Updated: Dec 9, 2019
In my bookish circles, I’ve seen a lot of people who have nothing but high praise for books by Leigh Bardugo. On a recent trip to the library, I came across Shadow and Bone (Book #1 in the Shadow and Bone Trilogy) and picked it up. I flew through this book, and finally realized why so many people are avid fans of Leigh Bardugo, since I’m pretty sure I’ve joined the ranks as well. At the end, I’ve included a review of The Tailor since it’s Book #1.5 in the Shadow and Bone Trilogy, since it’s really just an additional scene from another character’s point of view.
The Goodreads summary for Shadow and Bone:
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.
This book made me think of Russia even before I opened it. The cover image has the onion-domed buildings that are associated with Russian architecture. The similarities don’t end there – the names of the characters and many other words are Russian in nature as well. But, this book is more than just a story about a Russian inspired world. Ravka is a nation that has been at war with bordering nations, and the Shadow Fold cuts off access to the coast. Magic plays a big role in this world, and practitioners are known as the Grisha. The Darkling is the leader of the Grisha, and has strong magical abilities of his own. This world is incredibly detailed, and I was totally immersed in this book from the very start.
The book is told from Alina’s point of view. She’s not the typical heroine that we see in most books. Initially, she seems like a regular girl; not pretty, not athletic, and definitely not coordinated. It’s only when Mal is attacked that she manifests a magical talent that she reveals herself to be extraordinary, but even then, she struggles with feeling as though she isn’t really anything special. To me, it makes her even more relatable. She struggled as she was taken to be trained as a Grisha, something that most of the others went through as young children, while Alina had to go through this process as an adult. Because of this, she’s able to see the difference between the lifestyles of the royal family and the Grisha compared to the regular people of Ravka, who were basically peasants. I felt that the way she had to fight to learn everything from basic combat skills to controlling her powers, her frustrations in doing so, and being accepted among her new peers was realistic. I especially loved watching her come into her own, and integrate who she was with who she was becoming.
Mal is a bit harder to get a read on. He grew up as Alina’s best friend, but things changed as they grew up. They stayed friends, but the quality of their relationship shifted as they became adults. Alina continued to be the unremarkable person she was as a child, but Mal fit in with a different crowd, and became popular with his peers. The wedge between Mal and Alina grows even more as Alina is taken away to live with the rest of the Grisha.
I was intrigued by the concept right away, and fell in love with the book from the first page. The writing style is simple but descriptive, and I felt as though I was in the story with the characters. The plot was fascinating and creative, and the story did not get old at any point. There was plenty of action, and I was surprised by how everything came together. The plot twists were unpredictable, and I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable I found this book. After reading this, I discovered that The Tailor was available online, and downloaded that right away. It’s a quick read that is just an additional scene from the perspective of Genya, a Grisha who befriended Alina early on. It provided a little extra information that I had already suspected, although it did clarify the motivation behind her actions, which I was surprised by. Another thing that I didn’t realize was how detailed the world of the Grisha are: while there are two more books in the trilogy (duh, it’s a TRILOGY), there’s also the Six of Crows duology, and then the Nikolai duology. These aren't the same series, and they don't seem to even be sequential, but in my understanding, they're linked because they all feature Grisha in some form. I’ll hopefully have more information about this shortly, since I definitely plan to read all of these books as soon as I can get my bookish mitts on them.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn't an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 14
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
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