My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Grisha come for Alina when they realize she is one of them: powerfully gifted, and destined to help rid their land of the terrible darkness of the Unsea.
Alina grew up as a peasant in an orphanage with her best friend Mal before they both joined the army. She doesn't believe she has any magic, but the Darkling, leader of the elite magicians known as the Grisha, understands exactly what she is and how to increase her power. They take her far from Mal, who Alina is in love with, and into the unfamiliar opulence of the king's court.
Alina is soon plunged into Grisha training and the deeply entangled politics of the king's court, where the Darkling is the real power. Slowly, Alina begins to hope that she can help the Grisha heal a diseased portion of land called the Unsea, which is inhabited by flesh-eating monsters and divides the kingdom of Ravka in half.
Shadow and Bone is set in a fantasy version of feudal Russia, complete with a weakened royal family and a Rasputin-like adviser called the Apparat. There's plenty of adventure, some great romance, and a terrible threat in the form of the shadowy Unsea. It's an impressive first novel, and I've already bought the sequel, Siege and Storm, which comes out on June 4th. The final book is Ruin and Rising, scheduled for 2014.
Shadow and Bone adds to all the excellent fantasy being published today that stars strong and interesting heroines. (I'm in book heaven!) If you've read it and can't stand to wait for the sequels, check out these series in the meantime:
- Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, which is set in Prague and features a blue-haired art student named Karou who sketches monsters.
- I loved Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, which has a strong medieval Europe setting and one of the coolest takes on dragons I've seen in a long time.
- For those looking for fantasy worlds that are non-European, try Eon (and its sequel Eona, which completes the story) by Alison Goodman. It's set in a fantasy version of China and Japan and has plot elements similar to Shadow and Bone. Plus, more dragons!
- Or for a book set in modern-day London that has cool magic, two fantastic male leads, and a series that's already complete, try The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud.