Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, the one thing she could rely on was her best friend and fellow refugee, Mal. And lately not even that seems certain. Drafted into the army of their war-torn homeland, they’re sent on a dangerous mission into the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh.

When their convoy is attacked, all seems lost until Alina reveals a dormant power that not even she knew existed. Ripped from everything she knows, she is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. He believes she is the answer the people have been waiting for: the one person with the power to destroy the Fold.

Swept up in a world of luxury and illusion, envied as the Darkling’s favorite, Alina struggles to fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But as the threat to the kingdom mounts, Alina uncovers a secret that sets her on a collision course with the most powerful forces in the kingdom. Now only her past can save her . . . and only she can save the future.

 I'd heard nothing but glowing praise for Shadow and Bone when I picked it up, so needless to say, I had very high expectations. Certain parts of the book were everything I hoped for...others, well, not so much. I'm going to try and be brief, but it isn't as simple as I liked or didn't like the story. Bear with me!

The Good: First off, I just have to say, as cliche as it is, I've never read anything like this before. My sister asked me, "What's it about?" and I found myself struggling to even begin to tell her. This is a good thing! I ADORE stories that include characters/beings/situations I've never read about. Bardugo nailed it in originality.

The characters are very well done. The Darkness is definitely my favorite (in an odd way) of them all. I think he's the most...layered, I guess. He's very multifaceted. Alina and Mal, of course, are well written though I think they could've been deeper. Mal more so than Alina. We didn't see as much of Mal though, so here's hoping in Book 2 he's more involved!

The world-building as far as government/society/etc is entirely brilliant! I love the play between the Grisha (the people with special powers) and the monarchy, though I suspected things would play out the way they did. It was still well done though. I wasn't disappointed.

 The world of the Grisha is just fascinating. I love their abilities, limitations, restrictions, and such. So glad to read about people/beings who are absolutely unique. I've yet to read anything like that! It's like a mishmash of the elements, science, and a touch of magic but not in a "fantasy" kind of way per se. 

The Mediocre: The plot was painfully S-L-O-W. It wasn't until chapter 6 or so that I really got into the story. I felt like 30% of the story could've been culled entirely. There was massive description where it didn't matter, such as describing how ornate a door was. Then there was massive description missing where it would've lent itself to the story. A lot of our time is spent talking and meandering. I found myself skimming quite a bit early on. Had Chi not been so adamant that it picked up, I would've quit reading. I will say, the latter half of the story makes the slow start worth it.

Confusing terminology. The story is based to an extent on Russian...stuff. Many of the names and much of the terminology was Russian. This frustrated the everliving CRAP out of me. I can't stand when I have to stare at a name/word/description and sound it out. It pulls me out of the story entirely, and I just make up a word in my head to replace it. Not to mention, WAY too many things had Russian words that sounded similar, so I was constantly going back to see who/what Alina was seeing.

The beginning, up to about chapter 3, was uberconfusing. You don't know who people are when they show up, what the terms mean, and more until many chapters in. This left me frustrated because by the time I learned "what" it was, I'd forgotten why I needed to know to begin with. I really feel like the people in charge of editing and such, must've been too close to the story. They knew who/what the Grisha were, so they must not have realized it needed clarifying.

Finally, the writing. Like I said earlier, there's a lot of description and personification. As always when I have writing complaints, it was every ounce telling. Sigh. I know some may say it's a style thing, but please, agents/editors/publishers, don't tell me to show not tell all the dang time if it isn't truly important. It seems I'm extraordinarily picky about this though, so disregard this section if you're not a psycho about the craft. I will say this, the telling really didn't bother me as much as the passive voice. There's no reason to say "I could see" ever. I'm most assuredly guilty of this, too. This isn't me being a douche, but we all know, this book underwent some serious editing and revision from some of the BIGS. There's no excuse for that to slip through. Don't throw rubber chickens at me please. I'm just being honest.

In Conclusion: I'd definitely recommend Shadow and Bone with the warning: It gets clearer after chapter 3, and much more interesting after chapter 6! The second half of the book is absolutely masterful as far as being interesting and different. The last couple of chapters are really well done! So, in this case, I'm going to rate the story on originality. Still I can't help but mourn what could've been...

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