Tag Archives: Leigh Bardugo

Book Review : Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House
Author : Leigh Bardugo
Published By : Flatiron Books
Year/Date Published : October 8, 2019
Genre / Tags : Dark Fiction, Low Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Mystery, Contemporary, Horror, Action
Mood : Vibrant yet mysterious
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
# of Pages : 458 pages (Hardcover)

Summary

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

The mesmerizing adult debut from #1 New York Times bestselling author Leigh Bardugo.

Content Warnings – Horror imagery (ghosts, mainly) violence, murder, coercion, sexual assault, flashback to assault of a child. A bit about that last one- if you wish to skip that scene here are some directions based on the hardcover 2019 US edition I have on hand : Page 121, stop reading at the beginning of the final paragraph that starts with “But Alex had to go. She chose the cleanest metal stall,” and start reading again at the beginning of page 124. Or you could just skip pages 121-124 altogether.

Review

I’m still in a foggy state of disarray at finally having and reading Ninth House. This book is good and well worth the while but also not quite measuring to my dreamlike, sky-high expectations. To be fair, no book should be subjected to such. I’ve found that most of my all-time faves have been utter surprises and the ones I wait feverishly for aren’t quite as sensational. Ninth House wasn’t a let down and there is much to enjoy within its pages, but this also wasn’t quite the bookish euphoria I was expecting. It’s a very far cry from Six of Crows in every conceivable way, to the point where I’d venture to imagine some people who hated Bardugo’s prior work might love Ninth House and vice versa. The commonalities between the two titles is Bardugo’s enduring knack for creative and fresh fantasy imagery (in Ninth House’s case, supernatural modern fantasy/mystery/horror) and solid characterization for the main characters.

First I’ll start with the main character, Alex. Her situation is best described as being similar to that kid from The Sixth Sense.

bruce willis i see dead people GIF

But instead of a little boy, imagine a little girl who grows up with not a single support or guiding force when dealing with this unfortunate gift. Only when she enters college, Yale to be exact, does she find people who can relate to her. By the way, if you haven’t seen The Sixth Sense I highly recommend dropping everything and watching it. Such a great movie.

Aside from seeing ghosts, Alex can interact with them. Over the course of Ninth House’s 450 pages, we see her grow and get a better handle on her powers and even learn how to use them for good and do some sleuthing. There is a bit of a chosen one trope feel but it’s a chosen-one-done-right. Alex doesn’t get special treatment for her gifts, of anything they’ve been a curse and the figures that recognize her abilities are not always trustworthy. The narrative jumps back and forth between present and recent past. In the recent past she’s given a mentor of sorts in a major character, Daniel Arlington or “Darlington”. He comes off as a bit pretentious and info-dumpy at first, but I ended up liking the guy a lot. He has an engaging rapport with Alex and there is what seems to be the vague beginnings of a relationship between the two. I’ve loved Bardugo’s approach to character relationships in previous books- in short, she tends to make them complicated, replete with conversation, and any tender development is hard-earned. Low-key shipping this couple.

Getting into a major criticism though, I didn’t find most of the characters outside of Darlington and Alex to be quite as conversationally interesting. The Bridegroom is a memorable exception, but he is one ghost among hundreds of ghosts that Alex could interact with. More enthralling and interactive ghosts, please.

Dawes is likable as an ally supporting Alex but we learn little else about them. Mercy has a minimal role outside of her sub-plot. I saw a particular missed opportunity in Hellie, a character who is central to Alex’s dark past. I think some of the world building should have been restrained in favor of memorable character development, which Leigh Bardugo has a history of doing skillfully.

I recall Six of Crows having various snippets of punchy, quotable dialogue. There are some great moments like that in Ninth House but they are often localized within Alex’s thoughts and interior development. She spends many later parts of the book being (mostly) on her own, unraveling the tangled web of disturbing secrets and a century of murders having to do with Yale’s secret societies.

The strongest aspect of this novel is how it takes down-to-earth locales and infuses a dark and mysterious underbelly of limitless supernatural magic, lurking just beneath the surface. I had quite a time getting a handle on how to even envision some of the dimension-bending abilities that are at work here. The descriptions are lush for low fantasy. A lot of thought and minute details went into the construction of an imposing network of magic-users and their experiments. It ends up coming off like a rabbit hole with a lot of room to grow in the sequels. I’m overwhelmed by how fantastical this novel is, even though it’s easily filed as dark fiction/low fantasy.

Also surprised at how effective (and perhaps understated) this book is as a horror novel. There are some very creepy moments where Alex describes what she has gone through with these ghosts or continues to go through. It’s imperative that she doesn’t make eye contact with them, or they might try to interact with and float closer. A few of them act in ways that are unpredictable. There are times she gets accosted in unexpected locations.

In closing, this book has pretty much everything I love. Supernatural elements, dark pasts, hidden secrets to unravel (or not unravel, I’m still full of confusion about many things) a writing style that almost approaches gothic prettiness at points, and complicated relationships.

My main issue is that things can get too info-dumpy (especially early on) and Alex’s obsession with a particular murder mystery can become an overwrought plot point in what is such a broadly intriguing world.

Also of note, though this is just a personal tidbit, I was expecting to be so sucked into this one and reading it in a spellbound trance from beginning to end. While this was the case for perhaps the first half, I was picking it up and putting it down without issue during the last half. So I would say it is lacking a certain extra oomph or utter spellbinding quality despite having, in theory, every possible personally appealing trait.

Overall Rating – 9/10

Why You Should Try It – An inspired and dark blend of low fantasy, mystery, horror, and action. The main character is gritty yet nuanced and I’d describe her as a chosen one trope done right. The lore and writing style is almost exhaustively impressive with a lot of personality and detail. Creative imagery.

Why You Might Not Like It – At times too detailed, or distracted by what should seem to be tangential asides. The side characters were definitely lacking in revealing details or impactful conversation. Alex’s standoffishness could be contributing to this.


Additional notes

About the disturbing content and how deep/dark it goes, I can definitely see how this can be too much for a teen/YA audience but relative to other dark adult-aimed books in general fiction/horror/thriller/suspense genres, I didn’t find this to be exceptionally gratuitous. The one scene that I can see being a point of trouble for people is one in which (spoilers, but I feel it’s important to know this context if we’re bringing it up at all) the heroine remembers being raped as a child. The moment and its after effects are referenced for some pages. I do urge anyone thinking of reading this book but worrying about that content to only approach with caution. If you would like to completely skip that scene I don’t think it would take away any important info from the plot. As stated in the content warning above, it takes place during/is mentioned at length on pages 121-124 in the hardcover edition.

(Spoiler-Free) About the ending- very satisfied with it, but in a way that makes me eager for the sequel. This has been the case for every book by this author, even the one I didn’t like (Siege and Storm, second volume of the Grisha Trilogy) she is quite good at handling endings. Building momentum and wrapping up the stuff we wanted to know about all while keeping the door wide open for more. Definitely reading the sequel.

I’ve heard that a TV adaptation is in the works.. and that’s actually pretty exciting to hear about. The low fantasy setting should be simple enough to adapt and seeing the menagerie of ghosts in the flesh is going to be pretty intense. There is a plot point of the characters using spoken word poetry to keep the dead at bay though that will be, uh, challenging to adapt without some unintentional hilarity though. But overall, I’m imagining/hoping for some chaotically entertaining cross between Supernatural, The Sixth Sense, The Eye, and Jessica Jones. That last one only because Alex reminds me of a younger version of Jessica.

jessica jones smirk GIF

Thanks for reading this review of Ninth House! Am actually shocked that I managed to write it. Upon finishing the book I was full of so many feelings and thinking (how?? How will this all somehow get organized enough to become a cohesive review?) but somehow I typed up this blob that is hopefully functionally coherent and helpful. :’D Have you read Ninth House or is it on your TBR? Always loving to read your thoughts, and thanks again for checking out this review. ~ Kitty

Book Review : Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows (Amazon Link)

Author : Leigh Bardugo
Published By : Henry Holt and Company
Year Published : September 2015
Genre / Tags : YA, Fantasy, Adventure
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
# of Pages : 465 pages (Hardcover)

Summary

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. . . .

A convict with a thirst for revenge

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager

A runaway with a privileged past

A spy known as the Wraith

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Review

First, a disclosure. This review was originally written February of 2019. I’ve edited and pasted it below, and will end this with some more current notes on my feelings toward this title.

There are many things I think should have been done differently in this book. For example, would have favored more conversation over wordy description. The characters should have been older as well, I felt. But these feel like small issues for what is otherwise a great book. This is one of those books where I put it down and feel like I just got back from somewhere. It has the power to overshadow other decent but lesser books. I dropped everything else I had been in the middle of reading at the time to commit full attention to Six of Crows at a certain point, knowing that I was wrapped up in it. I look at this book and feel there is so much that happened and so much to talk about. It’s a real journey and a huge step forward for YA.

The first couple of chapters were hard to get through. Even after reading the first three books in the universe of this series (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising from the Gristha trilogy) the onslaught of terms and references can still be overwhelming and not an inviting situation.

This is a book that could have greatly benefited from some type of long form dictionary or glossary. (Note : I was reading the ebook version so perhaps such exists in the physical version? If it doesn’t, it should.) However, my lack of experience with fantasy in general at the time could have also been a road block to fully enjoying all the efforts to drum up all the unique terminology and concepts for the world here.

I don’t think reading the preceding series (starting with Shadow and Bone) is necessary. But one should still consider it for quicker acclimation to the world and experiencing less confusion. But do please note, if you dislike or hate Shadow and Bone, you might still love Six of Crows. I’ve noticed a lot of people feel that way. I’m glad to have read Shadow and Bone first though, as a big part of why I loved Six of Crows is for how much it shows incredible improvement in Bardugo’s writing and characterization compared to those earlier books. It’s great to see an author demonstrate such growth.

While the focus is very clearly on action, adventure, and fantasy; there is some bit of romance and romantic subtext and honestly, I found those moments super endearing and favor them much more than I do in actual romance novels. It’s just so slow-burning and the little moments between the characters are hard-earned, assisted by the harshness of their situation. All the tension seems to be leading to some great big pay off for these characters that I doubt that will take place (this being YA and all) and that can be frustrating. I’m trying not to think about that since romance is a small part of the book and not the main focus at all.

The greatest accomplishment of this book by far and my reason for giving it five stars: the characters. The fact that there are six main characters and I really adore ALL of them- that was a huge surprise. Especially since this is still a YA novel, a genre rife with unlikable characters. The cast here are not too perfect, flawed yet extraordinary. Just well developed and it’s easy to feel the author’s passion in writing them. Most of them have lengthy and memorable back stories. The chapters feel very different, each character has such a distinctive voice. I’m hoping that the success of Six of Crows will be a sort of turning point for YA novels that have similarly ambitious characterization and worthy characters. I could have easily devoured another couple hundred pages of just watching this cast hang out, they are that worthwhile.

So, another journey into Kitty’s bizarre brain- there is some part of this review that I remember writing. Like a whole paragraph. And it’s not here, lol. I don’t know if I imagined writing the paragraph or it never existed? Anyway, I will try to recreate that thought here.

There is scene somewhere in the middle of the book with Inej where she is in an impossible and horrible situation and alone. (hint to people who’ve read it, it involves intense heat) The use of description, intense emotion and force in that scene is palpable. Moreover, the way it ended and the resolution of it is one of the best images and “ah ha” moments I have ever encountered in fiction. If they direct it well and capably in the Netflix adaptation I can just imagine how stirring, intense, and surprising it’s going to be. Honestly my favorite moment in any fantasy novel.

But anyway, off of that tangent. This book is great, still great. I don’t think it would sway people who aren’t very open to a fantasy novel though. I am terrible with names and terminology and this book really flings every word in its absent glossary at the reader. After reading more fantasy novels I’ve found that this is pretty normal and perhaps part and parcel of the genre. But a part of me wishes there was some extremely well done graphic novel adaptation or something for people who aren’t ready to hunker down with this because the cast is truly fabulous and there are some very universally iconic scenes and ideas here.

Overall Rating – 10/10

Why You Should Try It – I went into this knowing the massive hype and was shocked to see how much it lived up to those expectations. Great cast with many effective perspectives. Packed with fantastic and memorable moments. Great back stories to the characters. Stunning growth in quality of writing and characterization from the Grisha trilogy to this book, it’s very noticeable. The romance, though not at all a focal point, honestly outclasses most romance I have read for the impactful chemistry between the characters. Not wanting to fangirl here but Matthias and Nina are my favorite enemies-to-lovers pair.

Why You Might Not Like It – The beginning is not as inviting or direct and explanatory as it could be. Reads as if written for people who already read the Grisha trilogy.


Have you read Six of Crows or have it on your TBR? Have you read other works by Leigh Bardugo? Would love to hear your thoughts as always, and thanks so much for reading. – Kitty

Book Review : Ruin and Rising (#3 in the Grisha trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo

Ruin and Rising (Final Book of the Grisha Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo (Amazon Affiliate Link)

Author : Leigh Bardugo
Series : Grisha Trilogy
Volume : 3 of 3
Published By : Henry Holt and Company
Year Published : 2014
Genre / Tags : YA, Fantasy, Light Romance
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
# of Pages : 358 pages (Hardcover)

Summary

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields.

Review

Spoiler-free, sans a marked and italicized portion toward the end of this review.

This final volume is rushed and crowded and I don’t mean that in a necessarily bad way. A lot happens and the pace is a far cry from Siege and Storm’s slowness. This final volume ended up being a welcome change.

Some of my problems from the first and second book are semi-solved here. Side characters (coincidentally, the ones I was most interested in) are given either expanded back stories or just worthwhile developments and resolutions. Baghra, Genya, and Zoya are particular standouts.

I came to like Mal again despite being irritated with him in the second book. Even though he’s not given much time in the spotlight, Nikolai showcases some of the best this author has to offer in terms of character dialogue and banter in the Grisha trilogy. Most other side characters pale in comparison when it comes to conversation.

A major drawback is the emptiness of the other side characters that ought to have more going on. I’m thinking of Harshaw, Sergei, Nadia, etc. They are developed so thinly as to not matter. There are some characters (won’t name names) who end up dying and it doesn’t matter in the least since we know almost nothing about them.

As for Alina, she is a character that struggled to be compelling and likable for so long during Siege and Storm and I was finally at peace with her pretty early into this installment.

The descriptions of setting and attention to detail seem less all-consuming, though still a bit much though competently written. I would have preferred a focus on character back stories, dialogue, and development. I’ve come to realize this is such an important aspect of fantasy and I’ve come across just a few series that are masterful in that area.

Without saying anything too detailed about the ending, I left satisfied. The build up leading to it and sort of preparation on the part of the characters lent a sense of high drama to the final proceedings. I think it’s an ending that will leave most people happy. However… it was open enough that I could imagine a darker and more sinister headcanon alternate outcome, one that fits into place well enough.

WARNING, ENDING SPOILER AND MADE UP HEADCANON NONSENSE AHEAD-

It was a super happy ending, but TOO convenient. It was so convenient for Mal to have two lives, and seemed like something Alina is assuming is true. And she no longer had magic at that point so it couldn’t be verified. Wouldn’t things make more sense if the Darkling, in his hundreds of years of living, studied magic enough to do a soul transfer (see- ‘walk-in’ on wikipedia) and is living inside of Mal? He could have interrogated Ana Kuya earlier to get every little detail he would ever need about Alina and Mal’s lives in case he wanted to impersonate him in the future anyway. Not canon at all and the after chapter makes it clear that this isn’t the case, but just a thought and my sort of headcanon for the ending, as someone who finds the Darkling a bit more interesting than Mal.

// End Spoiler


Overall Rating – 8.5/10

Why You Should Read It – If you loved Shadow and Bone and really want to find out what happened to the characters, it’s definitely worth checking out. I disliked Siege and Storm and still found Ruin and Rising worth reading.

Why You Might Not Like It – Though this came out one year before Six of Crows, it is not comparable. So if you go into this one thinking to have a slight taste of the newer Bardugo titles, this one still has more in common with Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm (though in my view, markedly better than Siege and Storm.)

Ruin and Rising (Final Book of the Grisha Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo (Amazon Affiliate Link)


Overall, I enjoyed my time with this series. It’s definitely a bumpy ride but was worth the time. What did you think of Ruin and Rising if you read it? Always welcoming your thoughts, and thanks as always for your support.

Book Review : Siege and Storm (#2 in the Grisha Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo

Siege and Storm (The Grisha Book 2) (Amazon Link)

Author : Leigh Bardugo
Series : Grisha Trilogy
Volume : 2 of 3
Published By : Henry Holt and Company
Year Published : 2014
Genre / Tags : YA, Fantasy, Light Romance
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
# of Pages : 358 pages (Hardcover)

Summary

Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Alina Starkov’s power has grown, but not without a price. She is the Sun Summoner―hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Shadow Fold. But she and Mal can’t outrun their enemies for long.

The Darkling is more determined than ever to claim Alina’s magic and use it to take the Ravkan throne. With nowhere else to turn, Alina enlists the help of an infamous privateer and sets out to lead the Grisha army.

But as the truth of Alina’s destiny unfolds, she slips deeper into the Darkling’s deadly game of forbidden magic, and further away from her humanity. To save her country, Alina will have to choose between her power and the love she thought would always be her shelter. No victory can come without sacrifice―and only she can face the oncoming storm.

When I finished Shadow and Bone, I immediately started the sequel. I was in the zone and ready to just glom this whole series.

Review

The beginning and ending are fantastically entertaining but many parts in the middle didn’t appeal. That wondrous feeling I felt from the first book ground to a halt before long, taken down by needless monotony that I can’t even capably describe because it felt like nothing happened for hundreds of pages. Bardugo’s writing feels different, somehow more serious and intent on description. So, unpopular opinion, I like YA fantasy as it is and often times the criticisms I see of the genre seem geared toward wanting a book to be more ‘adult’ and the attempts at making it so can result in an extra 100-200 pages of dense description.

There are minute details of Alina’s new life as a leader who is simultaneously guarded by everyone but in charge of decision-making and internal politics. Even Alina’s earlier time on the boat seemed to drag on too much, overly concerned with small details. The writing is competent but low on excitement. I definitely felt like this installment was slow until the ending where the pace surged forward dramatically.

Character development for side characters is mystifying in its lack of substance, minus Nikolai. Nikolai is a welcome addition and worthy of his own series. I hadn’t known at the time that he was getting one, and King Of Scars is high on my TBR.

I find the Darkling to be the most interesting character even though his presence has lessened. He brings about massive destruction, but the series is more vibrant and frenetic with him in the foreground rather than the background. His abilities and how they intersect with Alina’s inspired me to ponder a lot of crazy possibilities and theories that are probably not canon, but cemented how interested I was in the overall story where he is concerned.

I really liked Mal in the first book but his faults are more prominent here. There is this scene where the characters have accomplished something grand and Alina has every reason to celebrate and finds him, but he’s sulking and this causes her to sulk and now everyone is sulking and I’m groaning. In short, Mal is kind of a problem. A shame since I was totally on board with him in the first book. He’s supposed to be the mere mortal type who keeps Alina grounded but I feel that in many ways he holds her back.

As for romance, I felt it was more of a thing in the first book and tuned down a lot in this volume. I thought there would be a messy love triangle between the Darkling, Alina, and Mal but I don’t think that’s the author’s intention at all, there’s just enough questionable interactions for fandom to run wild with “what if” scenarios.

My feelings about Alina are all over the place. She can be annoyingly incompetent and glum, but she tends to work well under pressure and can make an incredible decision at a key moment. I like the empathy she shows toward people impacted by the darkling’s actions, but I think this should have been conveyed via smaller sub-plots of substance to really develop those people and better illustrate Alina’s growth and understanding of her responsibilities.

This volume attempts to push her forward in life but her ascension from an insecure peasant teen to a gifted leader making strategic decisions- it all seemed not as well balanced or convincing as it could be. The descriptions of her day-to-day actions were beyond tedious. Sadder still, as the world here has such potential.

All in all, I felt like this book was quite a step back in many unfortunate ways but the ending was riveting and I was still hooked in enough to tackle the last book (Ruin and Rising) and later on, the best of Bardugo’s books I’ve read, Six of Crows.

Overall Rating – 5/10

Why You Should Try It – If you read Shadow and Bone and found it childish, Siege and Storm may be considered an improvement for its more serious tone. There are some great moments, both at the beginning and end. Nikolai is a fantastic side character.

Why You Might Not Like It – I found this book slow, plodding, and accomplishing little for the extra 100+ pages it has on Shadow and Bone. That phrase middle book syndrome/second book syndrome well applies.

Siege and Storm (The Grisha Book 2) (Amazon Link)


I had such glowing praise for Shadow and Bone so was surprised to find how that enthusiasm did not carry over into this sequel. Conversely, if you didn’t like Shadow and Bone perhaps you’ll like this sequel? It’s funny how opinions work lol. But do let me know your thoughts on Siege and Storm if you’ve read it, or if you want to read it. Thanks as always for your comments and likes, they are always appreciated.

Book Review : Shadow and Bone (#1 in the Grisha trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Book 1)

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)

Summary

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.

Review

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.