Author: Leigh Bardugo
Published: June 5th, 2012
Series: The Grisha #1
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Rating: 5 out of 5
"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."
Alina Starkov is hardly an exceptional being – she's a thin, sickly orphan girl who cannot even sketch very well when it comes to her job as a junior cartographer's assistant in the Ravkan army. But, after she unleashes her hidden Grisha (talented people who use the Small Science of the elements) side in order to save her childhood best friend Mal, Alina is whisked away to live like a Grisha. And as she learns to unleash the Grisha part of herself, she slowly evolves into something more than a sickly orphan. But, it's not being Grisha that makes Alina a fascinating protagonist – it's her growing determination and budding confidence, along with her weaker moments, that cause her to become a character a reader can root for.
SHADOW AND BONE is richly descriptive and engrossing. I'm an avid fan of YA fantasy novels, so Bardugo had a lot to live up to in my mind – and she nailed it. From the first page, Bardugo thrusts the reader into another world with an intriguing 3rd person introduction, before switching to Alina's POV for the rest of the novel. Bardugo writes her settings vividly and expertly evokes the wanting, the adoration, the hatred, the desperation, and every other emotions swirling around inside her characters. This novel is a slow burn, taking its time as it builds the plot, setting, and develops the characters. In all, SHADOW AND BONE is a pleasant surprise that has me eagerly looking forward to more works written by Bardugo.
Highlights: The world building is excellently done, richly described. As far as villains go, the Darkling is one the best that I've read in a long time, simply because he is layered as a character. I still do not know how I feel about him, and I think that's a mark of a well-written and complex villain. Plus, there is a stunningly incredible map inside this book1. Alina's growth from taking the easy way out to taking the hard path made her very endearing to me.
Lowlights: For the most part, not much happens during the middle of the story. Most of the exciting parts happen right at the beginning and then at the end, with the middle being more about Alina struggling and coming to terms with her Grisha side. It wasn't enough to bother me that much, I was just surprised at the pacing of the story.
Cover: Excuse me while I fangirl over that cover art. I'm a fan of illustrated covers, and this one is exceptional. Simple, with a nice mixture of light and dark swirls (and I love how the lighter ones also resemble antlers). It perfectly portrays significant aspects of the novel visually.
1 I love maps. Maps in books = awesome. Seriously, just look at it: