(The Grisha #1)
by Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
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.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
Before I read either book, I used to get Shadow and Bone mixed up with Daughter of Smoke & Bone. Similar titles, yes... but very different stories. Still, they have one thing in common: I was late to the party with both series, and when I finally got around to trying them, I was pleasantly surprised.
Please, dear author, I want some more...
I loved the world-building in this book. Bardugo has taken all these Russian influences and created a fantasy world that's both familiar and alien. Much of the landscape, some of the politics, and plenty of the food and fashion are taken right out of Russian history... but then there's this whole fantasy element with the Grisha, who work a form of magic by manipulating matter and energy, and the Shadow Fold, a horrible stain of darkness teeming with monsters. The author describes things quite well, so it's easy to picture what's going on as you're reading the story.
Alina is sort of the typical young adult heroine. She's plain to look at, but still manages to attract men's attention. She has a special skill that's been so hidden that even she doesn't know about it. Despite these tired tropes, she's still appealing as a character. She seems real, with conflicted (and conflicting) emotions.
The Darkling is one of the coolest characters I've read in a while, simply because he isn't the easiest person to read. It's not that the author was confused about his character; on the contrary, I think she knew exactly what kind of person she was writing about. (It's really hard to write about this guy without giving too much of the story away. Let's just finish by saying that the author handled his development skillfully and believably.)
It's all a matter of taste...
There's not much I didn't like here. Even though the ending obviously marks this book as the first in a trilogy, it doesn't have an annoying cliffhanger. I guess my only complaint is that now I have to go read two more books to finish the story! That's not really a bad thing, though.
Let's get technical...
Aside from a few word choices that I thought were odd (Alina often talks about her mind "whirring", which seems strange, as that word usually indicates a sound), the writing was pretty decent. Yes, the archers did "notch" their arrows at one point, but they correctly "nocked" them at another. I'm not sure if the first instance was simply a typo, or something the editor missed... like Genya's hair colour changing from "deepest auburn" to "bright red". Oops.
This is a very enjoyable fantasy that I'd definitely recommend. I'm off to read Siege and Storm. I can't wait to find out what happens next!
Alexei was right: things change. Mal had changed for the better. He'd gotten handsomer, braver, cockier. And I'd gotten... taller. I sighed and rolled onto my side. I wanted to believe that Mal and I would always be friends, but I had to face the fact that we were on different paths. Lying in the dark, waiting for sleep, I wondered if those paths would just keep taking us further and further apart, and if a day might come when we would be strangers to each other once again.
Overall Rating: 4.25 out of 5 ladybugs