on a dual meaning, at once a representation of her subjugation and the liberation it could offer Ravka. The threat of the Darkling regaining control over her in his search for power lingers and this hints that Alina will return to Ravka to close out her journey as its heroic figure.