I mean that in the most sincere, best possible way. And I don’t mean that Shadow and Bone (written by my close, personal friend Leigh Bardugo) is irritatingly derivative of those young adult fantasy powerhouses. Rather, it is an incredibly original book that happens to share some of the qualities that make those books so seductive.
True confession, while I’ve always enjoyed sci-fi fantasy in my film and television diet, I don’t read too much fantasy, and I haven’t tended to pay attention to young adult fiction until it crosses over. But that changed last week when I attended an event on the Fierce Reads tour, where I heard Leigh and fellow YA Fantasy authors speak about their books. Rob immediately got Cinder on audio, so I’ve been listening to that while driving, and reading my signed copy of Shadow and Bone in bed every night. Interesting parallels between the two, actually. Apparently there’s something happening in YA fiction with kick-ass girls who have the power to save the world. I’m cool with that.
Shadow and Bone is the first book in The Grisha trilogy, taking place in an alternate world infused with a Russian folklore aesthetic, and layers of history and geopolitical intrigue that is surprisingly easy to follow. At the story’s core is a fight between good and evil (literally light and dark), magic and a love triangle.
Note: The following plot commentary does not spoil more than I would want to have spoiled for me before reading, but if you prefer to go in blind, you could go read the book before continuing on here.
Alina Starkov is the heroine (and yes, it’s totally fine that she goes by Starkov and not Starkova, okay, purists?). I found her as engaging, inspiring and relatable as my girl Katniss, and superior in at least one way. My one complaint about Katniss as a character is that she was awfully dense about Peeta’s feelings for her. Seriously? It never crossed your mind he might really like you like you? Alina, on the other hand, responds to the men at the tips of her triangle in a more believable way. She recognizes her feelings for Mal, and she has a perfectly understandable fixation on the Darkling. I found both relationships intriguing and would enjoy seeing her get it on with either (or both!) of them.
Alina is like Harry Potter because she gets sent to Magic Boarding School, but don’t worry, she doesn’t have to spend seven years there. Her transformation as a character, her coming of age, if you will, comes through as she learns to wield her power.
I loved every page. The action sequences, the description of the clothes and scenery, the relationship drama, the unexpected turns of the plot. I’m enormously proud and excited for Leigh and eager for book 2.