Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Grisha #1
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.)
Publication Date: June 5, 2012
Source/Format: Bought || Hardcover
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart. (from Goodreads)
I finally had the opportunity to read Shadow and Bone on my long flight to the Philippines, and the first thing I need to say is this: I get why everyone is crazy about this book. Leigh did a wonderful job creating this world and its characters, and telling their story. Though it did admittedly take some time for me to really become invested in it all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Alina, to me, a typical fantasy heroine. She's strong-willed and smart, and is eventually discovered to possess special abilities that mark her as a Sun Summoner. Her story follows the arc of outcast-orphan-who-is-actually-a-special-person-with-awesome-powers. While I've certainly encountered similar arcs in other stories, it didn't take away from my enjoyment at all. There definitely were certain moments she irked me, but I consider them simply growing pains, as I was totally rooting for her to gain control of her abilities. When she finally did, she was simply amazing and I cannot wait to see what she does in the next book.
I loved Mal! The fact that he and Alina have known each other since they were children is an absolute bonus in my favor, and it was lovely to see how their friendship eventually blossomed into something stronger, something more. It admittedly took a long time for it to get there, and Mal was a bit of a jerk at the start, but when it finally clicked, the sparks that flew between them were lovely. I like them together for the moment, and am hoping that they stay that way!
But my favorite character from this book is, without a doubt, the Darkling. He's set up to be a villain, but he's one that I both loathe with all my being... and love with all my being. There are so many despicable things that can be attributed to him, and those things leave no doubt that he has power and a lot of it! There is, however, also evidence of how he can be kind and gracious and easy to like, as we witness during Alina's stay in his palace. I'm not certain of his motives, but I can't wait to see and learn more about him in the next book.
There's no doubt in my mind that Leigh is a wonderful writer, as the writing is absolutely gorgeous. I found it very lyrical and rhythmic, and I reveled in that feeling as I read it. There was a lot of description to be found, but I thought the amount included was enough to whet the appetite of fantasy fans but not overwhelm newer fantasy readers.
The world, in particular, is really cool. It's inspired by Russian culture, which is a pretty large point in its favor because I feel an overall lack of Russian culture in most YA literature. Though the inspiration is clear to me, it is also apparent that Leigh really makes it her own by adding touches like the grisha and their particular way of life. While there's certainly a lot going on in this world (politics and magic and mayhem!), I never really felt like it was hard to keep track of what was going on.
The story, in the end, is what takes the cake for me. At the beginning, I was a little bit confused by the terms and the names being tossed around. But after getting my bearings, it was so easy to fall into the story and to completely enjoy it. The political intrigue, the magical mayhem, the budding romance - each of these things were woven together so wonderfully that I can't imagine the book without each of these parts.
Though I'm well aware there's more books in the series, I actually think that this could also have been a standalone novel. I am perfectly alright with seeing more of the Darkling however, so I'm glad that Siege and Storm will be coming out this year! Leigh Bardugo has crafted a novel that's easy to read and fall in love with, and I'm certain that the rest of the series will continue to be as appealing as this one is.