By Leigh Bardugo
Available now from Henry Holt (Macmillan)
I'm never sure what to say about heavily hyped books. I don't want to repeat what others have said, but it's hard not to when so many people are saying things. I can say that there are times when I worried. Of course Alina had special powers; she's the narrator of a fantasy novel. Where did Mal go when he was so important in the first chapters? Yes, yes, I like court intrigue, but everyone has the same goal so there isn't much use in scheming.
Fortunately, Leigh Bardugo has some twists up her sleeve. And once SHADOW AND BONE gets twisty, it turns from a fun read into an irresistible one.
I have admitted several times on my Tumblr that I used to be obsessed with Russia. Russian history, Russian art, Russian folktales, you name it. Thus, SHADOW AND BONE had my goodwill from the first page, when I realized it was set in a fantastical version of Russia. Alina and Mal are orphans being tested by the Grisha to determine whether they are Grisha. Neither child shows evidence of magical talents and they grow up to enter the military. Mal is a handsome tracker and Alina is an unaccomplished mapmaker.
Until they enter the Shadow Fold, that is.
The Fold is a darkness, filled with monsters, dividing the majority of the country from the ports. Trade, particularly international trade, has suffered, and the country of Ravka is slowly perishing. But Alina is the Sun Summoner, and with the help of the Darkling (the most powerful Grisha), she can destroy the fold and restore Ravka to his former glory. She must survive assassins from afar and learn to use her power without being under great duress.
It's hard to say what makes SHADOW AND BONE so satisfying. It uses typical elements, but executes them well. Leigh Bardugo does have a lively voice. I enjoyed crabby mentor Baghra's version of "There is no try."
"Pah!" she spat. "Do you think the world cares if you do your best? Do it again and do it right." (p. 186, ARC)Or take how Alina and her friend Genya discuss the best way to seduce a geek:
"He'll come around. He's just shy."Best of all, SHADOW AND BONE builds to an actual climax. I cannot tell you how tired I am of trilogies that begin with a book that can't standalone. SHADOW AND BONE satisfies on its own merits, but I am eager to read the next book in the Grisha trilogy. I can't wait to spend more time with these characters, in this world.
"Maybe I should lie down on a table in the workroom and wait to see if he welds something to me."
"I think that's the way most great love stories begin." (p. 190, ARC)