Shadow and Bone Leigh Bardugo
368 pages, Hardcover
Series: The Grisha Trilogy #1Summary 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.
There was a lot of hype over this book, and I didn't know much about, so I gave it a shot. Despite being somewhat predictable, Bardugo did a good job right from the start by setting a dark tone and building an interesting world. It certainly leans heavily on Harry Potter, despite the more "Russian" feel, with the "I-had-no-idea-I-was-special" trope and the heavy emphasis on boarding school-type training, but this didn't bother me.
The way Bardugo handled the romance felt more realistic to me than much of YA I've read lately, although there was heavy emphasis on appearance and beauty, which I often find troublesome. But at least Alina had a solid basis for her feelings for Mal, and although the Darkling was a distraction, she eventually realizes his perfidy (have we not all been through this?) and reexamines her feelings for Mal.
(This is kind of a side note, but is anyone else bothered by the "ancient-supernatual-being-falling-for-the-16-year-old" trope? Before I realized what was really going on with the Darkling (admittedly, I was a bit slow picking up on it) I was frustrated because why does YA seem to think it is ok for old men that just happen to look young to fall in love with teens?! They are still OLD. It's WRONG.)
Alina was forced to make some morally difficult decisions right at the end, so I'll be interested to see how that plays out in the next book. My hope would be that the rest of the series becomes less predictable.
After finishing the book, I read a few reviews on Goodreads, and a few of the reviews really tore this book a new one. In particular, Tatiana from The Readventurer (who gave the book 3 stars) made some very insightful points about the sloppy research regarding Russian language and culture that went into this book. (You should read her review, she does an excellent job detailing the issues.) I was definitely disappointed when I read that. Obviously, it's a fantasy, it can be whatever the author wants it to be, but if you are deriving your world from an existing culture, you should show that culture some respect. Having said that, not being an expert (or even remotely close to it) of Russian culture, it did not bother me while I was reading the book.
This is definitely on the lighter end of the spectrum: Not as much substance as I would have liked, but the world building leveled that out for me. Since the world will no longer be new in the second book, if Bardugo doesn't step up the substance, I might not be singing its praises so easily.