Title: Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Pub: 2012; Henry Holt
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Series
First lemme be honest and up front. I read this book in a day. I didn't MEAN to read it in a day, much less in two sittings...it just happened that way. Which, sure, it's not the first...but it IS a first where the book is filled with world-building and unpronounceable hierarchies. Normally fantasy scares me because of that reason alone. My mind tends to wander if there's not enough scaffolding done and my control-freak nature has a hard time of letting things go and flow until my brain catches up and goes, oh yeah, that's what they do.
So here it is: Alina and Mal were orphaned children who ended up in the same home causing them to end up lifelong friends. The world they live in, Ravka, is in turmoil. After they were tested for abilities (what appears to happen to all children) and they come up normal, Alina & Mal grow up and become a part of the Second Army. Their world has been split in the middle by the Shadow Fold, this creeptastic darkness that looms in the middle of their territory. I immediately associated it with the Nothing of The Neverending Story. What's even more terrifying is the Fold is home to these creatures that fly and chow down on human flesh. The onslaught is absolutely hideous. But I'm kinda jumping around all the place, aren't I?
I mentioned abilities....and this is partly where fantasy books (or historical books with hierarchies) leave me confused. I forget character names in television shows that I watch religiously, so learning of a new Order just muddles my mind.
The Darkling is the highest in this Order; he is feared and for obvious reasons - his ancestor created the Fold. Underneath him are an elite group of warriors with magical powers (they vary from healing to destroying). Only higher to the Darkling is the King of Ravka. Like I said, there is a lot of time spent on developing this story. And whereas it would usually make me run for the hills, I couldn't help but devour it.
Alina is an amazing character. She's in love with Mal, her best friend, but refuses to tell him because he's such a player and she's kinda mousy. Still, her mousiness doesn't stop her from having a quick wit and a wee bit of defensive attitude. Her depth grows when her gift is revealed: she's doubtful, frustrated, and definitely petulant at times. And yes, it probably wouldn't be a YA without a bit of a love triangle (the Darkling is evidently a bit dreamy and mysterious) but it WORKS because she's separated from Mal and spends so much time with the Darkling and she's a teenager, which for me, in this situation, means easily swayed by the environment that surrounds her.
There's a lot of emotional manipulation going on here. And the swaying of political power. Also, what is HUGE for me was the characterization. There weren't any stereotyped individuals, like no one was completely evil or completely good. The motivations of most characters made sense.
Definitely one of the best reads in 2012 for sure.