Book Review: Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo

10:34:00 AM

Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: June 5, 2012 by Henry Holt and Co.
Rating: 1/2

Synopsys (from Goodreads):  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.

Shadow and Bone had been on my TBR list for forever and a day, sitting on my virtual iBooks shelf, collecting cyber dust over time, being pushed back and pushed back while I read other books and series. This past summer is when I finally caved in and read the book; although “devoured” might be a more fitting term. I read the book in two days while on vacation in the Florida Keys – quite the contrast to the book’s mountainous setting of the kingdom of Ravka. I fell in love with the characters immediately (except for Mal, but I’ll get to that) and the story was gripping and very different from what I was used to reading in the YA fantasy genre. In everything from the characters’ names to the cities and landscape to the foods they ate, it really stood out to me that the book was loosely inspired by Russian culture, with nods to China and Scandanavia in the neighboring countries in the Grisha world.
Leigh curates such a well-thought out and complicated mythology for the Grisha, rooting their abilities not in magic but science! The mythos is elaborate and has its own hierarchy built in, but it is easy to remember and follow without getting lost or muddled in the process. The story itself centers around a girl, a soldier in the king’s First Army, who is but a mapmaker unrequitedly in love with her childhood best friend, Mal, until she discovers a long-dormant and incredibly rare power within herself. The country of Ravka is war-torn and divided – literally – by a mass of darkness and things that go bump in the night called the Fold, or the Unsea. When Alina is crossing the Fold with her regiment, they are attacked by the monsters that dwell within the Fold. Alina’s suppressed power surfaces, abilities she never even dreamed she might have, and her life changes forever when the Darkling seeks her power in attempt to destroy the Fold and reunite Ravka once and for all. But with the Darkling, nothing is ever as it seems.
From there on out, we see Alina taken to the Little Palace to hone her power. Distanced from Mal and forced to adapt to her new life, we watch Alina blossom and really find herself throughout the book. The story had me eagerly turning pages to see what came next for Alina, and I was never disappointed. I fell instantly in love with the Darkling’s character. Such an intense and intriguing character, he is so multi-faceted that just when you think you have him figured out, you see a completely new side of him. Sometimes he is a protagonist, sometimes the antagonist. I know he’s supposed to be the story’s villain (I mean his name is the Darkling, for pete’s sake…) but I can’t help but call him my favorite. Mal, on the other hand, was my least favorite character. For Alina to be hopelessly in love with him, he did seem pretty dull to me. I didn’t like the way his character development played out and intertwined with Alina’s at the end of the story. But I may be biased because of how I was rooting for the Darkling…
All in all, this book receives 4.5 out of 5 stars from me. It was a gripping story with a refreshing concept and intriguing cast of characters whom I became quickly attached to. I immediately started the second book, Siege and Storm, upon finishing this one. I’m currently on the final book of the trilogy and eager to see what's in store for Alina and her friends!

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