Release Date: June 5th, 2012
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Guest Reviewer: Heartless Lyn
Blurb: 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.
Review: Leigh Bardugo’s launched into the young adult field with her first novel, Shadow and Bone. In the debut book, we follow a young orphan girl, Alina Starkov , as she discovers her newly found talent as a Grisha: powerful people who can manipulate magical elements. While serving in the army with her childhood friend, Mal, Alina stumbles onto her powers as the military unit attempts to cross an evil, dark encased section of land dubbed the Fold. Alina is swiftly enfolded into another world as she is adopted into the Grisha court, where the head Grisha, the Darkling, entices her with lust and power. Alina soon begins to understand that her true source of power depends heavily on her own merits, and as she begins to understand which are friends and which are foes, she has to learn to rely on her own merits to save the future of the land.
Shadow and Bone is a book that is hard to compare to any other book I have read in the young adult section. Bardugo’s world building heavily borrows from Russian culture, which is reflected in the names of the characters, the clothing donned by the Grisha, and other cultural centered details of the story, including movars and samovars. For someone who is not well versed in all things Russia, the experience was an enjoyable trip into a culture that is not widely employed in teen literature.
The protagonist struggles with the same complex issues of self image to help the typical reader identify with the story, but Bardugo performs her magic and brings in this wonderful element: outer beauty depends on inner beauty. Yes, girls, when you feel confident in yourself, your life, and your own identity, you are going to look fabulous. I am not talking about “love yourself and you too can look like Scarlett Johansson!” magic (however, if you ever discover this, please contact me ASAP). Alina does not become the MOST BEAUTIFUL Grisha to ever exist, but when she lets go of her anger, self doubt, and self denial, she embraces an outer glamour that is her own. This healthy dose of knowledge is constantly force fed to youth, but you never realize how important self worth plays in attraction. I never understood that concept until I saw it happen for me personally. I am no raving beauty. I’m not fishing for compliments; facts are facts. I come from a long line of highly unattractive people, but I have plenty of friends and attention because I respect who I am. A pretty face only lasts so long, but a positive self identity stays for life. This merit does not simply end with physical attraction. Compassion enters into the field, and Alina witnesses that justice can be used to outshine the darkest of times. Our main character also realizes that mercy is stronger than brutality. The good old advice of “catching insects with honey instead of vinegar” provides the stage for a very moving chapter in the book. You’re going to need to get the tissues. You have been fairly warned.
I also cannot talk about this book without mentioning that Bardugo ventures away from the dull, formulaic plot devices and shreds everything you know as she rolls out the best plot twist on this side of contemporary fiction. Dedicated readers will understand the woe of fine tuned book instincts–you see the concealed secrets, the hidden identities, and the ploys and fabrications from a mile away–aka “my story senses are tingling”. If you have read books for nearly your entire life, you get the gist. So imagine my surprise when I WAS BLOWN OUT OF THE WATER. I haven’t been this surprised in a very long time.