Written by: Leigh Bardugo
Paperback: 358 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy/Series (Grisha Trilogy Book One)
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.
I am a little late to all of the really cool YA books and this has been sitting on my shelf for some time. Not sure why as the cover is beautifully simplistic and the story sounds interesting. I even did my usual read the first page bit at the bookstore and enjoyed what I read. Still, it sat on the bookshelf. Ah, if only real life did not interfere with my bibliophile life. It’s been a crazy December thus far with a ton of big changes for E and I in the next couple of months…San Francisco here we come. So I apologize for not being around as much these first couple of weeks. I promise I will try to catch up, just like I am doing on the book front, movie front, and my God how did my DVR get that full front.
Alina Starkov grew up a war orphan with only her best friend Mal as her constant companion. It wasn’t a horrible childhood growing up on the estate of a minor noble in Ravka until a group of strangers arrive and threaten to tear them apart. The visitors are Grisha, magic users, and they have come to test the children for magical abilities. Alina knows she is different, but to be torn from Mal is worse than any punishment she can imagine so she locks everything away so she will not be found out. Years later Alina and Mal are both part of the same regiment in Ravka’s First Army. Alina is a mapmaker and her feelings for Mal, who is now both a tracker and far more handsome, have grown. And yet the two are not as close as they once were and so she must suffer his lack of reciprocation in silence.
Of course teenage romance is the least of their worries. Soon they must cross the Shadow Fold, a dark magical space created by a Grisha long ago. There is nothing left in the Shadow Fold wasteland but darkness and the Volcra. However, it is a journey that must occur if only but to ferry products from east Ravka to west Ravka. Mal and Alina are about to attempt such a crossing. It does not go as planned. Mal risks his life to save Alina and is wounded in the process. Just as the Volcra return to finish what they have started and carry Alina away as well, a flood of light appears and Alina passes out.
When she comes to, she finds herself surrounded by horrified and awed faces. What has happened? Where is Mal? Why are they all looking at her like that? She is then rushed to the Darkling’s tent (the leader of all the Grisha), and he tells her that she is the Sun Summoner. For years Ravka and the Darkling have awaited the birth of the Sun Summoner, who can call forth light. Perhaps this is the one way the Shadow Fold can finally be destroyed. Alina may be Ravka’s only salvation, but is she willing to take up the Sun Summoner mantle and embrace her destiny?
Things I liked:
The system of magic and the Grisha, as a whole, were great to read. They are half magicians/half scientists and over the years have learned how to harness and amplify their gifts. More than their gifts, it was interesting to see how they are set apart from the rest of Ravka society. They are the elite, the learned, and the well fed. Ah, but to be separated from your family perhaps never to see them again for most Grisha, as most were tested and taken away to school at a very young age, is horribly depressing. The entire book evokes a fantastic alternate vision of a fairy tale Russia with robed magic users, sleighs, and ornate palaces full of dark wood and domes. I loved it.
Sure Alina is the nothing special girl who turns out to be the one person who can save the world. Her nickname is ‘Sticks’ and she lives up to the name. Mal has been her only friend and companion, so it was unsurprising that as they grew up Alina found that she had feelings for him. However it is a shame that he appears not to reciprocate them. Alina is a likable character and an effective narrator. I feel for her. I want to know more about her. I want to go with her on her journey. Maybe it is because I saw more in Alina. I saw an inner strength and intelligence in her, qualities necessary when you may not be the strongest of the bunch. It may not have all truly shone through all of the passiveness of her character until the final quarter of the book, but sometimes you grow stronger through the events life hurls at you. You either face them and conquer or you give in.
Alina has her faults. She is incredibly self-conscious and insecure. She is acutely aware that she is skin and bones and that her station as a non Grisha (at first) has always set her apart. The Grisha, through Alina’s eyes, are the beautiful, the elegant, and the mysterious. They are well fed, wear amazing clothes, and are seen laughing and smiling so much more than others. They are the opposite of an orphan’s life in the first army. So while Alina almost harps about the beauty of everything and everyone once she becomes part of the Grisha and starts her training, I can kind of understand it. She is so insecure that everything is the exact opposite of her life up to that point. Methinks I would feel the same if I were suddenly transported to Asgard.
Speaking of characters, I cannot help but like the Darkling. He’s the enigmatic magical, dark, and handsome. A bit emo, a bit ruthless, completely morally ambiguous…I can see why Alina would be attracted to him. I feel the same about Loki (Apparently I am having a Thor moment here). So the love triangle that wasn’t a triangle just showed that Alina could be attracted to and drawn to different men. I was just disappointed with what was done with the character as it was predictable and I wanted more shades of grey and ambiguity.
Things I didn’t like so much:
As I said I was not a fan of what was done with the Darkling in the end, but perhaps we will see more character development in the second book.
I am not sure what made me not love this book completely. Perhaps it was the formulaic plot and characters (but let’s face it every romance film or Bond film is formulaic and on occasion I like both), or that Alina wasn’t as strong as I wanted her to be in the beginning. Pacing was up and down and yet I read the book in mostly one sitting as I was obviously drawn. But I must say that something was missing. I was entertained, but I didn’t fully connect the way I have with other books. I would say that this is a popcorn trilogy.
Buy or Borrow: Buy. While Shadow and Bone may not be groundbreaking by any means, I was entertained and I am excited to carry on with the series. Bring on book 2!
Part of:Part of a series
Book One: Shadow and Bone
Book Two: Siege and Storm
Book Three: Ruin and Rising
Also Recommended: For more young adult fantasy I would recommend the Graceling Relam books by Kristin Cashore, The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce, and the Damar series by Robin McKinley (begins with the Hero and the Crown).
3.5 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks