Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
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. (Goodreads)
Alina Starkov has no idea she has an incredible gift–an unbelievable power–until her regiment is under siege and her childhood best friend, Mal, is injured. Only then does this power come forth, enabling Alina not only to save Mal, but bringing her to the attention of the mysterious, seductive Darkling (le sigh). The Darkling is second only to the King. His power is frightening and often brutal, and when he wants to take Alina away to train with the Grisha, part of the royal court, she literally has no choice. Once the Darkling has set his sights on her, she must go.
Alina is frightened to follow the Darkling and leave behind the life she’s known with Mal. She loves him and while he’s oblivious to that fact, she can’t imagine being separated from him. The two became friends as young children when they were both orphaned by the Border Wars. Since that time the land of Ravka has been in utter disarray, torn apart by attacks from the evil monsters of The Shadow Fold.
The Darkling convinces Alina that he can wield her power to destroy the darkness that has terrorized them. His power is legendary and he’s often fierce in the ways he chooses to use it, but he takes Alina under his wing, to the palace, to life with the Grisha. There they value her far more than Mal ever did. She’s drawn in by the subtle seduction of the Darkling and this new power she feels. She’s one of the beautiful people now, revered and catered to, and it helps her as she battles hurt and sadness over Mal’s lack of contact with her during her absence. Each day she grows further from him and becomes more intoxicated by life at the palace and by this new attraction she feels to the Darkling. But there are shadows there too, secrets and deception, and Alina must choose the correct path to follow, both for her own safety and for the future of Ravka.
Can I just get something off my chest about the Darkling?
HUBBA HUBBA. That man is all kinds of hot. Sexy times infinity, baby. He’s elusive and intimidating and mysterious. And Bardugo does such a wonderful job describing him and the way he interacts with Alina. He has this balance of power and kindness, the ability to instill fear and calm. As he invites Alina to stand beside him in a way no one else has been able, I can only imagine how completely drunk with awe and lust and curiosity she must have felt, because hot damn, that’s exactly how I felt.
If you can’t already tell, I absolutely loved this book. I know what you’re thinking: Darkling, Shadow Fold, Grisha…what is all of this crazy business? Let me answer in the simplest terms. The world of Shadow and Bone is mythical, set in a place that in name somewhat resembles old Russian novels and stories, full of magic and legends. While it sounds like a lot to digest, the author does a fabulous job at mapping out the story, complete with a basic history, giving us a great feel for life in present-day Ravka. I felt fully immersed in this world and its characters.
Alina was a tough egg to crack. Initially she is uncertain and insecure. She’s mostly led by her love for Mal and later, as that love continues and gives birth to disappointment, she’s led by sadness. Later, she’s emboldened by the Darkling’s attention and by her new understanding of her power. This is where we see a different girl emerge. Yes, she still loves Mal, but no longer is she insecure. She is still, at her heart, a humble girl, but she now truly has the power to battle the evil that has plagued their land for so long–and she embraces it. I loved seeing that transformation.
I can’t say enough about Mal. I mean not one amazing guy, but two? What have I done to deserve this YA swoon feast? Without giving too much away, let me just stress that his relationship with Alina is sweet and beautiful. There is such great depth there that is powerful and believable. I absolutely loved his character and the way he interacts with this heroine. But that’s all I can say for now.
In the end, I thought this was a pretty phenomenal book. The writing is good, the ideas are so entirely fresh and the characters are so excellent. I’m very excited to see where this series leads us next.
Crush Intensity: 4.5/5 There are two more books coming, one in 2013 and one in 2014. Holla! For more info, check out Leigh Bardugo’s website.
The Way I See It: I did a Casting Call on this recently. Check it out!
Thank you to my pal, Brittany, over at The Book Addict’s Guide for loaning me her autographed copy of Shadow and Bone! You were right; it was awesome!