Goodreads summary: The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.
Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite—the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?
The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfill her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.
But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him?
Glorious. Epic. Irresistible. Romance.
I tried reading this last year and for some reason it never captured my attention enough for me to finish. I returned it the library, sure I’d come back to it later (I love Russian fiction and Ravka is pretty obviously based on Russia) but not really in any hurry. The imminent arrival of Siege and Storm and some random bits of Leigh Bardugo awesomeness drove me to get the book back and try again.
In war-torn Ravka, orphan Alina Starkov is a cartographer in the King’s First Army. She is small, awkward, and unattractive. Her only friend a fellow orphan named Mal who grew up alongside her, but now she’s falling in love with him and he clearly doesn’t reciprocate. Alina is deep in the throes of not belonging anywhere or with anyone when her regiment is sent into the Shadow Fold, a dangerous area full of monsters and darkness which runs through two areas of Ravka. While there, Alina performs an incredible act of magic and is taken by the Grisha, a.k.a. the Second Army, to be the Darkling’s protégée and help banish the Shadow Fold forever.
Like I said, I love fiction that takes place in Russia, specifically in the time surrounding the Revolution and during its Soviet era. Ravka has a very Russian feel, from the language, dress, and the customs to the topography and surrounding countries. It’s hard to pinpoint whether this is a future or a past world, but Russian history is so fraught with murder, intrigue, and revolutions that it doesn’t particularly matter. There is always something dramatic going on in Russia, and I can tell the same can be said of Ravka. So yes, the overall atmosphere of the book clicked with me.
There is also a level of complexity to the characters that I appreciate. Mal initially comes off as the Best Guy Friend Who Will Never Notice Me, but it is revealed that he has his own powers and a level of love and loyalty that I found admirable. The Darkling is in turns a very sympathetic, human character and calculating to the point of being diabolical, so even when I was wondering how anybody could possibly be Team Darkling instead of Team Mal, I was also thinking, Aww, Darkling! You want a hug? Alina, though at times very naïve and understandably confused, is clearly going to be a force to be reckoned with once she fully comes into her power. I loved watching her become increasingly confident in herself and her capabilities. Screw Team Darkling and Team Mal; I am Team Alina. Is there a t-shirt for that?
The only thing about SaB that didn’t jive with me—and it was a big enough thing that I docked half a star—is that at times I was very, very confused. There’s a map of Ravka in the front of the book, as well as a list of the different levels of the Second Army and which faction falls under which heading, but damn. I had to keep flipping back and forth between the page I was reading and the page with the Grisha descriptions and even then I was confused: “She’s wearing what color robes? What does that mean? ACK!” There’s something to be said for throwing your readers into a story without lots of exposition explaining the logic behind the world you’ve built; I personally don’t want to read pages and pages of dialogue between the characters outlining long-ago events, or have the MC describing things he or she wouldn’t realistically care to spend time on just to make me comfortable. But there should also be some sort of foundation for me to work with if you (the author) are going to keep throwing things at me. I get that the Grisha wield magic; I don’t get how they have it, why they have it, who wears what colors, etc. I’m not usually a note-taker when I read, although I definitely could’ve used some of that with SaB, and I think for a casual reader it might be difficult to keep track of everything.
But now I have read it! I know what everyone is buzzing about; I’m prepared for Siege and Storm when it finally comes in at the library (of course I’m already on the waiting list; I’m #7, yo!); I’m rooting for Alina and wondering what happens next. And best of all, Shadow and Bone can no longer look accusingly at me from the bookshelves when I am shelving YA, begging to know why I have forsaken it. Because whenever it asked me that I never had a good answer, and it was making things very, very awkward when I was over in the Bs.
To celebrate hitting the pre-order goal, last week Leigh Bardugo released “Winter Prayer,” a song she wrote about the series. You can listen to it by following the link. If you haven’t heard it already you definitely should; it’s absolutely incredible and now I’m even more pumped for the Siege and Storm release next month!