"I’m the Sun Summoner. It gets dark when I say it does."
— Alina Starkov in Ruin and Rising

Alina Starkov was the Sun Summoner, one of the most powerful Grisha who had ever lived and the only one capable of destroying the Volcra and the Shadow Fold.

Appearance and Personality

Books

When Alina first enters Duke Keramsov's care, she is a quiet and odd girl. The Duke's housekeeper Ana Kuya even says she is ugly, and calls Alina "pale and sour, like a glass of milk that's turned."[1] As a child, Alina had been extremely frail and sickly, never able to run as fast as her friend Mal could. Her distinct feature is a scar running across her right palm.[1]

As a teenager, Alina is described as a sickly, skinny girl with dull brown hair, dark circles under her eyes,[2] and sallow skin[3]. Her ethnicity is not explicitly described, but she is generally understood to have either Ravkan or mixed Shu-Ravkan ancestry.[4][5][6]

After arriving at the Little Palace and beginning to use her Grisha powers, Alina's appearance becomes healthier and more refined. She realizes that her sickliness was caused by repressing her powers for so long. Although she struggles and is fearful of her powers at first, especially given their uniqueness, she thrives when she embraces them and is eager to learn. As she becomes more powerful, Alina grapples with morality and the temptation of power. After using merzost, her hair becomes white.[7]

The Darkling initially offers Alina a black kefta, but she opts for one of Etherealki blue instead, in order to avoid standing out. Later, she wears two amplifiers: the first was a necklace made from the antlers of Morozova's Stag; and the second was a bracelet made out of a sea serpent's scales. However, after losing her powers, the amplifiers are destroyed.

TV series

Alina is half Shu in the TV series. A worldwide casting call for a "biracial Asian actress" was released in April 2019.[6] The casting was a deliberate choice made by showrunner Eric Heisserer and author Leigh Bardugo:

"For the series, Alina is half Shu (Asian). It is a decision Leigh and I made together after a lengthy discussion of the character."
— Eric Heisserer[5]

In her newsletter to fans regarding the newly announced Netflix adaptation, Bardugo wrote:

"We also talked about how to bring more diversity into play early in the Shadow and Bone narrative. This is something the show can do better than I did. That means some of the characters aren't going to look the way they were described on the page—and that's the way it should be."
— Leigh Bardugo[8]

The actress who plays Alina, Jessie Mei Li, has dark brown hair and eyes, and has Chinese ancestry.[9]

History

Pre-Series

Alina was born in a settlement in Dva Stolba along the southern border with Shu Han. Like Mal, Alina's family was most likely killed during the Border Wars. She spent most of her childhood in Keramzin before being taken to Duke Keramsov's estate orphanage.

When she turned sixteen, Alina and Mal trained as soldiers of the First Army at the military post of Poliznaya. A year after, Alina and her regiment marched to Kribirsk to cross the Shadow Fold. She served as a cartographer's assistant.

Shadow and Bone

At the Duke's residence, Alina and Mal are examined by Grisha, but they displayed no sign of Grisha abilities. As teenagers, they join the military, and Alina becomes a junior cartographer's assistant.

When crossing the Shadow Fold, Alina's regiment gets attacked and Mal is almost killed. Before they get attacked again, Alina suddenly lets out a burst of light in order to save Mal, and it turns out that she is a Sun Summoner, a type of Grisha that had been thought to be extinct. While getting escorted by some of the Darkling's men to Os Alta, Alina's group gets attacked by Fjerdan assassins and she is forced to run away.

The Darkling saves her from the assassins and brings her to the Little Palace himself to meet the King and Queen. Alina's days are then spent learning from Baghra how to use her power, and from Botkin Yul-Erdene, a Shu combat instructor, how to fight. While learning at the Little Palace, Alina grows closer to the Darkling and eventually forms a romantic relationship with him. They grow closer because Alina never gets a response to any of her letters from Mal, and the loss of Mal also causes Alina to finally realize the extent of her powers.

During a fete in the Little Palace, Alina suddenly sees Mal. He has been tracking a stag for the Darkling, who wants to give the antlers to Alina as an amplifier. She learns that he has never received any of her letters, but is hurt when he is cold to her. Later, she finds out that it is because he felt jealous seeing her perform on stage with the Darkling. That night, Baghra comes to Alina and orders her to leave the palace. The Darkling's plan the entire time was to use Alina's powers to drive off the volcra in the Fold so that he could use his own powers to expand it and take over all the lands.

Realizing that Baghra is telling the truth, Alina runs away and eventually meets up with Mal by accident. The two go to find the stag before the Darkling can and grow close again before confessing their love for each other. Upon finding the stag, the Darkling then finds them and ends up killing the stag himself to bring Alina under his control. He then decides that Mal will be fed to the volcra after Alina helps him cross the Fold.

After Alina demonstrates her powers in the Fold to scared ambassadors and villagers, the Darkling has Mal thrown out of the boat, which triggers something in Alina, who breaks the hold that the Darkling has over her. She runs away with Mal after destroying the boat that they came on. When the story ends, the two are on another boat crossing the True Sea together, away from Ravka and the Darkling.

Siege and Storm

Alina and Mal end up in the town of Cofton hiding and trying to find work in order to finance their trip west. They've been there two weeks, but while Mal thrives in their environment, Alina has gotten weak from not using her power. When they head back to their boardinghouse, they have an unexpected encounter with the Darkling and his Grisha. He ends up capturing them both, but not before showing Alina the new power he has gained in the Fold because of her; he is now able to create shadow creatures called nichevo'ya.

Alina wakes up on the ship of a privateer who goes by the name of Sturmhond. The Darkling has paid him in exchange for his services aboard the ship. His purpose is to find the sea whip, another supposedly magical creature as well as a powerful amplifier. The Darkling wishes to give the second amplifier to Alina and he is going to use Mal to find it.

After getting the amplifier and Sturmhond's revolt, Alina escapes with them and goes back to Ravka. When Sturmhond reveals himself to be Nikolai Lantsov, younger son of the King of Ravka, she tells him she wants to lead the Second Army, so they travel back to Os Alta together, drawing large crowds along the way. Nikolai proposes marriage to Alina, but she refuses.

Alina arrives at Os Alta and quickly takes control of the Second Army. She frequently has visions of The Darkling.

Vasily Lantsov opened trading passage as an agreement for the Fjerdan's alliance, but instead, the Darkling uses it to access Os Alta and attack. During The Darkling's attack at Os Alta, he reveals that he has set nichevo'ya on Genya Safin for sparing Alina. Alina fights him and uses merzost, which causes her hair to turn white, and nearly drains her of her power, defeating them both. This leaves her almost dead and the Darkling, also, badly wounded. She escapes to the White Cathedral with the others.

Ruin and Rising

Alina has spent two months in the underground tunnels of Ravka. She is controlled by the Apparat, who leads a cult convinced that Alina is a saint. As a result of her battle with the Darkling, Alina's hair has turned white and she is weak from being away from sunlight and her powers for so long.

However, Mal and the other Grisha form a plan that gets Alina back into contact with sunlight and restores her strength. She leaves the Apparat for the surface, in search of the Firebird. She, the other Grisha, and Mal make it to the surface but are soon discovered by a militia group. Nikolai rescues them with a new, blimp-like invention. He takes them to a hollowed-out mountain where the remnants of the First Army and some rogue Grisha reside.

There, Alina meets Baghra again, who teaches her to use the Cut to slice off the top of an entire mountain. She tells Alina about her father, Morozova, and how the Darkling is his last descendant. Nikolai also talks about their future as King and Queen of Ravka and gives her his mother's heirloom ring. Alina refuses to wear it, as she still wants Mal, but keeps the ring with her nonetheless.

Later, the Darkling attacks the mountain. He turns Nikolai into a nichevo'ya and forces Alina, Mal, and the Grisha to flee. They fly south to find the Firebird. On the way, Alina learns to bend light around an object to make it invisible. Once they arrive at the southern mountains, Mal tracks the Firebird. However, once he finds it, it attacks him and Alina. Alina realizes as she holds on to Mal that he is giving her power and that he is the third amplifier, not the Firebird. She does not want to kill Mal for his power, but he makes her promise to do it if there is no other option.

As they go back to the ship, Alina communicates with the Darkling. He tells her that he has invaded Keramzin and has the Grisha children with him as hostages. He tells her to surrender in five days or he will extend the Fold over west Ravka and to the sea. Alina knows she cannot face the Darkling without the third amplifier, but David has an idea that would not require a head-on confrontation.

They travel to the Fold and gather a dozen soldiers dedicated to Alina. There is a brief period of preparation and rest, during which Nikolai appears to Alina. The part of him that is human is battling his hunger, but he cannot resist and leaves before he can do any harm.

They enter the Fold to confront the Darkling. The battle goes well at first; Alina bends the light she creates to make her fighters invisible. However, once they have boarded the Darkling's skiff, she realizes that he never had the Grisha children with him—it was just a ruse to draw her to him. Two other skiffs loaded with soldiers also arrive.

Alina knows she cannot fight the Darkling with just two amplifiers. She runs away into the darkness where Mal finds her. He gives her a knife and convinces her to kill him. She stabs him in the chest, and he collapses. With the death of the third amplifier, Alina's power suddenly leaves her and manifests itself in any normal person within several miles. The Darkling is enraged and mournful that he has lost his Sun Summoner, and while he is distracted, Alina kills him with the same knife that stabbed Mal.

The newly-created Sun Summoners destroy the Fold and also partially return Nikolai to his former self. Tolya and Tamar manage to save Mal. However, Alina has lost her power. She fakes her death, sealing her legacy as Sankta Alina, the Sun Saint, and claims a new identity. She and Mal marry and rebuild the orphanage at Keramzin, which was destroyed by the Darkling. Over the years, they take in children and keep in touch with the other Grisha and Nikolai.

Rule of Wolves

The Darkling having returned to life in the body of Yuri, demanded Nikolai and Zoya, who held him captive, to see Alina again in exchange for information. A meeting is arranged between them at an abandoned sanatorium. During the meeting, the Darkling unexpectedly jumped between Mal and Alina who had been holding hands at that moment, and drove a piece of thorn wood he had kept hidden in his clothes through their hands. He needed the blood of the person who had killed him and a person who was related to him by blood in order to gain his powers back. He managed to escape Zoya and the Sun Summoners.

After the Darkling is gone, Alina tried to calm a very upset Zoya. Zoya then suggested they placed guards at the orphanage or moved them to a safer location because the Darkling might go after them. Alina refused and then left to go back to Keramzin with Mal, Misha, and Oncat.

Alina was invited to Zoya's coronation. After the event, Alina was summoned along with Genya to talk with the new Queen, who told them of her plans to free the Darkling from the thorn wood tree after he volunteered himself to hold the tear in the fabric of the universe caused by the Fold for eternity, and grant him death. Zoya asked for both of their opinions on her plan to which Alina seemed to agree with.

Relationships

Malyen Oretsev

Mal is Alina's childhood friend. Both of them grew up as orphans at the Duke Keramsov's estate in Keramzin. Alina has a crush on Mal, who is oblivious to her infatuation and constantly flirts with other girls. They grow distant while she is at the Little Palace training with the Darkling.

After Alina runs away from the Little Palace, they reunite for a while before they are captured by the Darkling. In this short time they are together, Mal confesses his feelings for her and they share a tender kiss. Later, when they are in the Darkling's camp in Kribirsk, they kiss again through Mal's jail bars and hold hands until the morning when Alina is taken away from him to prepare for their journey into the Fold. When the Darkling leaves Mal for dead, Alina takes control of the amplifier and runs away with him, abandoning the people on the skiff and leaving them unprotected from the volcra. When Mal and Alina reach the True Sea, they go on a ship to travel to Cofton.

In Siege and Storm, Mal tracks and finds the sea whip, the second amplifier for Alina. After Alina wears the second amplifier, she and Mal gradually grow distant from each other. Mal resents Alina's power and grows more insecure as she gets more powerful, wanting her to go back to the girl she used to be. He believes she will not care for him after finding all three amplifiers. Later on, Alina finds Mal and Zoya kissing. Mal becomes aware of an enraged Alina and chases her when she runs away.

When the Darkling infiltrates the Palace, Alina uses merzost to weaken the Darkling, weakening her too. Right when she and the Darkling are about to be destroyed, Mal takes Alina away in fear that she might have died.

In Ruin and Rising, Mal and Alina's relationship is tested as Mal believes Alina should marry Prince Nikolai to save the kingdom and unite the people of Ravka, though Alina is not sure of what she wants or what is best. Mal remains indifferent throughout the majority of the book and only speaks to Alina as a guard would, though by the end of the book they have reconciled. She has to kill him for the third amplifier.

In the epilogue, Mal and Alina marry under different names and re-open the Keramzin orphanage, the place they grew up in.

The Darkling

Alina immediately feels drawn to the Darkling's mysterious air and beautiful features. The Darkling wants her kefta to match his own black robes ‒ which no other Grisha has ever been permitted to do ‒ but Alina declines for the blue of the Summoners so she does not stand out. Later when they are discussing her ability by the frozen lakeshore, he suddenly leans over and kisses her, then walks away. After this incident, he seems to ignore her until the night of the Winter Fete, where she wears a black kefta with the Darkling symbol on it and they perform a demonstration together for the crowd. Directly after he leads Alina to a sitting room, where they proceed to kiss. They are interrupted by a drunken group stumbling against the door to the room. Before he leaves to meet Ivan he turns and asks if he could come to her that night, to which she doesn't answer.

Alina is on her way to see him when Baghra stops her. Alina learns of the Darkling's true intentions to manipulate her and use her powers, leaving her unsure if his feelings for her were genuine. Throughout the series it is shown that he holds a deep obsessive, possessive attraction to her because of her power and immortality.

Later, when he captures Alina and Mal in Tsibeya, he openly teases and hints at what they did to anger Mal. The Darkling summons Alina to his tent to talk. He then tells her he will throw Mal over the side of the ship to be devoured by the volcra when they travel into the Unsea. She begs him to spare Mal's life, saying she will gladly comply with his wishes if he does. He tells her he will show mercy on Mal and then kisses her. She is disgusted but makes no move to push him away for fear of punishment. When he pulls away he says that she can visit Mal in his prison cell, for it will be the last time she'll see him alive. Realizing the Darkling has broken his promise of mercy she launches herself at him screaming but is dragged away by his men before she can hurt him.

In the second book, after escaping him for the second time, Alina mysteriously starts seeing the Darkling everywhere. She doesn't know if the visions are real or fabricated in her mind. During one visit from him, he wears Mal's face and kisses her in her bed, knowing that she would scream if he showed up with his own face. When they meet each other at the Chapel, he reveals that her visions were real and promises that he would never turn away from who she truly was, for they were alike as no one else was. She then pretends to accept his offer of peace and kisses him, distracting him enough to steal his nichevo'ya through their connection and try to kill them both, but failing.

In the next novel, Ruin and Rising, Alina visits him through their mental tether. She talks to him to try to find out information. He offers her the throne sitting beside his, despite the fact she attempted to kill him. He tells her that was destined to be his balance and could make him a better man, to which she replied he could make her a monster and that she could be even more power-hungry than him. Later in the novel, the Darkling tells Alina his real name, which she finds funny because of its commonness. They share a smile and he pulls her in and kisses her neck, and he asks for her to let him because it wasn't real. Alina says no and pushes him away. He gets angry and severs their connection.

At the end of Ruin and Rising, the Darkling panics and is distraught over her loss of power, realizing she was no longer his balance and he was truly alone in the world. Alina uses this distraction to stab him, although it is almost framed as a mercy kill. She cries over his body, and obeys his request to not have a grave that people can desecrate. The Darkling's corpse is later burned. Although in the end Alina somewhat mourned the Darkling's death, she didn't regret her decision. Alina whispers his name, Aleksander, as he burns on a pyre. His death and the "death" of Sankta Alina are connected, and balance restored.

Nikolai Lantsov

The developing relationship between Alina and Nikolai becomes a theme as they arrive at Court. He asks her to be his queen in front of Mal, she refuses, for she is grieving about the Darkling's betrayal and she had trusted him. Their allegiance develops quickly, with Nikolai first revealing to his parents that he is Sturmhond, and then supporting Alina and Mal as they face the King. Alina is put in charge of the Grisha (the Second Army), just as she had wanted, and Mal is installed as her head guard. Tolya and Tamar, the twins from Sturmhond’s ship, make up the rest of her guard, and she takes over the Darkling’s old rooms while Nikolai sets himself up at Court.

Nikolai kisses Alina in front of a crowd to appease the audience and make a big show. Alina, not yet comfortable with his changes in personality kicks him out of fear that Mal would be angry and leave her. Alina and Nikolai present themselves as a united front, attending meetings together. Vasily proposes marriage to Alina just as his brother had done. She refuses any kind of familiarity with him, and as time goes on she starts to develop a fondness for Nikolai more kindly. Despite her doubts over whether he is being himself or simply wearing a mask he thinks she wants to see, she spends more and more time talking with him. On his part, Nikolai appears to become more vulnerable around her than around anyone else. Eventually, he even seems to become willing to talk about personal matters with her.

He talks again about the rumors that he is a bastard, admitting to Alina that he has heard those rumors all his life and he is perhaps not so unaffected by it as he may seem. He makes reference to his childhood nickname, Sobachka, which means ‘puppy’, and says that his mother had refused to call him that because she thought it made him sound like a mongrel. Alina, who had been raised as an orphan, connects with him over this since she remembers being called many names herself. She begins to get angry when she hears people questioning his birth, even when they are strangers, to the extent that Mal furiously asks her why she’s so quick to defend Nikolai.

Nikolai has risen in Alina’s esteem. At this moment she seems to be not only his ally, but his friend, and possibly his lover. Simultaneously, Alina’s relationship with Mal has been deteriorating over his resentment towards his power while Alina suffers from 'visions' of the Darkling. She seems, in general, to be more at ease in Nikolai’s company. They grow closer. As his birthday approaches, he almost kisses her, telling her that he wants to but will not until he’s sure she’s not just trying to forget someone else.

In King of Scars, Nikolai admits that he really grew to love Alina, and that her rejection hurt him.

Genya Safin

Genya is Alina's first friend at the Little Palace. She becomes very close to Alina in Shadow and Bone, but betrays her in the end, turning out to be a fake, told to be her friend by the Darkling to draw her in and make her feel comfortable (and to collect information). Genya actually liked being her friend and missed Alina when she ran away. Alina missed her too. In Siege and Storm, when Alina escaped from the Darkling, she had the chance to shoot Alina and stop her and Sturmhond from getting away, but she didn't and helped her and was later punished because of that by the Darkling. The next time she shows up she is covered in scars and she lost an eye. The Darkling gives Genya to the second army to show that he had no mercy. Genya then helps Alina and they become close friends again. At the end of Ruin and Rising, Alina made her into one of the new leaders of the Second Army. Genya is a Tailor, a Grisha type that lays somewhere between Corporalnik and Materialnik.

Zoya Nazyalensky

Alina and Zoya get off to a rocky start. However, they mostly put aside their previous dispute to unite behind a common enemy in Ruin and Rising and become closer as a result.

Memorable Quotes

Shadow and Bone

  • I’m not Grisha. I’m a mapmaker. I’m not even a very good mapmaker.
  • "I will fight you any way that I can. I will spend every waking minute looking for a way to end my life, and eventually, I'll succeed. But show him mercy, let him live, and I will serve you gladly. I will spend the rest of my days providing my gratitude." ‒ p. 326

Siege and Storm

  • TBA

Ruin and Rising

  • "Maybe love was superstition, a prayer we said to keep the truth of loneliness at bay. I tilted my head back. The stars looked like they were close together, when really they were millions of miles apart. In the end, maybe love just meant longing for something impossibly bright and forever out of reach."
  • "They wanted a Grisha queen. Mal wanted a commoner queen. And what did I want? Peace for Ravka. A chance to sleep easy in my bed without fear. An end to the guilt and dread that I woke to every morning. There were old wants too, to be loved for who I was, not what I could do, to lie in a meadow with a boy’s arms around me and watch the wind move the clouds."
  • What if I'm no better than you? What if instead of stopping you, I'm just another avalanche?
  • "I'm the Sun Summoner. It gets dark when I say it does."

Rule of Wolves

  • "I was a soldier before I was a saint"

Gallery

Trivia

  • Alina is half-Shu in the Netflix adaptation.[5]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Shadow and Bone, chapter 1.
  2. Shadow and Bone, chapter 6.
  3. Siege and Storm, chapter 1.
  4. In response to a question on her Tumblr about introducing POC characters in the Grisha Trilogy, Leigh Bardugo admitted that, while "none of my leads are explicitly POC and I'm aware that I have no business throwing stones [at other fantasy series re: diversity]", an Asian actor in a lead role like the Darkling "would make perfect sense within the construction of this world." She concluded that, "I think it would be really shoddy of me to turn away from a discussion of diversity in fantasy because it's troubling or difficult, or potentially challenges my own work."
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Eric Heisserer (showrunner) - Twitter.
  6. 6.0 6.1 CAPE - Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment - Facebook. April 12, 2019.
  7. Siege and Storm, chapter 23.
  8. File:The Grishaverse Is Coming to Netflix.pdf. January 2019.
  9. Jessie Mei Li - Wikipedia. Accessed September 30, 2020.
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