Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Alina Starkov is one of the most endearing narrators I’ve read in a long time. She’s hilarious in the most wry, self-deprecating way, and Her story is kind of hard to explain, but it’s amazing. Alina and Mal grow up together in an orphanage, but are separated when Alina shows an unusual talent. She is Grisha, one of a magical elite, so she must go and train in a palace, under the supervision of the Darkling, the most powerful and inscrutable of the Grisha. Alina is not just any Grisha, though. She’s a Sun Summoner who has the power to destroy the Shadow Fold, a treacherous blighted area full of terrifying volcra. The novel tells about her training and the choice she makes when she realizes the true implications of her power and the Darkling’s desires. The setting feels Russian because of the names and a few specific words.
This is also a touching and passionate love story. In the beginning of the book I was slightly annoyed by the unrequited love Alina had for Mal. It seemed to be an Eponine/Marius situation, which I always find problematic. It is surely poignant to have a lovable, compelling female character in love with her oblivious best friend, while he pursues either many women or one prettier, higher-class one. (“Little he knows, little he sees…”) However, the fact that he completely overlooks his closest confidante as a romantic prospect shows that he’s not only not worth loving, he’s not even worth it as a friend. When Mal turned up again later in the book, it seemed clear that this wasn’t really what was happening, but only Alina’s flawed perception. I loved how we got to see this couple spend time together, their hilarious rapport and private jokes. I really believed that they knew each other and were in love. So often portrayals of falling in love are about getting to know someone new, but this one was about Alina realizing she is loved by the person who knows her better than anyone. Because they were old friends their love was not about discovery, but it was a flowering of something that was already there, and that was unique and fun to watch. It was also heartbreaking in the moments when they came so close to being separated forever.
I enjoyed this book more than most I’ve read recently. The world Bardugo has created here has a unique flavor, and it was delicious to get immersed in it and just roll around for a while. I can’t wait to read the next two books in the trilogy (third one out in June), and there’s a movie deal too.