Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
The Skinny: Alina Starkov is an orphan, plain, not special. Until one day when her army regiment is attacked and her best friend Mal is injured a dormant power she never knew she possessed appears. Alina is whisked away into the world of the Grisha, a group of powerful beings with even more powerful abilities. Led by the Darkling, the most powerful of the Grisha, Alina is trained to become a member, but not everything is as it seems and soon Alina is swept into a dangerous world she never knew existed.
BFF?: I have a soft spot for heroines who are generally pretty kick-ass, but who are sort of reluctantly kick-ass. Or maybe aren’t kick-ass right away and really have to work at it. I find that their attitudes aren’t as hard, they’re easier to warm up to, and generally are more fun to follow. Alina Starkov is one such heroine that I really adored. She thought of herself as nothing special, but not in a Bella Swan kind of way; more in a way that she knows she’s just an average girl. What I like about this is that she isn’t hardened by being kick-ass. She’s not resourceful and able to kill and all those things that seem to come with being kick-ass. Sure, she has this terrifically complex ability, but zero idea what to do with it. And she has to WORK to do anything with it. I loved that she got frustrated, that she gave up, that she felt beaten; it made her so much more relateable than other kick-ass heroines. Therefore, yes! We could be BFFs and go get makeovers and have a super fun time!
Readability: I was absorbed by this book. I’m always wary of fantasy books, even though I heart them so much, because sometimes I get bogged down by all the world-building. While there was a little of it in this one, Bardugo manages to paint this epically beautiful world that’s based on Russia. Things were familiar yet different, so that helped a ton in the development of the story and keeping me intrigued without being lost. And the language was great, easy yet beautiful.
Crush Level: 8
Mal, Alina’s childhood friend/super love-crush, isn’t even registering on my own crush level scale yet because I was so head over heels with the Darkling, who is for all intents and purposes, head of the Grisha. I know, I know he’s <spoiler> the bad guy, but y’all… I was super turned on by how sexy dark he was. Sure, he’s like a bazillion years old, but he still looks hot (right?) and still has some rather charming moves that got my heart all aflutter. I don’t know why, but I kind of pictured him to look like a darker Legolas (you know, Orlando Bloom, yum!) mixed with er… whoever played Liv Tyler’s dad. Really, I’m not a LOTR fan so excuse me for not knowing any of these. Except Legolas, cause that’s just fun to say. I digress. While I’m certain that in future books I’ll have the hots for Mal, in this one I did not. The Darkling though? Yes please!
There is something about real Russia that’s fantastical, so add in a fantasy element to Russia and you have gold. I loved seeing this world that I’m sort of familiar with brought to life in a fantasy world, enjoyed all the different sights and words and foods. It really was different and just honestly worked.
The Grisha wear different colored robes to specify what their powers are. Although it was a little confusing at first, it became so cool to see all the different colored robes and know what they meant! It reminded me of different karate belts, but cooler!
I whirled, peering into the gloom. The Darkling’s voice seemed to float out of the shadows. He walked down to the stream, crouching on the bank to splash water on his face and through his dark hair.
“Well?” he asked, looking up at me.
“Myself,” I admitted.
“Are you that funny?”