Friday, July 27, 2012

[review] Leigh Bardugo - Shadow and Bone (Grisha Trilogy, #1)

Title: Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: Grisha Trilogy, #1
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Format: Hardcover
Source: Local library
Buy from: AmazonBarnes & NobleBookdepository
Summary (via Goodreads):
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.
Random paragraph: "I thought he might have a point. The Materialki workshops buzzed morning and night with orders from the palace for cloth and gems and fireworks. The Summoners spent hours at the stone pavilions honing their 'demonstrations.' Given that Ravka was at war and had been for over a hundred years, it all seemed a little frivolous. Still, I hadn't been to many parties, and it was hard not to get caught up in the talk of silks and dances and flowers." (pgs. 199-200, hardcover edition)

I'm always a bit skeptical whenever a book has an immense amount of hype, but I'm pleased to say that I wound up enjoying this. 

First things first: there are very valid criticisms of the way Russian culture and language is handled here. Basic terminology and naming conventions are incorrect, some words had their definitions deliberately changed... by the end, I wasn't sure if it was necessary, since I feel like the book would've worked just as well without it. For more on this, read this Amazon reviewthis post by Rose Lemberg (which is a fascinating read on linguistics in world-building in general), and Tatiana's review on Goodreads. (It also reminds me of a running joke between my boyfriend and I -- take basic Swedish words and insert them into a fantasy novel. "UNLEASH THE KROG." "They feasted on surstr√∂mming, the rarest delicacy in the land." Etc. Except we're always joking, and here it, erm, actually happened.)

With that in mind: this book hooked its claws into me and didn't let me go.

I came to this book after reading something that I really, truly hated (more on that later!), and it was leaking into my enjoyment of other books. I read the first chapter of this and set it aside, but after I cooled off, came back later... and then got to the Shadow Fold, the Unsea, and the volcra. The Fold is a swath of pure darkness separating east west Ravka. Let me tell you, Internets: I'm not usually afraid of things in books, but the volcra scared the pants off me.
"Alexei!" I yelled, leaning over the side of the railing. "Alexei!"

The answer came in a gust of wings as another volcra swooped down on me. I careened backward, barely avoiding its grasp, my knife held out before me with trembling hands. The volcra lunged forward, the firelight glinting off its milky, sightless eyes, its gaping mouth crowded with rows of sharp, crooked, black teeth. I saw a flash of powder from the corner of my eye, heard a rifle shot, and the volcra stumbled, yowling in rage and pain.
In the Fold, Alina finds out that she has something very, very special. When the Darkling, a powerful youth who's able to manipulate shadows, finds out, he takes a keen interest in her. He brings her to the palace of Os Alta for training. He tells her: You are special. You are going to be the one to make the Fold disappear, and you will unify Ravka. It takes her a while to adjust to court life, but she soon enjoys it, writing letters to her best friend Mal all the while.

And then... BAM. Plot Twist of Death. It filled me with glee, because after being disappointed by the last few hyped books I've read, I was wondering if YA had become predictable.

I LOVED Alina. If I had to make a comparison, I'd say that she strongly reminded me of Lyra from His Dark Materials. She tried casting off her "specialness," yes, but it never felt annoying to me -- here, it felt genuine. She's very dry at times about being suddenly thrust into the spotlight, and I loved her for it.

By the end, I was totally in love with this book. Morally gray characters! Emotion everywhere! And the ending was totally kickass -- here we have a heroine making morally questionable decisions while realizing that they're questionable! After being annoyed at protagonists doing terrible things while being 100% sure that they were in the right, this was incredibly refreshing.

It should also be noted that content aside, the book itself is beautiful. I'm not usually one for maps, but this was just so cool and well-done. The chapter headings and page number designs are elegant and made the book into a wonderful package.

I'm so glad that I read this. If you're looking for some good YA fantasy, I heartily recommend this.

Overall: If you're willing to tune out the linguistic issues (which will probably be difficult for those with knowledge of Slavic languages), this is a solid YA fantasy that's a fabulous example of the genre.

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