After Julie Kagawa mentioned at an author signing that she loved Shadow and Bone, I knew I had to get a copy ASAP. Leigh Bardugo's first novel does not disappoint.
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.
WHAT I LOVED:
First and foremost, this is a true YA fantasy with just a hint of romance kicked in. I loved that the author didn't "go there" when there were plenty of opportunities to do so. She kept the reader focused on the action and adventure and didn't get side tracked with adult type scenes that would have muddled down the story.
I absolutely love the story! Reminiscent of Paolini's Eragon series, Bardugo does a great job of world building and letting the story flow at a steady pace. We become attached to Alina and Mal right off the bat; theirs is a true friendship. I'll try not to spoil anything, but I appreciate the clarity this author brings to understanding the characters' emotions. Everything Alina feels is believable and genuine. And did I mention the storyline is rocking fantastic?
The most complex character in the book by far is the Darkness. I wonder where she's going to take this in the next book, though. Bardugo does a great job of creating characters that are well rounded and unique.
Even though the first few chapters were a bit confusing at times, the author did a wonderful job of clarifying at the exact moment I was getting ready to go back a few pages and re-read to see if I'd missed something. Clarity is one of the strongest attributes of this book. Man, is this thing honed like a sharp knife pointed toward the climax. While the book is 356 pages, the font is a true double space, and so it seems long but its not. I read it in one sitting.
MY PINCH POINTS:
The book is so well written there are only a few pinch points for me. One is the slovic language, which could have been thinned a bit. There are readers that just gloss over foreign phrases and difficult names ... unfortunately I'm not one of them. I actually googled a few phrases in the book, which, of course, yanked me right out of the story line Again, not a huge deal as the pages aren't littered with them, but a little frustrating none the less.
My only other pinch point is more of a personal preference. It seems lately that a lot of YA is written in first person with little to no sensory. When we read first person, we are looking through the eyes of the protag. The reader wants to see, smell, hear, taste, touch, and sense what the protag senses. The internal dialogue is well written, as is the dialogue between characters, but I would have loved to seen more attention to sensory detail. I longed to be pulled into the world instead of told about it.
All in all, the book is a great read. I'm definitely planning on re-reading this one in the not too distant future. While there is a bit of romance and violence throughout, it isn't graphic enough to merit concern for the younger side of YA. I highly recommend it to everyone!