Thursday, August 30, 2012

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, the one thing she could rely on was her best friend and fellow refugee, Mal. And lately not even that seems certain. Drafted into the army of their war-torn homeland, they’re sent on a dangerous mission into the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh.

When their convoy is attacked, all seems lost until Alina reveals a dormant power that not even she knew existed. Ripped from everything she knows, she is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. He believes she is the answer the people have been waiting for: the one person with the power to destroy the Fold.

Swept up in a world of luxury and illusion, envied as the Darkling’s favorite, Alina struggles to fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But as the threat to the kingdom mounts, Alina uncovers a secret that sets her on a collision course with the most powerful forces in the kingdom. Now only her past can save her . . . and only she can save the future.


Released: June 5th 2012                   Pages: 358
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.         Source: Library

First Look: ***** I had heard a lot about this, and it looked interesting, so I decided to give it a go.  I was cautious, though, because quite often I read books with cool premises and lots of hype, and they don't follow through.  The cover looks just okay on a screen, but it's actually quite gorgeous in real life.

Setting: ***** Leigh Bardugo did a fantastic job with this.  I loved the setting.  One of the things I liked most was that it was different.  Though I'm very fond of the standard European-esque fantasy setting (if done well, of course), this one stood out.  I've never seen a Russian twist on it before. 

And it was so immersive!  (Apparently 'immersive' is not a word.  I had no idea of this until ten seconds ago.  Who knew?  Well, I've used it in numerous other reviews, and I'm going to keep using it.)  This is one of those books where the setting is so well-written that you feel like you've sunk into the pages and are living in that world yourself.  Because, let's face it, (Second) Earth is boring.  Alina's world was so rich and detailed.  I'll be eager to visit it again in Siege and Storm.

Characters: ***** First, I just have to say that the name Alina just makes me think of this:
But anyway...I liked the characters, overall.  Alina made for an interesting heroine.  Her conflict was interesting, and she was the kind of character who made things happen (as all MCs should be).  Side characters were likable as well.  Genya was interesting, Mal was adorable, etc.    

I have to talk about the Darkling for a minute.  At first, I really wanted to like him.  I did like him.  And then...*spoilers ahead--highlight to read* Bardugo, you fooled me completely.  You had me going, and then BOOM!  Nope, he's evil.  Way to totally not see that, Annie.  It's definitely not as bad as Luke at the end of The Lightning Thief*, but I still felt it.  I'm not sure whether to love or hate Bardugo for doing this.  I do appreciate, though, how complex his character was.  He wasn't the mindless dark force--he had more depth to him.

Plot: ***** This is actually what stopped this book from being a five-star read.  The plot was exciting at the beginning, and there was lots of conflict.  Then it slowed down quite a bit.  Alina went through training, yeah yeah yeah.  This isn't so bad on its own, but I've read sooooo many other fantasy books with the same pattern.  MC goes into training, struggles, fails epically, lots of exhaustion.  For some reason, many authors like to fall into this pattern.  I don't know why.

Other than that chunk of it, the plot was compelling.  Especially the ending.  The ending was wonderfully intense, and suspenseful.  And it left me wanting more!

Uniqueness: *****
The cool setting and interesting magic system made this a unique read.

Writing: *****
Bardugo's strength in writing seems to lie with worldbuilding.  Seriously.  Her narrative did such a good job making the setting come to life.  She used rich, exquisite details about her world that just gave it that special "sparkle" that I'm always talking about.  (Sparkle?  What?  Well, you could always check my glossary.)

Likes: At first, when I looked at the cover, I saw those silver things and thought, "Are those branches?  They kinda look like antlers.  No, they must be branches.  Just curiously silver branches."  But no, I was right.  They are antlers!

Not-so-great: Nothing worth mentioning.

Overall: I really enjoyed this.  I liked the characters.  The setting was wonderful and unique and gorgeous and I can't stop gushing about it.  The Darkling was interesting all by himself.  The only low point for me was that the plot slowed down too much in the middle and left me a bit bored.  The ending was awesome, though.  Overall, though, this is a great book with a cool magic system to boot.  Recommended for fantasy fans.
*Yup, definitely not as bad as The Lightning Thief.  I was a Luke lover all the way through, and then Rick Riordan had to go and smash that to pieces.  Though I guess even that one was nothing compared to Murtagh....

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