Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
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.(courtesy of Goodreads)
Have you ever read a book that starts out on a familiar path and then veers off it so completely that you're left slack-jawed in the dust? That's Shadow and Bone in a nutshell.
Alina has been an ordinary orphan all her life. She doesn't have any great ambitions. Rather, she wants to quietly survive. The only constant has been her best friend Mal. They've been inseparable from the orphanage to the army. All this changes when a latent talent is discovered and Alina is whisked away by the Darkling, the mysterious magical leader to the Grisha training academy. Taken from all that she's known and most importantly Mal, Alina flounders among the Grisha. The weight of expectation is more than she can bear at first. All she has to turn to is her friend Genya and...the Darkling.
I immediately liked Alina and only came to love her more as the book went on. She is quiet and focused. She can get so set on a goal that she unconsciously sabotages herself. She's a brave girl willing to take many risks to do what's right, but we also see her vulnerability. She spends much of this book being scared and lonely. I liked seeing the hard and soft side of Alina. Too many YA characters are either TSTL or so diamond-hard that they seem inhuman. Alina is a character to admire, but also prone to misjudgments, fear, and temper.
Our two guys are Mal and the Darkling, but the book is not the love triangle I expected. Mal is a tracker, both in occupation and personality. Even more than Alina, he laser focuses on his goal. He is smart, cautious, and observant. Mal grew on me as the book went on. He's somewhat boring, but often dull is better than exciting for the really good guys. The Darkling on the other hand immediately set my heart pumping. Wow. I loved how he interacted with Alina at the very beginning. He is mature, decisive. He guides and protects Alina into her reaching her full potential. He gave off an aura of hardness with an undercurrent of kindness and reliability that made Alina's (and my) heart melt.
Shadow and Bone is more epic fantasy than adventure story. As such, the pace is not speedy. The story takes a very long time to set up. It doesn't become shocking or really exciting until the last third. Even at that point, I was eagerly reading but not flipping the pages (except where the tension got too much and I had to look at the end). I wish I'd known to expect epic fantasy before I started the book. I was anticipating a faster paced story and was occasionally frustrated. The plot does move faster than most epic fantasy stories and if I'd been expecting that genre, I would have been very satisfied.
I really respect Leigh for taking Shadow and Bone in a direction I didn't expect. This book stands out because it doesn't try to repeat every other YA fantasy novel. I love it for that. However, I am a tiny bit disappointed that it doesn't follow the simple path that my mind expected. Like most readers, I make quick assumptions for what I think the book will be. I love being surprised, but I mourn a bit the loss of the story in my head.
I highly recommend Shadow and Bone. It's a solid story with great characters. The Russian influenced language, culture, and setting makes the book even more fun. This is like nothing you've read before. I can't wait to get to the next one.