Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, the one thing she could rely on was her best friend and fellow refugee, Mal. And lately not even that seems certain. Drafted into the army of their war-torn homeland, they’re sent on a dangerous mission into the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh.
When their convoy is attacked, all seems lost until Alina reveals a dormant power that not even she knew existed. Ripped from everything she knows, she is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. He believes she is the answer the people have been waiting for: the one person with the power to destroy the Fold.
Swept up in a world of luxury and illusion, envied as the Darkling’s favorite, Alina struggles to fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But as the threat to the kingdom mounts, Alina uncovers a secret that sets her on a collision course with the most powerful forces in the kingdom. Now only her past can save her . . . and only she can save the future.
I'm not sure how to control my inner fan girl for this review, so I'm going to put it out there right away- I might embarrass myself, feel free to eat a cupcake in empathy for me.
Shadow and Bone was an impulse buy because A) I was hearing nattering of lady like fainting and lusting over the story, and B) it was super duper pretty inside and out (with a map from none other than the drool worthy Keith Thompson). So when I cracked the spine (I didn't really, good GOD people! Book abuse!!) I was prepared to be disappointed, it had a lot to live up to. However, not only did it live up to all of it's selling points, it surpassed them, and left me totally enamoured of Leigh Bardugo's mad writing skills. Doubly impressive? She's a debut author folks.
Sometimes a story is good for characters, and sometimes because of the story arc, and other times its just the tension in a relationship that puts it into a higher level of reading experience. Bardugo weaves a compelling tale, with a cast of fascinating characters and plops them into an astoundingly vivid, and harsh world. In a word, Shadow and Bone has it all. Plus it has the Darkling, and people, if there is only ONE reason you should read Shadow and Bone it's the Darkling. I have never been so in love with a villain, ever.
If you want a sense of how rich and enticing Alina's world is, read Bardugo's short story The Witch of Duva: A Ravkan Folk Tale. Ravka is almost a character in itself, and the sense of history and culture she manages to invest in it is impressive, so opulent in it's bleakness it makes for a very dystopic fantasy world. It gives Alina's story such a strong backbone, but it's also the history of the Fold and the Grisha's which sets up her adventure in such a perfect way. And all of it is done with nary a info dump in site.
I told you she had skills.
BUT BACK TO THE DARKLING! Ok, I'm not one to moon over characters (as a rule anyhow), I will never have a book boyfriend or have a badge on my blog announcing I'm TEAM EDWARD. But, I might change my tune for the Darkling. There is something deliciously evil/possibly-redeemable/ nope, totally evil/ hot-damn-fantastic about the Darkling. Sure he's described in a tall dark and handsome sort of way (totally my type, in case you were wondering), but he's a total enigma. You think one thing, then you change your mind about 20 times over the course of the story, and I don't know about you, but I was still unsure by the end. He was misunderstood, bad boy all over, but also potential Voldemort material. I was never attracted to Voldemort, but the Darkling was my absolute favourite love interest ever. This may go back to my inherent blood thirstiness when reading, because I've always really wanted to read about someone who falls for the bad guy and he doesn't end up changing, he's just bad to the bone.
The Darkling and fab everything story-wise aside, Bardugo filled Shadow and Bone with all sorts of great YA treats. Alina is far from beautiful, and although she has an epiphany (totally within a great plot line, not just a suddenly pretty ploy), she's never a raging beauty, just improved. I am so sick of the ugly duckling/swan syndrome in YA, it was refreshing to see an ugly to average-amplified-by-talents slant. Then there's the jealousy tally, a scene where both Mal and Alina admit they've been less then judicious. Mal's pronouncement that "I don't care if you danced naked on the roof of the Little Palace with him. I love you, Alina, even the part of you that loved him.", is such a beautiful sentiment that if I didn't love Mal yet, I totally did then. Finally I loved how totally human all these powerful and talented characters were. Jealous, full of un-heroic moments, susceptible to lust and getting carried away in the moment, I was both disappointed and pleasantly surprised over and over again. I think she's just skimming the surface of deceit and corruption in book the first, so I'm dying to see where she takes us in book the second, Siege and Storm.
Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Henry Holt and Co., June 5th, 2012