SHADOW AND BONE (The Grisha #1)
Author : Leigh Bardugo
Publisher : Henry Colt & Co.
Pages : Hardcover, 358 pgs
Release Date : June 5, 2012
READioactivity on a scale of 5 : FOUR
Shadow and Bone was a breeze - you started with page one and time flew through the gap in your fingers. Before you knew it, you were laughing and then smiling and then taking in a quick surprise breath. Before you knew it, you were at the end of the novel. Satisfied. Happy. Thoroughly entertained.
The Russian setting works. The characters work. The romance between two childhood friends works.
The depiction of orphans in a land savaged by the war is touching and brings to mind the real situation in Russia when the iron curtain fell, when refugee camps dotted lands like infestation. I wanted to read more about the time Alina and her best friend Mal were at the orphanage. The sweet innocence of the friendship was heart-warming. But Bardugo denies more page-time to it, alas.
Or maybe that's okay because as you enter the imaginary world of Ravka, SO much is constantly happening that you don't get to miss the parts you like the best. You are constantly on the mental move - from the war torn land to the dangerous mission Alina & Mal are sent on.. to the gruesome, shivers-down-the-spine deep darkness that is called The Fold and right onto the grand palace where Alina finds herself, now torn away from Mal and in training to become the savior of the whole nation.
An orphan who used to hide in the cupboards is suddenly treated as royalty, her opinions are important, what color of a gown she wears is important, where and with whom she sits for breakfast is important - this orphan is now someone worth the time of even the King. Such a classic fairytale theme. And now that Alina has all the attention and lavish luxuries - she feels the emptiness where Mal used to be.
The best parts of the book is the romance between Alina and Mal - it is in the sweeping background and it doesn't announce itself , just whispers, till the whispers are all you can hear. It is a romance that had to be and I found myself rooting for it. Two people who grew up together, who got each other and deserve to be together. Their story isn't all smooth but a great sage once said that trials of love are through a path of fire. I know, melodramatic and actually even more so in the original language. But I digress.
The other part that I liked best is diametrically opposite : The monsters lurking in the darkness of the Fold. Scary dementor-like creatures who eat flesh. That's right. I wish there was more detailing there because the concept is fascinating despite the gore. Or fascinating because of it. The way they are described, I somehow imagined them to be like Dementors. I also suspect they are the Shadow in the title.
During the harrowing mission, Alina's dormant sleeping powers are awakened on the mission (the how is also quite telling), & she is whisked away to the palace to be trained by a paranormal not-so-human creature : The Darkling. It is said in the lore of Ravka that the power of a Darkling eons ago, had created the Fold itself. So should Alina trust her mentor when he says he wants to end the Fold. Save Ravka. Through her help. Can she really turn her back to him? The mission to save Ravka has the Bone part of the title. And that's where I'll shut up. (I really wanted the title to have significance. Apparently the book was originally titled The Gathering Dark.)
There is a slight love triangle and I'm not sure if it was direly needed. Perhaps sudden fame and attention can turn a girl's head but .. this other angle didn't do it for me. That part was entirely skippable. But people who despise love triangles need not worry; it is a light sprinkling only. Bearable.
The characters at the royal court were not as strongly painted as Alina and the Darkling. I'll go as far as to say even Mal wasn't at the centre stage much. The politics at the court, the perfunctory addition of the mean bitch was again skippable. I would have minded the cliches but the novel was moving at such a fast speed that I forgave Bardugo. She was giving me a ride as it is.
I honestly wish I had written up a review for this book right after I read it. Right now all I can do is swoon when I remember how Mal was ready to starve and hear Alina bicker about hard cheese if it meant being together always. Sigh.
I remember the Genya, Alina's only friend at the royal court who had a complex history herself.
I remember drinking in the words with my eyes as a technicolor film played in my head and I just wanted to know, what next?
Now to be honest, after reading novels that had unending depth, I also feel that Shadow and Bone could have been much much more. Despite being a whirlwind of entertainment, it could have been something unforgettable. Yes, I am waiting for the sequel. But I hope Bardugo will add more detail, more layers to the novel for readers to peel apart and be amazed. If that means slowing down the pace of the novel, so be it. I'll take it. And since I am asking Bardugo for favors, then could she also tell me where to find a real-life Mal..?? I am willing to face all the gathering dark for him ;)
Conclusion : Recommended!! If in a reading slump and looking for something exciting, then this is the book you want to take home with you. Considering it is being made into a movie by the producers of Harry Potter, you might just really want to read it and memorize it and wait for the movie, all the while biting your nails. I think I will.
Note : There is a small story by Bardugo that is free for you to read : The Witch of Duva (Grisha #0.5)
I'll review it soon but till then all I can say is that it is true Bardugo-style; high on entertainment. Go check it out!