Saturday, July 18, 2015

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication date: June 5, 2012
Rating: ★★★½

Summary (via Goodreads):

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.

After ten thousand Tumblr picture sets and countless playlists made in honor of Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy, I finally bit the bullet and committed myself to yet another YA fantasy series.

Unpopular opinion time: I didn't love this book. It's my fault, really. Actually, no. I take that back. It's Leigh Bardugo's fault for making me fall so in love with the villain of the story that the real love interest never had a fighting chance. Sorry I'm not sorry.

That being said, the story itself was beyond clever. I secretly pride myself on being able to spot plot twists and unoriginal storylines from a mile away, but Leigh Bardugo was always two steps ahead of me, and it's refreshing when a YA fantasy novel like this doesn't fall neatly into the same hackneyed structure that so many others do.

I do think the pacing in Shadow and Bone was a little bit off. Parts of the story dragged on, while others needed to be drawn out more than they were. I wish there had been a more measured buildup between Alina and the Darkling, and even between Alina and her best friend Mal. Each of these relationships had twists and turns that didn't feel as organic as I would have liked.

Things with the Darkling moved so quickly – he was with Alina, protecting her, spending time with her, and then he was gone for weeks at a time, and then he was back for a second, and then gone again. I would have liked to see their dynamic explored more gradually. The Darkling may be the most complex character in the book, and yet, so much of what we learn about him is discovered secondhand only – through other people's conversations with Alina, rather than through his own actions and words. It was hard for me to reconcile my first impression of him with the information I found out later.

There's one page in the book that caught me by surprise and made me want to sit and read it again and again and try to figure out these characters and who they really are and what they're thinking. I haven't quite gotten it yet, but I do love the concept – of our own memories and desires coloring our perception of people and making us look back and wonder if anything was real at all:

I remembered his perfect face in the lamplight, his stunned expression, his rumpled hair. … I could still feel his warm breath on my neck, hear his whisper in my ear. The problem with wanting is that it makes us weak.

I'm not sure why these few sentences hit me so hard, when there are so many other moments that are written even more beautifully: Alina's description of the Darkling's soul. Mal's certainty of Alina. Mal's impassioned speeches (he's talkative, that one). I guess it just reminds me of unfinished business, of what if?, of this weird need I've always had to strip people down to their core and see them for who they are. I can't help but hope that there is some degree of realness behind a person's facade.

My sole consolation is that Leigh Bardugo says in her acknowledgments: "I blame Gamynne Guillote for fostering my megalomania and encouraging my love of villains." Which just means that she loves this villain as much as I do. So I can only hope that the next two books in the series are more satisfying in regards to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

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