Wow. This book. was. wonderful. Epic, really. I found a used (and signed!) copy of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, while I was trading in a bunch of dusty tomes at Half Price Books. In the back of my mind, I remembered that there was a lot of buzz when it was released in June, and that movie rights had already been sold. I reread the description and figured it sounded worth a shot, so I brought it home, unaware that I was about to read possibly the best book so far, this year.
I was immediately drawn to the gorgeous map in the front of the novel, an eerie rendering of Ravka, with illustrations of dark creatures and wild stags sprawling over borders. It was heavy with the promise of a magical otherworld the likes of which, I hadn’t seen before. Then there was the bold dedication that said, “For my grandfather: tell me some lies.” I knew I was going to like this author, and the story that followed was simply captivating.
Shadow and Bone tells the story of Alina, a young orphan who grows up with her best friend Mal in an orphanage in Ravka, a sort of magical, gritty Tsarist Russia. It is a land that has been split by a terrifying ‘Unsea’ of blackness and twisted creatures, a place where the poor are drafted in to the king’s army at 16, and the lucky few are tested for magical abilities as children and sent to the capital to train as Grisha. Alina is beyond ordinary, she is constantly overlooked, knocked around, and pushed aside. Until her army unit crosses the Shadow Fold and are attacked. Everything changes for Alina, and she is whisked away by the Darkling, the most powerful being in Ravka, to explore her newfound gift that saved them from the darkness.
Alina felt like an old soul, a girl who has built incredible internal defenses to protect her self. Yet she is also vulnerable and naïve, opening her heart at the wrong times, unsure of who to trust, and alone in a world built on terrifying beauty. Everything about the Grisha is jaw dropping, but there is a bitter aftertaste to the sweetness of their sheltered world, a cost that Alina can see more clearly, coming from the outside. Alina is afraid of her newfound power. It’s a pervasive fear, that ensnares the reader, drawing you closer in to Alina’s world, hungry to learn more.
I was entranced by the Darkling, and his mysterious past. Like Alina, I was drawn to him, like a moth to a flame. Bardugo not only spun a rich, dark land for me, she knows how to plot a suspenseful story that will inevitably lead to circles under your eyes from long nights stayed up past the witching hour, reading. There was surprise, tenderness, and longing in this tale. Reviews of books you love are surprisingly hard to write. Perhaps it’s because you want to do justice to a story that truly moved you, when you know anything you say to encourage someone to read it will only pale in comparison to sitting down and devouring the book themselves.