Author: Legh Bardugo
Released: May 17th 2012
Pages: 320 (Paperback)
Buy: Amazon UK / Amazon US
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The Shadow Fold, a swathe 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 unravelling 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 fulfil 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?
I think I've waited for this book for about a year - a long torturous year, filled with a massive amount of five-star ratings from other bloggers and countless recommendations. I think I looked for Shadow and Bone everywhere - in book stores, online, on second-hand sites - but it was only published in America. I knew I'd get it eventually, but damn it was a long wait! And when I finally managed to get my hands on it, well, it was pretty unexpected: I'd just finished A Game of Thrones and went to buy A Clash of Kings. It was buy one get one half price, so I ambled over to the teen fiction section and BAM! there is was. I pretty much had a meltdown in the middle of the store and couldn't wipe the grin from my face for the rest of the day! I was finally able to see what all the hype was about.
The story is set in a bit of a fantastical version of Russia. Alina Starkov is an orphan, and as soon as she came of age she was sent off to serve the First Army in a long-term war between her country and several others. However, unlike the others there, Alina isn't particularly good at anything - constantly tired and sick-looking, every day life is a struggle. That is, until her regiment is attacked during a crossing of the Shadow Fold - a dark veil over the land containing deadly beings. As her best friend is attacked, Alina unleashes this powerful light, and after that, only one thing is clear; Alina is a Grisha, and a powerful one at that. But why hadn't she been found before? Labelled the Sun Summoner, it is rumoured that she could have the power to eliminate the Shadow Fold once and for all - but at what cost?
The writing wasn't brilliant. After the influx of five-star ratings, I was expecting everything to be impeccable, and I guess my expectations were set too high, as the writing and language just felt average - it didn't wow me. However, the plot completely made up for the lack in language. I've read a lot of books with unique concepts, but I think this is one of the best. I love it when an author creates something that is so different to our world but still has that vaguely familiar feel to it; in that way, the book can be a form of escapism to the reader as well as being relatable and within their comfort zone. Aspects of Bardugo's world were quite far-fetched, and I loved the idea of the Grisha and their mix of amazing powers - however, their were still things that I could relate to, and I think that made it easier to slip into that fictional world.
I really loved Alina. She didn't stand out as much as I expected her to, but she had the kind of characteristics that make a protagonist lovable. She was feisty and strong-willed, and it was interesting seeing things from her viewpoint. I also liked the fact that she was ugly - well, not ugly persay, but she was your average Plain Jane. More than anything I hate it when a character is beautiful and pretends she doesn't know - it's just so typical and annoying. Alina was different to that - as her powers developed and she got over some personal herdles, she did become prettier - but Bardugo didn't bang on about it, which was great. By making Alina quite plain, it made the character seem like she was down to earth and on the same level as the reader, increasing the relatability.
The love interests - phew! I was swooning all over the place! Although I didn't find myself attracted to them and developing book crushes, they were quite nice, and in a way they were opposite sides of a coin. Mal was strong and familiar, and had that boy-next-door thing going with a hint of stealth. The Darkling was just sexy and seductive. But despite my liking them, I haven't really picked a team - it changed with every plot twist, and I guess I'm kind of hoping that there will be a new love interest in the sequel, one that's new and fresh and stands out a bit more.
I guess because I waited so long for it, my expectations had extra time to build and expand until all the book could do was disappoint me. Don't get me wrong, I loved the concept, the narrative, the Russia-esque feel to it...but I didn't finish it and explode into a heap of feels - I'm not going to immediately rush out and buy Siege and Storm, the second instalment to the trilogy. I will get around to reading it eventually - I mean, come on now, that cliffhanger was horrendous - but not immediately. If you love YA and fantasy, then I'd definitely recommend this book. Although Shadow and Bone didn't wow me to the point of five stars, it was good, fresh and unique, and I think Bardugo may be an author to look out for...