I burned out on YA fantasy series a long time ago, but when Amanda from Book Riot's Get Booked podcast raved about this book (on several occasions), I finally perked up to listen. Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone, the first book in the Grisha trilogy, is unique and immediately involving. I read this book in a day, and I never ever do that. Well, hardly ever. Unless there's a Readathon chasing me or I'm on vacation.
Alina Starkov and her best friend Mal are in the First Army. Alina is a cartographer while Mal is the best tracker they army has, and she watches from the sidelines as he grows up into quite the dashing catch. Alina, on the other hand, is plain, frail, and sunken. She views the Grisha women who are occasionally drawn to Mal--powerful healers, summoners, manipulators--with a jealous eye. When the army has to enter the Shadow Fold, a dark, mysterious swath of land blanketed in shadow and infested with otherworldly predators, Alina is revealed to be Grisha herself. A powerful summoner the likes of which the world has not seen in ages. Enter the Darkling, the leader of the Grisha, who takes Alina under his wing to make sure she's trained and ready to fight the Fold. But is it ever that easy? That straightforward?
It probably sounds pretty par for the course so far, but what really set this one apart for me was the setting. Alina and her cohorts play this adventure out against a backdrop reminiscent of Russia and Russian folklore. Someone more educated in the particulars of Russian culture might giggle at this one, but I'm just ignorant enough of the particulars to be swept away without needing to suspend disbelief.
Alina is an engaging underdog character...a woman discovering her power with age, experience, and practice. The romance here is not too overt. She pines for Mal. She's finds the Darkling seductive. But most of the action focues on Alina...her powers, her training, her education in court politics and Grisha power.
Whatever it is, it worked, and I can't wait to get into the second book.
Henry Holt, June 2012
Received in a book swap!