The first book of a now-complete fantasy trilogy, SHADOW AND BONE follows Alina, a young mapmaker in the First Army. When her regiment is attacked by dangerous creatures while crossing the Shadow Fold (a piece of land cloaked by near-impenetrable darkness), Alina displays a power she never knew she had: the ability to create light. She saves her childhood friend and fellow soldier Mal from the creatures, but she is taken away by the Grisha, the elite group of people who have abilities similar to Alina. The Grisha leader, The Darkling, has been searching for a Sun Summoner for years, and now that Alina is here, he can destroy the Shadow Fold and unite the country.
Between the various types of Grisha and different sections of the country, there’s a lot of world-building in this book. I think Leigh Bardugo handles it well, though; her writing is clear and almost intoxicating at times. The country of Ravka is a fantasy version of Russia, which I loved reading about, and the Grisha are wonderfully mysterious, especially at the beginning. The first few chapters had me hooked! Once Alina returned to the palace where the Grisha live and began training to master her powers, though, the story slowed down a bit for me. I think part of my problem was that I’d just read THRONE OF GLASS and CROWN OF MIDNIGHT (my first high fantasy YA) and it holds such a special place in my heart that nothing can top it right now. I enjoy THRONE OF GLASS’s Celaena more than I did Alina, because Alina suffers from the all-too-common YA habit of being the main character who insists she’s not pretty or powerful, whereas Celaena’s confidence is VERY apparent. But maybe it’s not fair to compare the two, so I’ll move on.
I did enjoy The Darkling, mostly because he’s mysterious and powerful and can slice a person in half just by making a motion with his hand. I don’t want to spoil anything about what happens between him and Alina, but it was definitely more intense than I expected. There’s so much more of his backstory to explore in future books, so I’m excited to see where it goes! I didn’t get too invested in Alina’s childhood friend (and crush) Mal until the very end, so I hope he is developed even more in the sequels. I really liked the friendship between Alina and fellow Grisha, Genya, who takes care of her and shows her the ropes.
All in all, a solid world with cool powers and a promise of intriguing things to come. I gave it 3.5/5 stars on GoodReads, not my favorite fantasy, but I will definitely be continuing on. Now that the world is established and the stage set for conflict, I think some intense battles are on the horizon for Alina!