Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1) — Leigh Bardugo

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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.

In Ravka, the Grisha hold power. They possess magic and use this magic to protect ordinary people, like Alina and Mal, from the dangers of the Shadow Fold, a curtain of darkness that produces flesh-eating monsters. Alina has never had a problem with the way of things. Her life might not be blessed, but she has a best friend in Mal, the boy she’s grown up and slowly fallen in love with. But when Mal’s life is in danger, Alina unleashes a powerful magic that’s been hiding dormant for years. Suddenly, Alina is one of the most important people in Ravka. She’s taken to the leader of the Grisha, the Darkling, for training, but she soon learns that the Darkling has his own agenda.

Shadow and Bone is one of the most gripping fantasy novels of this year. From the outset, Bardugo’s world-building is superior. Ravka, the Shadow Fold, the Grisha: they’re all equally compelling elements of the story. But before we’re fully immersed in the politics of Ravka, we’re grounded in Alina’s and Mal’s relationship. Having grown up together as orphans, they’ve formed a resilient sibling-like bond. But as they age, Alina starts to see Mal in a more romantic light. Unfortunately, Mal thinks of her as one of the guys. The older they get, the more Mal seems to take their relationship for granted, more interested in receiving admiration and wooing the beautiful Grisha women. Their relationship is, at times, adorable, and other times, realistically frustrating. Anyone who has ever fallen for a friend will relate to Alina.

With characterization and setting firmly established, Bardgugo jumps right into her captivating plot. The Grisha’s world is beautiful, mesmerizing, and dangerous. We get to see Alina learn to navigate the intriguing politics of the palace and come into her own. I love seeing her come to terms with her powers, as well as her own confidence. She truly grows into an impressive heroine by the book’s conclusion, a heroine everyone will do well not to underestimate. Her growth as a strong, young woman is charming and satisfying.

The Darkling also provides intense suspense and mystery. It’s very difficult to decide whether or not he’s trustworthy, which makes him an fantastically fun character to read about. The reveal of his back-story is a complete surprise and probably one of the most likable twists, in my opinion. Of course, the best twist comes with the powerful ending, which feels much deserved, but leaves me anxious for more. Fantasy lovers desperate for a new, consuming series will love Shadow and Bone.

Pages: 358
Publication Date: June 2012
Publisher: BYR
Source: Provided by Publisher
Rating [rating: 4]

Teaser Quote: “I wanted to run after him, to take back what I’d said, to beg him to stay, but I’d spent my life running after Mal. Instead, I stood in silence and let him go.”