Sunday, November 3, 2013

Book Review: Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone
(The Grisha Trilogy, #1)
Leigh Bardugo
Hardcover, 368 pages
Henry Holt & Co., June 5, 2012
Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee, 2014
Epic Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult Fiction

Goodreads Synopsis:  The Shadow Fold, a swath of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.

Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite—the Grisha. Could she be the key to unraveling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?

The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfill her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.

But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him?

Glorious. Epic. Irresistible. Romance.

My Review

I love it when a fantasy author totally immerses me in a world of imaginative power and incredible marvels, and that was certainly the case here!  Shadow and Bone is a great debut novel, one that impresses with the sheer inventiveness of the world created by the author.  It's totally enchanting, as well as original, because the world inhabited by Bardugo's characters has the flavor of Old Russia -- the Russia of the late 19th-century, of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, of Tsars and well as unsettling religious fanatics with the power to manipulate and charm those in power.

I loved the sprinkling of strange new words -- some obviously based on Russian, others invented by the author -- present throughout the novel.  They contributed to the mesmerizing setting, the magic of the people known as "Grisha" -- people who possessed various magical powers. 

Alina Starkov, the main character, is a young girl with insecurities, as well as a secret love for her fellow orphan and friend, Malyen Oretsev.  At the beginning of the novel, she is totally unremarkable, but, by its end, she has become transformed into a woman of indomitable will, fully in control of her magical power.  Thus, this novel is just as much a coming-of-age tale as it is one of high adventure and surreal magic.  I was definitely able to empathize with Alina; after all, she's not a perfect heroine.  In spite of her power, she must struggle with her inner conflicts, and she's not sure she's really meant to be a member of the Grisha.  It's remarkable that she's able to emerge as such a strong person by the end of the novel, too, for she really has no role models to look up to. 

The reader follows Alina from the orphanage she had grown up in to the glittering court of Ravka's King and Queen, where she is enrolled in a special Grisha school so that she can be trained in the proper use of her power, as well as learn other skills pertaining to her new life.  She had been brought there by the Darkling, a man of immense power, whose charm and allure swept the young Alina off her feet, even as she struggled to resist her nearly irresistible, yet dangerous attraction to him. 

The Darkling is a very interesting character.  It seemed at first that, since he's the leader of the Grisha, he would be the perfect match for Alina.  He is darkly attractive, and I found myself being swept up right along with Alina!  Despite his obvious mastery and power, he can be gentle and sweet with her.  Yet, he has a sinister side that Alina is initially totally unaware of.  He can be a very passionate man, as Alina herself discovers.  He, too, is attracted to Alina.  Yet, this attraction he feels does not stand in the way of his ruthlessness, his quest for ultimate power.  He's prepared to bend Alina to his will, if he has to.

As for Mal, I wasn't too enthused about him at first.  He seemed oblivious to Alina's feelings for him, or perhaps he wasn't quite sure how to react to them.  Although he and Alina were serving in the army together (he was an expert tracker), he was more interested in having a good time with other girls.  Then, in a very dramatic scene, right inside the Fold, Alina's power was discovered, and her whole life changed in an instant.  After that, Mal was out of the picture for most of the book, until he reappeared toward the end.  It was toward the end of the novel that I really began to like him, as he realized what he really felt for Alina.  I'm hoping that, now that Mal is sure of his feelings, he and Alina will have more romantic moments in the rest of the series.

One of the minor characters I really liked was Genya, a Grisha with the power to alter people's appearance for the better.  Alina met her at the Little Palace, where she lived while taking her lessons at the special Grisha school.  Genya had been assigned to be Alina's servant, but in the process became her friend.  Although beautiful herself, she was far from shallow, and I really felt for her, since she was forced by her low station to do certain things against her will.  I admired her for putting aside her own pain in order to help Alina adjust to life at court.  Indeed, in the midst of all the hypocrisy and political maneuvers, she was one of the truly genuine persons there.

There was another memorable minor character, with a very unusual name -- the Apparat.  Strongly reminiscent of the controversial Rasputin, whose influence over Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna is a well-known historical fact, this strange character had a very peculiar interest in Alina that made me quite uncomfortable.  His intentions were never clarified by the author, however, so I'm expecting him to return in the second novel, where I hope Bardugo will offer some answers.

I loved the detailed, yet not overly explanatory, prose style of this novel, too.  The author gives the reader enough to be able to suspend disbelief, and  the world-building is perfect throughout.  The idea of The Fold does have a certain "Tolkienian" flavor.  The concept of the volcra, which are horrible flying creatures that eat human flesh, reminded me somewhat of the orcs and Ringwraiths of Tolkien's masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings.   However, this fantasy is still highly original in concept, and thoroughly enjoyable, as well!  There were elements of mythology involved, reflected in the legend of a magical stag, as well as in the origins of the Darkling.  Also, the references to the Russian Orthodox Church -- saints, icons, etc., was certainly something I've never encountered in any fantasy novel before.  All these references to Old Russia made this novel refreshingly unique.

To sum up, I would say that this is great epic fantasy that will satisfy the cravings of die-hard fans of this genre (such as myself).  Be prepared to be taken on a fascinating ride, along with well-drawn, very appealing characters whom you will find to be totally unforgettable!


Leigh Bardugo

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  1. Maria,

    Your reviews always amaze me with all of intricate details you put into it. You inspire me to do more with my reviews (I should be able to use better words in my writing). I completely loved how you broke down the characters without giving too much away and how you explained yourself why you gave it such rating.

    You're an awesome reviewer!

    Btw, I thought of the same thing: the volcra reminding me of the Ringwraiths!

    1. Hey, Vonnie!

      Awww.....thanks!! You're so sweet to make such a nice comment!! But let me tell you -- I really like your reviews, too!!

      I've re-read this particular a couple of times, and I think I'll tweak it a bit here and there. (I'm a perfectionist, lol.) This one wasn't as easy for me to write as some of my others. I think that was because I had already given so many details about the book in the read-along, and didn't want to repeat myself. So I struggled with it a bit.

      So you thought of the Ringwraiths, too? Interesting! I think that Tolkien has had a pretty big influence on fantasy writers since his masterpieces, "The Hobbit", and "The Lord of the Rings", were published. However, I think Bardugo has created a very original story, in spite of the slight Tolkien influence.

      I loved the characters in this book!! All of the ones I mentioned in the review (except Mal) were memorable. I want to go on reading about them! So I should really start reading "Siege and Storm", shouldn't I? Ah, "so many books, so little time......"

      I'm looking forward to our next read-along!!! Hopefully this time we'll get more participants.

      Thanks again for such a lovely comment!! Abrazos!! L )

  2. Nice review. I've been wanting to read this :)

  3. Enjoyed the review. Will have to pick it up and give it a try. thanks!


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