Author : Leigh Bardugo
Series : Grisha Trilogy
Volume : 1 of 3
Published By : Henry Holt and Company
Year Published : 2012
Genre / Tags : YA, Fantasy, Romance (with a twist) and Coming-of-Age, Adventure
Mood : Everything
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
# of Pages : 358 pages (Hardcover)
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 read this book around January of this year, going in with low expectations after hearing that the heroine was lacking and the lead love interest(s?) are problematic. I’d read some poor reviews and had unfortunately been spoiled on some major plot points, another sign that the book wouldn’t reach its full potential for me. I was willing to try it anyway. I don’t remember why, literally everything at the time was working against this title and its possible appeal.
So what happened? I finished it in one feverish sitting and immediately bought the next book. This first volume was by far the best of the five or so first volumes of YA series I’d either started or attempted during that cluster of months.
Things start off simply but with some hints at a unique flavor. The heroine, Alina, is at a low point in her life. She’s a fledgling cartographer who seems overly attached to her only friend, a fellow orphan. She lacks skill and has low self esteem. The world building is lightweight but intriguing. The setting is Russian-inspired which is something I’ve never read before. The fantasy element consists of swathes of darkness that have been plunging the world into a pre-apocalyptic state full of deadly monsters. Only a person with a gift to use and direct light can have any chance at saving humanity. The imagery immediately struck me as different and interesting.
Circumstances lead our heroine from being whisked away from a life of struggle to one of comparable opulence, where she’s trained to hone a unique power. We learn about the heroic Darkling who saves her life several times and seems to give her a new sense of purpose.
The main focus of this novel is on Alina’s sort of coming of age as she deals with a new place, new activities, new people. During this installment at least, I had a lot more empathy for her versus other YA heroines out there, and I think she showed some considerable growth in latter and more adventurous points of the book.
She could certainly backslide in future books- or become stronger. It’s still up in the air but (unpopular opinion?) I really liked her in this volume anyway. Her interactions with a new friend, Genya, are charming. There is this problem in many YA and NA books I’ve read where a female side character described as very beautiful and then made to be a villain, mainly on account of her beauty outmatching the heroine. It is nice to see a beautiful female character who is not treated that way and bonds with the heroine regardless of their differences.
I also liked the way this story handled a harsh older character named Baghra. She comes off as mean and out to get the heroine (think Snape) but things aren’t that simple. Despite knowing some spoilers, the revelations were no less impactful and there are “on-the-run” segments in the latter half that I really enjoyed. When big things happen toward the last quarter, I was completely into it and felt like a 14 or 15 year-old me again, gleefully enthralled. When it comes to YA there are many series that feel like it’s just too late, as an adult, to enjoy them and be fully transported. This one was a wondrous counter to that.
So about the romance. I went in thinking there would be a love triangle. It’s not quite a love triangle. Not entirely sure what Bardugo’s intentions were with that side of things. It’s hard to even tackle the nature of the romance without spoilers so I will just give my very generalized (and attempts at spoiler-free) opinions-
- I found the main male characters that surround Alina to be amusing and entertaining.
- There is a lot of intrinsic drama involved in at least one of the characters.
- If it is a love triangle I’ll just say this is the first time I’ve had a sustained interest in learning about where it will lead and wanting to know more about both characters instead of just favoring one or neither.
The scenario is more interesting than the average romance in a YA novel but also more problematic and risky. The things I loved about it might be things people can’t stand so your mileage may vary. I like to see characters being challenged and that is definitely the case here, lets just put it that way.
I think this is such a great first-in-series volume. Eventful and engaging, with some ideas that could turn readers away but subjectively, this clicked just right. Alina could be a potential problem in future books if she does not commit to becoming stronger, wiser, while more thoughtful to others and open to forging new friendships. Eager to try the next book.
Overall Rating – 10/10
Why You Should Try It – The Russian folklore as a source material is fresh and different with such unique imagery and magic. Fast-paced, if it grabs you like it did me this could be a one-sitting book. Good female friendships, thoughtful approaches to characters that could have been handled in a very stereotypical way. One of the only love triangles ever in which I liked both options and enjoyed every bit of angst and romantic conflict. For me, this book’s pace was fantastic and the other two in the series struggle by comparison.
Why You Might Not Like It – Alina seems like a polarizing character. If you dislike the Darkling or Mal, the extended sections with one or the other character might be irritating. This is Leigh Bardugo’s first book so if you’re coming in from the much more polished Six of Crows duology, Shadow and Bone may come off as markedly less impressive.Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Book 1) (Amazon Link)
I hope this review makes sense, it’s made up of some new thoughts and large excerpts of my first review of this title on Goodreads in January of 2019. I will be posting reviews for the other two books as well, which will be very interesting to write/re-write as I loved this one so much but nearly hated the second book in this series! Thanks as always for reading and I appreciate all of your thoughts, comments, likes, etc.