Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1) by Leigh Bardugo
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 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.
Before I start my review: yay! I’m back from music camp, which was absolutely amazing. What this means is that I had a 5 hour drive today during which I listened to this as an audiobook. I then spent a couple of hours working on some of my oboe reeds (I’m still pretty bad at scraping them well) while I finished listening to it. I felt this explanation was necessary in case any of you all were wondering how I was managing to finish so many books while commenting on not having time to post decent reviews here…
I have to admit having a certain reluctance to read this book, which is why I finally said heck with it and got it on one of the many Audible sales. Personally, I don’t think the description does this book justice, though I’m honestly not sure what I would do differently to summarize it. There isn’t really terribly much more that could be said without giving spoilers … But the topic of writing good descriptions is really something that should wait for another time. For now, suffice to say that this book far exceeded my expectations.
Let’s start with the obvious bits (for me, at least): I loved the world that was developed here—it’s fairly unique in the setup of the world even though it’s built around something as simple as the Grisha. The Grisha themselves were fairly fascinating, pushing some of the tropes about use of magic (for one thing, instead of magic wearing you down, it actually allows you to sustain your health/body/age longer—the more power you have/use, the older you can live). I also really enjoyed the use of caste-like classifications among the Grisha in a way that worked without being terribly restricted in the use/ability of their powers. So all in all, great job on the world-building.
I also really loved the characters. Alina was a great main character, with just enough of a rocky past and emotional swing to let us understand her motivations without spending too terribly much time on her whining about her plight, which I feel has become rather too common in the genre. I also kind of get Mal, and even more impressive is that I kind of only get him from Alina’s perspective, which is pretty strong evidence that she’s got a pretty solid voice as a narrator and not just as a character. And who wouldn’t love The Darkling as a character? He was great!
Downsides: the interplay between light and dark started to become a little dull by the end of the book, and the obvious metaphor to good versus evil was, well, obvious. It’s also clear that the main character doesn’t believe in grey, only in black and white—I hope this is something that gets explored a bit more (but not in a heavy-handed way) in book 2. Along the same lines, Alina is awfully quick to throw all of her trust into one person in spite of her other arguments (this is really tough to keep vague). It was clear to me that upon an edit or a second draft, Bardugo or her editor decided to try to make the motivation for this acceptance more clear, and Alina has a brief moment of second-guessing her decisions, but I don’t think I was all that convinced that Alina should have bought into this story yet. Some of the change in other characters after that also seemed a bit abrupt and unbelievable, and I would have loved to get more insight into what was going on with them through their later interactions. I’m not sure that I really understood what was apparently pretty obvious to Alina when it came to behaviors of some of the supporting characters.
None of these concerns were particularly major for me, especially since I was listening instead of reading. I definitely really enjoyed this book, and I look forward to getting the second one when it comes out.