Thursday, February 28, 2013

[Review] Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

(#1, The Grisha)
Shadow and Bone | Siege and Storm | Ruin and Rising

Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publication (dd/mm/yyyy): 07/06/2012
Publisher: Indigo (Hachette UK)
Pages: 305
Source: For review

Violence | Sexual Content | Profanity

My Rating:
An irresistibly thrilling read!

My thoughts

In 2012, the YA book blogosphere was booming with hype and excitement around Shadow and Bone by debut author Leigh Bardugo. I had it set in my mind that I would wait for a bit before I joined the frenzy. Thankfully, Alice at Hachette had other plans for me and sent me a double ARC containing book 1 (Shadow and Bone) and book 2 (Siege and Storm, which will be released later this year). I jumped right in and was not even a little disappointed by the experience. In fact, I was mystified all the way through; I took this thing everywhere I went and sneaked in a page or two during every spare second.

Shadow and Bone is told in the perspective of a 17-year-old girl called Alina Starkov. The story is an “epic fantasy” set in a fictional, re-imagined Russian world. Two warring nations have met a kind of stalemate with the creation of the Shadow Fold, a manifested darkness stretching the borders made perilous by flesh-eating creatures called volcra. In this world, Grisha (people who harness great power of different uses) rule. The most powerful of them all is The Darkling, a man with “a shock of thick black hair and clear gray eyes that shimmered like quartz”. For all his life he has been on the hunt for The Sun Summoner, the one who will be able to eradicate the problems that the Fold has presented for those who wish to cross it. Behold, our heroine.

Alina Starkov is an orphan. Described in such terms as scraggly, thin, plain, a nothing and ugly, she rarely ever holds herself in high esteem, even when she discovers she may have powers. At the start of our journey, she is a mapmaker in league with the First Army. Along with her life-long friend and fellow-orphan, Mal, they are to cross the Fold. Not long after they enter the gathering dark, they are attacked by the volcra. Death is imminent for the crew until Alina inadvertently emits a bright light that staves off the nasty creatures. And thus, Alina is whisked away to The Darkling’s kingdom to be trained so that she can better control her newfound powers.

Our heroine is kind of a Mary Sue. She is clumsy, a trait we’re all so fond of. She has always cast herself away as nothing special, so of course when everyone starts referring to her as the Sun Summoner, and after she has demonstrated her power already, she still believes there must be some kind of a mistake. She can’t possibly be special. We’ve heard it all before, Alina. She grew tiresome in that respect. Luckily she does eventually accept her fate and actually starts to revel in her new life and all the luxuries it brings. Once she accepts her power and fits into her new role her face and body shifts such that she becomes this beautiful and delicately unflappable being. (Of course.) And of course she's made a victim. I suppose what prevented me from disliking her was her love for Mal. (More on that later.)

In enters the Darkling. Dark, alluring, mysterious, this guy is the most powerful figure in perhaps the world. Widely feared, many rumours and stories revolve around his enigmatic past. He is able to call upon great darkness. He is also a live Amplifier, which means he is able to augment others’ powers. For a while, Alina is unable to bring forth her power without his, or Baghra’s (also a live Amplifier), help. Pretty soon, Alina is wrapped up in the Darkling’s spell. And simultaneously, so will you.

//Spoilers//The Darkling promises to bring peace to the world with the help of Alina. I trusted him just as Alina trusted him. From the beginning I was wary about him, but I still wanted to believe in him. He is one of the greatest villains I’ve come across. There are few villains that have truly succeeded in instilling utmost fear in me. The Darkling ranks RIGHT up there with Warner (Shatter Me), Tohon (Touch of Power), Marcus (Divergent), among others. What’s so scary is how very unstoppable he appears. He has the support of a whole army of Grisha. Everyone fears him and wouldn’t dare oppose his will. Once it is revealed to us just who he really is, the book picked up its pace and the stakes were raised ten-fold. There were so many instances where I thought that it would all be over. The last 100 pages are suspenseful and thrilling. I couldn’t get enough of it!

I have no complaints about the pacing. It had the potential to drag on, but for me, it was just right. I liked the exploration of palace life and the formation of Alina's friendship with Genya (the Queen’s aid). Their progression reminds me of the one between Calaena and Ansel (The Assassin and the Desert, Sarah J. Maas). It stays true to life: the temporariness of some friendships and the consequences of trusting others. I really hope that we see more of Genya in book two. I don’t think they’re quite done with each other yet.

Okay, so here’s the big topic: the romance. Shadow and Bone has a love triangle of sorts. The Darkling eventually has Alina wrapped around his finger to the point where others start referring to her as his pet. But Alina cannot stop thinking of Mal, her childhood, her best friend, her home, her life-long companion. She sends letters to him, but when she hears nothing back she draws conclusions, thoughts like, He must have moved on, & He’s glad he’s rid of me. I love the idea of best friends-turned-lovers, so of course I was cheering for the two of them to eventually get together. I don’t really understand why Mal was suddenly so taken with Alina when he hardly noticed her before. (Maybe out of jealousy?) In this case, the love triangle is kind of a weird one. The Darkling doesn’t love Alina; he just wishes to own her so that she can meet his own desires… but Alina does feel something for him for a while. I have a feeling this isn’t over! The fans want more from the Darkling!

Most epic/high fantasy YA is told in third-person. Since this one is set in first, you can expect that there will be less description. And you’re right. But there was just enough for me to imagine the world without thinking of it as just a vacuum in which all the action takes place. All that Alina sees, feels, hears, smells and tastes very easily translates across the page into the reader's mind. I don’t think Shadow and Bone reads like a debut novel.

Shadow and Bone thrilled me, captivated me and wrecked me, in that order. Leigh Bardugo has written a superb debut novel that should not be missed. Well-paced and well-written, the characters of this fictional re-imagined Russia come to life. If nothing else, read this book for the Darkling and all emotions he will evoke. I cannot wait to see this book make it to the big screen because when it does it will be epic with a capital E. The adventure continues in Siege and Storm; saints pray that it is just as good as the first, if not better.


Some things I missed... there is the hunting of a creature in this book (same with book 2). A mythical stag. The stag is killed and its antlers taken. I cried my heart out during this scene. So, just a warning. Also I've read some reviews about the inaccuracy of this book in terms of the Russian terms (e.g., male/female naming). No problems at all if you know nothing about Russia. ;) In the US editions there is a map. I wish I'd had a map to refer to. After I read the book I actually realised I'd had it all backwards in my mind! (I thought you said Weast!--Spongebob reference)

Extra: This is what I wrote in my draft review.

"Let me ask myself a question: why do you want to give this book a 4.5/5star rating? Is it... because of The Darkling? Is it because of the bond between Alina and Mal? Is it because of the orphan finding a home/belonging aspect? Is it because the love triangle didn't bother me that much? Is it because the girl doesn't make a complete idiot of herself by staying entranced by a man who will bring destruction to all who oppose him? Is it because she had the gall to actually do something? Is it because of the setting? The interplay of mythical creatures and the price that humans pay for power? The idealism that like brings to like? The lesson in greed? The suspense? The utter impossibility of Alina's situation? The whole dark/light battle, both literally and metaphorically, between Alina and The Darkling? Is it the societal corruption and political intricacies of this world? Is it just BECAUSE? Hell if I know. Writing this has revealed to me that I have a lot to write about, indeed."


First lines: 
"The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and the youngest, and because they haunted the Duke's house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavesdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches.


""You're interfering with my plan."
"Oh really?"
"Yes. Faint, get trampled, grievous injuries all around."
"That sounds like a brilliant plan."
"Ah, but if I'm horribly maimed, I won't be able to cross the Fold."
Mal nodded slowly. "I see. I can shove you under a cart if that would help."
"I'll think about it," I grumbled... (9)


"If a creature as gorgeous as Genya could fall for a skinny, studious Fabrikator, there might be hope for me yet. (112)


""You and I are going to change the world."
I laughed nervously. "I'm not the world-changing type."
"Just wait," he said softly, and when he looked at me with those grey eyes, my heart gave a little thump. (150)


"We all serve someone. (208)


What Mal said in p.258.



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I have received this review copy in return for an honest review.

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