Sunday, November 1, 2015

Shadow and Bone » Review

Even though it was years ago, I still remember when I first read Shadow and Bone.  I started it in the evening... see where this is going? Yes, rays of light were poking through the windows by the time I finished the book.  Those rays of light were so fitting, let me tell you.

The book's premise isn't super unique.  There is a girl who manifest super special powers and finds out she must save her country (and the world!) from evil.  But, you know, there's a reason that general premise is so popular.  It's super compelling.  Add to that Bardugo's Russian inspired setting, vivid description, and worldbuilding and we have something special on our hands.

Alina Starkov, our protagonist, is an unlikely Chosen One.  She's prickly, scrawny, and ordinary. Oh yeah, and really grumpy and insecure.  She's a character that you only sometimes admire, but always root for.  Our villain is the Darkling, an almost omnipotent "grisha,"  who can summon and manipulate darkness.  He's almost a deity and he is pretty freaky.  I rate him up with Sauran in my list of "Near Impossible to Beat Literary Antagonists."  Many readers find him dishy, but I don't feel that way.  This character is a bad person.

As I mentioned before, the setting is in a Russian inspired country at the beginning of its industrial age.  The fitting term used by Bardugo to describe her genre, is "czarpunk."  Our story starts out with teenage Alina conscripted as a mapmaker's apprentice in the national Ravkan army.  Maybe it's due to all of the World War II footage I've seen in my schooldays, but I could picture so vividly the chilly landscape and dirty roads that the army stops through in our opening scenes. Also conscripted in her regiment is Alina's best friend and childhood soulmate, Mal.  Poor Alina has a serious case of the loves for Mal, which, again, isn't exactly original, but was very compelling regardless.

But I'm dancing around the main hook of the story.  There is a magic system in Bardugo's word.  Much like Kristin Cashore's Graceling, certain people are born with powers that bend the laws of the natural world.  These grisha are powerful figures in Ravka, and comprise an army led by their most powerful member, the Darkling.  As mentioned previously, the Darkling summons darkness.  His foil, a summoner of light, has not been discovered. Untiiiiil...

There now, doesn't that intrigue you?

As for faults, I found the middle portion of the book to sag slightly compared with Shadow and Bone's powerhouse opening and ending.  Alina could be insufferable at times, but it's understandable, as she's at the beginning of her character arc.  Got to start from somewhere, right.

All in all, this is a five star YA read and Leigh Bardugo has emerged as a top author in the genre.  If you like YA lit in the slightest, this isn't a book you'll want to pass over.

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