Beautiful, beguiling, mesmerizing, and magical, this epic tale of good versus evil set in the 19th century in a war-torn kingdom resembling Russia will captivate hordes of readers who will make Shadow and Bone the next must-have trilogy. I expect movie rights are already being secured in Hollywood.
Shadow and Bone is the best debut novel I have read this year. It is everything a reader could possibly want: an sweeping epic tale, a quest for justice, a feisty female protagonist with a mind of her own, a dark, brooding sexy villian, a heroic and strong male love interest, a kingdom at war with itself and a monarchy in peril.
The world of the Grisha is rich in history; they serve the King and practice using elements in science to release energy in a magical fashion. Grishas are born with their powers but must practice to use them and channel their energy. Alina and Mal are both orphans who grow up together in a rural castle home until they become soldiers for the King. Alina becomes a mapmaker and Mal is a fighter. They journey to the Shadow Fold, a vast, dark wilderness that they must cross to reach the True Sea. It is here that many perish.
When their regiment is attacked by Volcra, giant meat-eating birds that live in the dark and prey on humans, Mal dives on top of Alina, saving her life and somehow she saves his. Alina is taken to the Palace and questioned by the Darkling, the most powerful Grisha, feared by the people and right hand man to the King. The Darkling realizes Alina is the one he has all been seeking all these years--she is the fabled Sun Summoner, the most powerful Grisha in history. She is whisked away into hiding and trained by the Darkling's trusted servants.
Mal is far away and Alina pines for word of him. She writes to him, but her letters go unanswered. She finds herself wondering about the Darkling--he is so mysterious, yet sexy. When he kisses her, there are real sparks, but then she questions her feelings for Mal. Palace life is rife with gossip, but Alina stays away from most of it. When her old teacher comes to her at night telling her that she must flee the palace and warning her that the Darkling will use her powers to topple the King and rule all Kingdoms, Alina runs for it. Mal comes back just in time to help her escape and they are on the run from the King, the Darkling and all the King's horses and all the King's men. Shadow and Bone is a fantastical world where magic exists and the line drawn in the sand between good and evil is disappearing. The Darkling is the best villian since Darth Vader, but Alina is no wimpy Princess Leia--she is a sexy super-hero who speaks her own mind.
Books two and three promise to be just as amazing. Leigh Bardugo has created a rich and gorgeous world full of breath-taking scenery and horrible monsters, a world where spoiled royalty bask in their wealth and abundance while the peasants starve in the fields and their soldiers are killed in wars and in the Shadow Fold. This is a world ripe for revolution and revolt. Who knows what part Alina and Mal will play in the next edition?
Highly, highly recommended grades 7-up with this warning. The Darkling kisses Alina and it's pretty steamy, but they are interrupted before things get carried away. There are shows on prime time television with streamier scenes, so you'll have to make the decision to purchase the book or not. Violence; the Darkling cuts a man in half with his power. Again, other books have this much gore, too. Ages 14 and up 368 pages
Recommended by: Pamela Thompson, MLIS, Librarian, Texas USA
Alina Starkov is an orphan raised at the estate of Duke Keramzin in a world that has been at war for over 100 years. Her best friend, Mal, is also an orphan who came to the Duke’s orphanage when both were children. After a brief glimpse at one event of their childhood, Shadow and Bone begins with Alina and Mal as adults in the army on their way to making a dangerous and frightening journey across The Fold, a dark and forbidding stretch of land filled with creatures known to eat travelers foolish enough to enter their territory.
When they are indeed attacked while in The Fold, Alina displays a power that no one knew she had and before she has time to understand it herself, she is whisked away to The Darkling, the most powerful being in the realm, to provide an explanation. When she is pulled away from everything (and everyone) she has ever known to be trained as a “grisha,” Alina must decide where her loyalties lie and how far she is willing to go to help The Darkling control The Fold.
Drawing heavily on Russian history, Bardugo gives us a novel that is unique and spellbinding. Readers who enjoyed the “altered history” of Leviathan (Westerfeld) will enjoy finding the hints and parallels to our world in Shadow and Bone. Note: An interrupted romantic encounter between Alina and The
Darkling make this a selection for older readers, 12 and up.
Recommended by: Susan Grigsby, Librarian, Georgia USA