Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt
Publication Date: June 5, 2012
Series: Grisha #1
Links: Amazon | Goodreads
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've seen people who don't like Alina's lack of confidence. They think that she should accept all of this stuff readily and know that she can do it and also think herself to be very beautiful even though she is sickly and wan. But the reluctant hero is a THING, you guys! It's an underappreciated thing, and I aim to appreciate it. I like seeing this self-doubting heroine who has to be shoved in the right directions until she can gain a better understanding of herself. It allows for so much more growth by the end of the story, and I find it to be a nice change of pace from the usual. She has to prove to herself that she can be amazing before she can go out and save the day.
The setting and plot have some enchanting elements to them that do a great job of fleshing out the world and the magic. Swallowing a chunk of Ravka in darkness filled with dangerous creatures, the Shadow Fold is effectively mysterious and creepy. The magical system is one that I really like, but I do wish it had been a just a tad more fleshed out because I did find it to be one of the more fascinating parts of the world even though the concept behind it isn't wholly unique. I also would like to have seen a little more to do with the political situation in Ravka because, while it seems to play a pretty important role in the plot, there really isn't that much that we learn about it other than that there are some tensions going around. The struggles for power could have been reinforced with a couple of specifics or a scene in which the power struggles were put on display rather than only being discussed among characters in private. A little evidence of complications on this point could have done wonders for the story, which, despite a minor twist or two, isn't really that intricate. It is fun, though, as well as fast-paced.
There are parts of this book that are influenced by Russian culture, and I've seen a few reviews in which people complain that the portrayal of Russian culture, particularly with regard to names and words, in Shadow and Bone is not entirely accurate. But for me, none of that matters. If this were a realistic fiction or a historical fiction or a nonfiction book, then yes those things would matter. A lot, in fact. But this is a high fantasy set in a second world. And "influenced by" does not equal "historical, cultural, and etymological copy of". So I have no problems with Alina's last name being Starkov instead of Starkova, etc. And I'm of the opinion that those sorts of things shouldn't have any bearing in a fantasy novel set in a world that is not our own. (That being said, I do think that borrowed words retain a better strength if they're used properly so that they cannot become a weak point for readers to fixate on.) I definitely recommend this as a fast-paced, enjoyable story with an interesting cast, world, and magic system.