Best Moments: Shadow and Bone

shadow and boneIt’s the FINAL COUNTDOWN!

For those who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, Ruin and Rising is the third installment in the Grisha trilogy. The series revolves around a teenage girl (Alina Starkov) in a Russian-inspired fantasy world. Alina has the power to control light, which sounds totally lame, but I swear that it’s a lot cooler than flicking a light switch on and off. Besides, you’ll understand the appeal when you meet the Darkling, her love interest, who is quite the enigma.

But if that explanation didn’t satisfy you, then Goodreads does a much better job of explaining the plot.

With only three days until my favourite book series (apart from Harry Potter… duh) comes to an end, I decided to compile a list of the top five moments, starting with the first book, Shadow and Bone:

5. Alina’s First Scene

Alina Starkov isn’t afraid to speak her mind, even if the opposition is built like a brick… or carrying a gun (yeah, common sense isn’t exactly her strong point). You have to admire her guts, though.

“Hey!” shouted the soldier. “Watch yourself!”

“Why don’t you watch your fat feet?” I snapped, and took some satisfaction from the surprise that came over his broad face.

People, particularly big men carrying rifles, don’t expect lip from a scrawny thing like me. They always look a bit dazed when they get it.

4. Alarkling’s First Meeting

*swoon*

My legs gave way and the Darkling caught me up against his body with one surprisingly strong arm.

“I guess you only look like a mouse,” he whispered in my ear. 

3. The Two Orphans

This book has a prologue and epilogue, both written in third person. It tells the story of two orphans – Mal and Alina, and I love the fairy-tale effect that it creates. It fits in perfectly with the Russian-inspired world!

A moment later, the boy whispered, “I don’t think you’re ugly.”

“Shhhh!” the girl hissed. But hidden by the deep shadows of the cupboard, she smiled.”

2. Alina Goes Dark Side

I have read too many YA book series where the main character is always doing the right thing. It gets boring. This book is truly unique in the sense that Alina struggles with morality, her powers and the responsibilities that come with it.

“You begged me for clemency once,” he called over the dead reaches of the Fold, over the hungry shrieks of the horrors he made. “Is this your idea of mercy?”

Another bullet hit the sand, only inches from us. Yes, I thought as the power rose up inside me, the mercy you taught me.

1. Alina’s Love Scene (ugh, I’m such a cliché)

Can we get a ‘hell yeah!’?

“The problem with wanting,” he whispered, his mouth trailing along my jaw until it hovered over my lips, “is that it makes us weak.”

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Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

grishaImagine you’ve read the most amazing book and you buy the sequel, only to learn that it simply doesn’t live up to your expectations. Disappointing, right? Unfortunately, this is all too common in the world of YA fiction, called ‘second book syndrome’. Such is not the case for Siege and Storm, the thrilling sequel to Shadow and Bone, which continues to exceed expectations.

Summary

Darkness never dies. Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long…

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her — or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

The Backstory

In Shadow and Bone, Alina runs away from the Little Palace after learning about the Darkling’s true intentions. He is the Black Heretic – the same man who created the Shadow Fold. He doesn’t want to destroy it, but wants to control her powers in his quest for world domination.

When Alina is reunited with Mal, it’s a race against time to find Morozova’s stag, the most powerful amplifier to exist. The Darkling wins, forcing Alina to wear the antlers around her neck. This allows him to control her abilities. However, it appears that Alina (having spared the stag’s life) can access the Darkling’s powers, and reclaim her own. In the end, she leaves the Darkling and his men to the mercy of the Volcra in the Shadow Fold, while escaping to sea with Mal.

The Characters

Alina Starkov has matured a lot since the previous book… but she is not the perfect protagonist that you would expect. As she drifts further from her old self, it becomes clear that being the Sun Summoner comes with a terrible price. With a second amplifier and a whole army of Grisha under her control, Alina struggles with her desire for power, teetering on the edge of madness, and one begins to wonder if she is following in the Darkling’s footsteps, after all.

As Alina grows more confident in her abilities, it puts a strain on her relationship with Mal Oretsev, who changes from the boy-next-door to overbearing boyfriend in this book. For the most part, he is either sulking in the background or threatening to punch anybody who dares to look at her. Honestly? I just wanted to grab him and shout “dude, get a freakin’ grip!”.

If you thought that a love triangle was complicated, try a love square! Nikolai Lantsov is a perfect addition: quick-witted and fearless, his banter with Alina is a refreshing change from the doom and gloom that surrounds her. And yes, he’s also the Prince of Ravka. No wonder Mal feels threatened.

…and who could forget The Darkling? Despite having limited scenes, it’s hard to ignore his presence in Alina’s life. But if you ever thought that he was just misunderstood – a ‘good boy at heart‘, this book will change your mind. The Darkling goes through shocking lengths to prove exactly how ruthless he can be. Where some actions are downright cruel, it’s hard to imagine any redemption for him.

The Relationships

Mal and Alina are supposedly ‘in love’ with each other, but their relationship is more unstable than the Ravkan government. It is only natural that Mal would feel overwhelmed with dating the Sun Summoner, but his treatment of Alina was terrible. He made her feel guilty for being a Grisha, accused her of sleeping with Nikolai and The Darkling, and broke her heart. If Leigh Bardugo was trying to assassinate his character during this book, she definitely succeeded.

Meanwhile, Nikolai Lantsov isn’t your average Prince Charming. While he’s not exactly the most trustworthy person, his friendship with Alina seemed to flourish into something more. There is no denying their potential (much to Mal’s annoyance), and their conversations had me laughing out loud.

Quality, not quantity’ seems to be the golden rule for the Darkling/Alina moments in this book. While The Darkling is hiding elsewhere, Alina is plagued with hallucinations of him. In my favourite scene, she asks why he won’t leave her alone, to which he replies: ‘then I’d be alone, too’. It’s such a simple scene, yet almost depressing.

Quotes

You know the problem with heroes and saints, Nikolai? They always end up dead.

“So many men had tried to make her a queen. Now she understood that she was meant for something more. The Darkling had told her he was destined to rule. He had claimed his throne, and a part of her too. He was welcome to it. For the living and the dead, she would make herself a reckoning. She would rise.”

Rating: 5/5

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

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.