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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

ARC Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

TITLE: Shadow and Bone           SERIES: The Grisha Trilogy #1
AUTHOR: Leigh Bardugo          PUB DATE: 6/5/12
PUB: Henry Holt & Co.            FORMAT: pb ARC
SOURCE: from pub in exchange for honest review

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy, #1)

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.

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THREE WORDS: Infused With Originality

MY REVIEW: Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone is an enticing mix of fantasy and romance, set against a lush backdrop of war, royalty, darkness and fantastical elements. Yet, this book is not without its flaws and issues.

Ravka is divided by the dark Shadow Fold, riddled with man-eating monsters and the people’s only hope is Alina Starkov. An orphan, Alina has never been truly great at anything, never special. Until the day her regiment enters the Shadow Fold where her best friend Mal is seriously injured and Alina unleashes a power she never knew she had. She is then torn away from her regiment and BFF and rushed away to the lavish royal court where is trained among the Grisha, a powerful and magical elite group of people, led by the mysterious and dangerous Darkling. Alina soon finds herself caught up in royal politics and intense power, and she finds herself drawn to the handsome Darkling. But nothing and no one in this world is what it seems and Alina must rely on her power and instincts more than ever to save her country and life.

The first book in a series is always the most important in my opinion, simply because it has the responsibility of introducing its world, its characters, its story to readers, which can often result in a very info heavy story that feels like one long, big introduction. Shadow and Bone seems to suffer from this. Bardugo sets a grand and potentially epic scene, but the story never seems to find its flow or transition from character/plot/setting introduction into the real thick of the story. However, this doesn’t keep the overall story from being captivating and addicting.

The story may be a bit formulaic, but it’s infused with a great deal of originality and imagination. Bardugo has created a completely refreshing and intriguing magical, political and cultural world. We get a glimpse into each aspect of this world- the magical, the political, the army, the royal court- I only wish each parts of this world were developed and explored more in-depth. Rarely do I find myself greatly intrigued by the political aspects of a story, but this played an important part in Shadow and Bone and I think much of it was merely skimmed over.

 Much of the story focused on life inside the royal court where the Grisha train. This lavish and extravagant world is entertaining and wonderfully described, but the shallow gossiping and social climbing does get monotonous. After a while, it seems like Alina is away at some snobby boarding school with killer parties instead of training to be a powerful Grisha. By three quarters into the book I found myself bored with Alina’s life at the Little Palace and longing to know of life outside the palace, especially of the war raging on. I’m still confused as to just who is fighting, what they’re fighting for, and how the normal citizens of Ravka are being affected. It got to the point where I wanted to yell at Alina “Forget the fancy schmancy party and gossipy meals! Have you forgotten there’s a war ravaging YOUR country?!”.

The magical elements of the Grisha are exciting and quite unlike anything I’ve encountered in other books.  With Summoners, Fabrikators and abilities to manipulate the elements in unusual ways, the Grisha possess powers that are both enthralling and chilling. Bardugo has crafted a complex Grisha society that I look forward to learning more about.

Alina is a likable heroine, with a quick wit and impish attitude. I could have done without the constant reminder of how plain and not beautiful Alina is, especially compared to the other Grisha.  I’m still confused as to what purpose this obsession with physical beauty plays. While endearing and sweet, I wanted to love Mal more than I did and hope to connect more with him in future books. The Darkling is a frustrating character because he plays both villain and good guy, often at the same time. I found myself constantly questioning his character’s true essence and wondering “Is he really a good guy or just a bad guy in disguise? Or is this what the author wants us to think? Or is that what the author wants us to think she wants us to think?”. And of course I ended up thinking in complete circles, becoming too distracted to actually just enjoy the character…so, yeah, there’s that.

Bardugo relies on a trite love triangle between Alina/Darkling/Mal, and I wouldn’t have minded this so much if the Darkling wasn’t supposed to be like 100 years older than her. I still don’t understand why this is a “thing” in YA, where the teenage heroine is romantically involved with a hunky supernatural guy who is decades or centuries older than her. Just because a guy may look 20, doesn’t mean he isn’t mentally and psychologically decades older than her. A hundred years is a lifetime of difference in life experience and maturity…just sayin’.

Now the whole Alina/Mal thing I can get behind. This isn’t insta-love, but a genuine love that has matured and grown over a decade of friendship. This is a romance that has me invested.

I do like how this book ends and all the possibilities and sets up for future books.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS: Shadow and Bone has many really enjoyable and entertaining aspects (originality, captivating fantastical elements, a grand setting) and despite its downfalls (lack of story development, a trite romance, little real action) I found it to be a very good read. I will definitely continue the series.


Find the author: Website / Goodreads / Twitter / Facebook
Purchase: Amazon / B&N / Book Depository
Leigh Bardugo was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. She indulges her fondness for glamour, ghouls, and costuming in her other life as makeup artist L.B. Benson. She lives in Hollywood and can occasionally be heard singing with her band, Captain Automatic.Her debut novel, Shadow & Bone, is the first book in the Grisha Trilogy and will be published by Holt Children’s/Macmillan in June 2012. She is represented by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary.


Molli @ Once Upon a Prologue said...

It's always fascinating seeing what different people think of the same book. I didn't have any of these issues except for the "love triangle." I am a firm Mal/Alina girl and no Darkling will EVER change that. *sighs* If I had any issue with the book, it would be that. I think I could have bought the Darkling being a mentor to Alina, then what happened rather than his interest in her.

Great review though, girl!

Unknown said...

I'm really glad I read this review. Most of the reviewers of Shadow and Bone have been giving it solid 4-5 stars, but I've been looking for a slightly different perspective. This is still one of my top to-be-read books, though.

Thanks for the review!