by Leigh Bardugo
Series: Grisha #1
Published on June 5, 2012 by Henry Holt and Co.
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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.
Today I found a Barnes & Noble gift card while doing some cleaning. Of course my first thought was what books have I wanted for months and haven’t bought yet. When it came time to check out, however, I found the first book in my cart was Shadow and Bone. I couldn’t resist since borrowing a copy from the library simply wasn’t enough. This book takes the familiar idea of wizards, mages, whatever you may call them, and turns it upside down and inside out. Fantasy is my genre of choice and I’ve read my fair share of books in the genre, including all different magic systems, cultures, and memorable heroes. Bardugo completely knocked every expectation I had for Shadow and Bone out of the park. I should’ve read it sooner.
I’ll start with the protagonist. Alina is an orphan. She, along with her best friend, Mal, lived in the house of a duke until it came time for them to be tested to see if either held potential to be a Grisha–the magic users in this world who protect the kingdom. But both of them fail and eventually enlist when they’re older (the time period in which the book is set in). They are sent to the Fold, a rift through the land created from dark magic and containing terrible beasts who devour any who try to cross through. On top of the monsters, the Fold is pitch dark all the time, making it increasingly difficult to pass to the open sea on the other side. The first time Alina and Mal are sent through the Fold, they don’t make it through because the party is attached, Mal is hurt, and Alina saves him with a power she didn’t know she had. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new Grisha.
What struck me the most about Alina wasn’t the fact that she had this dormant power that could save the world (because isn’t that how it always goes?) but the fact that she was normal. When I say normal, I mean Alina made mistakes. She was certainly not a quick learner when it came to her power, and she pined over Mal while she was away training–a childhood love that was never returned. So she does what any girl would do when she’s struggling to control a major part of herself, such as an incredibly powerful magical ability, and is lonely: she turns to her next source of attention. In this case, it’s the Darkling, who leads the Grisha. And trust me, he’s a bad boy. Nice guy Mal never stood a chance, leaving Alina alone with this particular man. Maybe not her best choice, but Alina is as human as a Grisha can be and her conflicted state rang true for real world situations, making it very relatable and enticing to an empathetic reader.
I guess I should briefly talk about the men. We first meet Mal, the guy Alina grew up with and was crushing on for years while he remained oblivious to her feelings. Talk about being majorly friend-zoned. Mal has the whole young, rogue look going for him. He’s strong, caring, and works to do better in the army once Alina leaves in an attempt to eventually see her again. At first, I hated him. I felt for Alina and her one-sided love for Mal while he pursued a visiting Grisha girl–frankly I wanted to just slap him when Alina talks to him right before this. And throughout the book, I never really warmed to Mal. I wanted him to be Alina’s knight in shining armor but the Darkling seemed to do a better job at it than he did. Don’t get me wrong, the Darkling had it all: looks, power, and an air about him that just left you wanting more. But we all know how it goes when you get involved with a bad boy and thankfully Alina was conflicted enough that I didn’t want to kill her alongside Mal based on her choices.
Although I usually focus on the characters in a book, I found the setting to be fantastic. Bardugo sent me to another world. I lived the Fold, the intensive Grisha training, the escape across the country. Her descriptions were vivid and worded in such a way that I didn’t feel like I was reading. It was like I was right there alongside Alina, struggling and growing as a person as she did. Bardugo set it all out on a silver platter. I had no idea what would happen next. Would she never learn to control her power? Would she pick the Darkling? Would she somehow destroy the world she was trying to protect? I never knew what to expect which was refreshing. With most books, anymore, I have a habit of predicting what will happen, and more often than not I’m right just based on previous reads. For the first time in a while, I couldn’t have said what would happen.
The sequel to Shadow and Bone can’t come out soon enough. I flew through this book, unable to put it down until I finished. It’s captivating, mysterious, and exciting all rolled into one. I recommend it to fans of fantasy, adventure, and romance alike. You’ll get a little taste of everything with Shadow and Bone. This was a fantastic start to what appears a promising series. If you take anything from this review, I hope it’s this: READ THIS BOOK. You won’t regret it.