Taken from 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.
This book started beautifully. Leigh Bardugo has an excellent handle of language and description when it comes to setting up a story. Her concept was fascinating, pulling from Russian folklore, which was a refresher from Western centric mythologies and stories. Riordan has already dominated the Greco-Roman angle, so this was a great idea! However, after looking through some other reviews I found that her Russian influence was poorly executed. She butchered parts of the language and did not use the correct endings for characters’ names (apparently Russians feminize the last names of women, so the main character should have been named Alina Starkova instead of Alina Starkov). There was also an issue with the term Grisha, which is the word Bardugo assigns to her magical warriors. Grisha is a diminutive of the Russian name Grigory. What I’m saying here is that Grisha means Greg. She literally named her super beings the Gregs. Since I am not Russian myself or a Russian scholar or someone with prior knowledge of Russian culture these issues didn’t stand out to me, but I can see how they would be annoying to another reader. I still chuckle when I think about the fact that Grishas are basically called Gregs. I also found Bardugo’s sporadic use of Russian words and names distracting. Nothing disturbs a reading like having to stumble over an italicized word you can’t pronounce with no translation or context. Pulling from another culture is fine, but a writer needs to provide the right amount of context for their less educated readers. (Review Review Review)
It wasn’t hard to be pulled into Bardugo’s world though. It’s wholly original, completely apart from the other worlds of YA. That being said I feel like Bardugo could have built it more. I was left curious about how Ravka looked because there didn’t seem to be any of that encapsulating description as the story progressed. Instead the story developed into something less attractive; a love triangle. As much as I like Alina as a main character I find her very annoying. She is the stereotypical YA lead who is “too skinny, mousy brown haired, but hey she’s sarcastic isn’t she great!” who inevitably falls in love and then has a competing love interest in the Darkling. The sarcasm was a bit much. I found Alina’s sarcasm to be more stupidity. She lashes out against people far more powerful than her, which they find endearing somehow. Even an orphan peasant should know not to stupidly lash out at the most powerful Grisha in her world. I might not have minded the stupidity and the love triangle as much if Alina hadn’t been practically useless while mooning over her childhood friend Mal while receiving the Darkling’s attentions. Every page was another stream of internal dialogue that was her attempting to sort through her feelings for him, why he wasn’t answering her letters, and all the reasons why he shouldn’t like her. Please. Alina. You’re a Sunsummoner and have been brought to the home of the Grisha to learn how to control your powers. Yes, this is all very new and scary and not what you wanted from life, but learning to control this very big part of who you are seems important don’t you think? Melodrama aside, another moment I could have done without is the idea that Alina is only strong and beautiful when she uses her powers or another Grisha uses their powers on her. Genya, a tailor whose powers include altering one’s appearance, uses her powers on Alina to make her more physically attractive to the king’s court. If there is one troupe I cannot stand it’s the magical makeover that suddenly makes the “ugly” girl beautiful to the eyes of everyone else. Alina also fills the stereotype of the magical girl (a good explanation can be found in the amazing Keshia Mcclantoc’s blog post A Brief History of Magical Girls (And Why They’re Important), where a young girl only finds strength to face her enemies when in her magical form or when using her magical powers instead of by herself. It felt as if Bardugo was saying that Alina would be nothing without Mal by her side. *gag*
Bardugo’s pacing also left something to be desired. A lot of time passes in Shadow and Bone. Alina spent months at the Little Palace, all of which passed in the matter of pages. While I understand this for space and the story’s sake I feel like it could have been handled better so as to keep the reader more engaged. The amount of time that passed wasn’t easily discernable, so it’s difficult for me to say just how long Alina spent doing anything. It just felt like forever.
All in all, Bardugo has set up a strong start for an interesting trilogy. Her concept and world have a good hook and a lot of room for development in the next two installments. I hope, however that Alina will grow as a character and that the love story will become less prevalent. There is a nation to save after all. You know, lives to save, power-hungry antagonists to stop. Just YA things.