Review: Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Grisha #1
My rating: {★★★★☆}

YA Fantasy
Published June 5th 2012 by Henry Holt and Company

Source: Purchased
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.
I buddy read Shadow and Bone with the fantastic Amy from A Magical World of Words. As always we had some great discussions while we read the book and you should also check out her review here.

Actual rating: 3.5 stars rounded up because... Leigh Bardugo

I definitely have conflicted feelings about this book. I really, really, really wanted to love it and I really, really wanted to love the Darkling and I was just left feeling.... underwhelmed. I blame a couple of things - namely HYPE and Six of Crows.

I absolutely adored Six of Crows and while I floundered in the beginning I truly loved the masterful writing and the plot twists of Bardugo. It's not that the writing in this book was bad, it definitely wasn't - but Shadow and Bone was THE debut, both of Bardugo and the Grisha. While you definitely CAN read Six of Crows without having read the Grisha books first I am totally going to recommend that if you want to read both series, start with the Grisha where possible. Not only was it published this way and obviously the way the author intended it to be read, but I think if I hadn't started with Six of Crows my enjoyment factor of both would have been higher because I wouldn't have floundered quite so much in the beginning of Six of Crows and I would have enjoyed the world building a little more in Shadow and Bone.

I think in general this book starts off a little slowly taking time and care with the world building, and for someone who had already had an introduction to the Grisha, this was a little too slow. I did however enjoy seeing the world as Bardugo first imagined it and I loved seeing how true-to-it's-roots the Six of Crows duology actually was. There are seeds planted in Shadow and Bone that really grew into their own story-line in Six of Crows and I loved being able to find these little kernels of information.

Unfortunately it took me a long time to warm up to any of the characters, and while I enjoyed the main character and narrator Alina with her outspokenness and brashness I took a long time to connect to her. I can't put my finger on WHY exactly, but she was just 'Okay' for a lot of the book. She was the cliche 'plain girl' who was happy to play the damsel in distress at times and I just like my heroines with a dash more backbone, a touch more ferocity. I did warm up to her in the end, and I never disliked her, but I wanted to really LOVE her, especially after knowing about Sankta Alina from Six of Crows. I did spy a core of steel in her though and I am fully prepared for her character to be far more awesome in Siege and Storm and I'm hoping for a lot of growth and development.

Malyen Oretsev (Mal) is, like Alina, an orphan and they were raised together in the residence of an ex war-hero whom, after he had returned from the front lines, had converted his estate into an orphanage and a home for war widows. Their camaraderie and friendship was one of my most favourite things about this book and although I didn't realise how much I liked Mal until the last 25% of the book I really enjoyed his character.

It was great to see the characters of Genya and Zoya again, (having 'met' them in the Six of Crows duology) and I loved getting to know their history and back stories. Genya reminded me so much of Despina from The Wrath and The Dawn which was actually a good thing and I can just imagine how readers may have felt seeing both of them back in Six of Crows (had they read the books in order!!!!). I very much look forward to seeing them more in the series.

I'm not even sure what to say about The Darkling, but for the most part I was left a little underwhelmed. I think he's a complex character that I'm going to have to reserve judgement on for now. I wanted to know more, get inside his head more and while I think that he's supposed to seem mysterious, I wanted him to actually BE more mysterious, a little more dangerous. As I said though, I'm reserving judgement for now.

“Someone has to lead, Alina. Someone has to end this. Believe me, I wish there were another way.”
He sounded so sincere, so reasonable, less a creature of relentless ambition than a man who believed he was doing the right thing for his people. Despite all he’d done and all he intended, I did almost believe him. Almost.
I gave a single shake of my head.
He slumped back in his chair. “Fine,” he said with a weary shrug. “Make me your villain.”

Overall I think this book was just a little too safe in too many ways. Even with the propriety shock loss of a character in the beginning and the plot twist (which I didn't see coming so that's a great thing!), I wanted more: I wanted a little more of the breathless tempestuousness of Six of Crows, a little more of Bardugo's mastermind and a little more baddassery in the characters.

“Silly girl,” she said, looping her arm through mine. “There’s no such thing as too much champagne. Though your head will try to tell you otherwise tomorrow.”

Siege and Storm (Grisha #2)→

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