Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

shadow-and-boneDon’t judge a book by its cover. That’s how the old saying goes. But just this once, I’d like you to make an exception. Shadow and Bone is the first installment from one of my all-time favourite book series, and the story is just as brilliant as the front cover. I know, I know… the whole ‘high fantasy’ genre sounds a bit dorky, but this book is definitely worth a read!

Summary

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.

The Setting

Inspired by early-1800’s Russia, Bardugo has created a fictional world with incredible detail. Ravka is beautiful and terrifying at the same time, and the author ensure that the descriptions aren’t too distracting from the main plot. When I was sucked into a world of foreign languages, clothing and magic, I could tell that it wasn’t just some half-formed idea scribbled on the back of a receipt. Bardugo had put her time and effort into creating this world, and it definitely paid off.

The Characters

Bardugo created a likeable, yet realistic female character in Alina Starkov. At the beginning, she is just an orphan with a secret crush on her best friend. But even before she became the Darkling’s understudy, she was never a doormat. Alina refuses to become a damsel-in-distress, and wouldn’t hesitate to give someone a verbal beat-down (even if they’re double her size). When she grew more confident in her abilities, it was an empowering moment for the character and the reader.

Initially, it’s hard to understand why Alina and Mal Oretsev are best friends. He is popular, handsome and charismatic and she is… well, none of the above. But for Alina, he’s the only family that she has ever known. As childhood best friends, their interactions are playful and endearing. This created a seamless shift from a platonic to romantic relationship, and I rooted for them even more.

But who could forget the Darkling? In a rather predictable plot ‘twist’, he is the evil mastermind who created the Shadow Fold (I mean, come on… his name is the Darkling!). Regardless, it’s difficult to hate this character. Like Alina, I had fallen under his spell. He is charming and enigmatic, dangerous and attractive – so you can imagine why most readers favor him – not to mention the fact that Sean O’Pry is the fan cast favourite. All the awards to Leigh Bardugo for creating such a great antagonist!

The Relationships

The Darkling is someone who could have chemistry with a brick wall. Alina shares an undeniably hot connection with him throughout the book, leading to a rather steamy scene when he says ‘the problem with wanting is that it makes us weak’. Uh-huh, tell me about it. Despite everything, it’s clear that his mind lies elsewhere (like, um… world domination?). Their relationship is based on lust, not romantic feelings. After learning what The Darkling has planned for Alina, you may experience anger and disgust. Mostly directed at yourself, when you’ve grown too attached to hate him. Seriously, my inner feminist is weeping.

In contrast, Mal and Alina’s relationship was so sweet that I almost got diabetes. They compliment each other perfectly, and Bardugo creates a fairy-tale type love. The third person pieces were a brilliant addition, which brought back the nostalgia of two best friends who are drawn together by shared experiences. Because at the end of the day, this isn’t just a love story, but a friendship story.

The Plot

I have to admit, I felt like this could have been improved further.

It was too predictable to read about the Darkling’s betrayal, but I am still confused about his motivations. Why did he create the Shadow Fold? What was he trying to achieve? The problem with first person narrators is that we can only see from Alina’s viewpoint, but I hope that the subject is explored further in the final book.

Quotes

“Dear Mal,

I haven’t heard from you, so I assume you’ve met and married a volcra and that you’re living comfortably on the Shadow Fold, where you have neither light nor paper to write. Or, possibly, your new bride ate both your hands.”

Rating: 4.5/5

The final installment, Ruin and Rising, will be released on June 19th 2014. Pre-order here.

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