(The Grisha Trilogy #1)
Release: June 5, 2012
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.
I wanted to love this book, I really did. But the combination of an often dragging story and some gaping holes in the plot have led me to feel just 'meh' about it.
Shadow and Bone started with some promise. As I read the prologue and the first chapter, I was excited to get into the world Bardugo had created. But as the story continued I found myself pushing through the info-dump-heavy first half of the book. The setting for this story, a place called Ravka, was explained through multiple info dumps and a lot of telling instead of showing. I expected a little more from a fantasy book, even though it was YA. After completing the entire story and reading the Acknowledgements section at the story's end, I discovered that the story's setting is a re-imagined Russia. Now, from the words that some of Bardugo's character use, some of the customs held, and the topography of their land it was clear that the author had been influenced by Russia. But to come to find out that Ravka was not only influenced by Russia, but actually an alternate version of Russia, after reading the entire book, annoyed me.
The rest of the world building suffered from the same treatment. Boring paragraphs explained the colors of the Grisha's robes, but never explained what drives their power or how it is decided which Order they will belong to. The Fold, a black and scary place that stretches between the two parts of Ravka, is described repeatedly but I still found myself asking what the heck it actually is and how exactly it was created. The Darkling, who isn't even given a first name, has unusual powers that I wanted to learn more about but we were given tons of surface information about him and never anything deeper.
Alina, the main character and narrator, and Mal, her childhood friend, are shown as friends for like a second before they are separated and we're supposed to mourn with Alina over the loss of her best friend and possible love. But, as often as the author kept telling me that Alina and Mal were as close as could be and that she was secretly in love with him, I never saw it and because of this I found myself not really caring much about what happened to him. Thankfully, when he reappeared MUCH later in the book, I grew slightly more attached to him and wished that we had know more about his relationship with Alina for the first three-quarters of the book.
And the plot holes, oh the plot holes! There were so many things left unexplained and so many things that seemed to happen simply because the author wished it so and not because they made any actual sense in the plot of the story. One important detail left out was why, when Alina had been tested for Grisha power as a child (and by the way, that test is never explained), was she found to have no power and to then carry on her merry way for another ten or so years? And then BOOM, she's got power! 'Why wasn't this discovered as a child?' everyone asks her. The answer? "Hmm, I don't know". Um, what? And also, Alina is told that she is the first to ever hold this power, yet the first time she accidentally unleashes her power, it has a name. How does it have a name if she is the FIRST to ever have this power?
And the plot hole that especially bugged me was toward the story's end, when Alina wages an inner war with her own power and then makes a big decision. Both the outcome of the "inner war" and the decision she made were weird and disjointed. Alina's decision kind of made me hate her. The answer to how to stop everything was pretty clear, but instead Alina does the stupidest, most selfish, and cruelest thing ever. Of course, yeah, that made sense.
So, where did 3 stars come from?
1 star for the concept behind this story and the potential it held. There were several bits and pieces of this world that I liked a lot and I just wanted to hold on to those! This book certainly suffered from "First Book Syndrome" (among other things) for me, and I will still read the next in the trilogy to see where this story goes and if it is less boring without all the world
1 star for "The Darkling", whom I both loved and hated on a constant cycle throughout the story. I hope we get to learn more about him in the next book because he was very surface-y for me.
1 star for the second half of the book, which picked up in pace considerably. There were still several moments that dragged a bit, but there were many more moments that were exciting and interesting than the book's first half.
This is all, of course, simply my opinion. Many people have rated this book 4 and 5 stars, but for me it was a 3 star book, and they may even be generous. There were just too many holes in what should have been a tight and fast-paced fantasy plot, too many characters I just didn't connect with, and a lack of the complex and layered world building that a good fantasy book, even one that is YA, should have.