Monday 20 October 2014

Review: Shadow and Bone (The Grisha: Book 1) by Leigh Bardugo

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 fulfil 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?

I have not read Twilight. In fact, I am not sure I will ever read any of the Twilight books. Nor am I ever likely to watch the films. Neither the books or the films appeal to me in any kind of way, and through many discussions with friends and students who have read and loved the books, I feel I know enough about them to know I would not enjoy the experience. That's not to say I would ever try to dissuade anyone, boy or girl, from reading the books as I would hate to think I could turn a reader away from a book that might turn them from reluctant to avid reader (also the reason why I rarely post negative reviews on The Book Zone). In fact, I have a huge amount of respect for Stephanie Meyer, in the same way I respect J.K. Rowling, for the impact their works have had on getting children and teens reading, and for laying the foundations for this golden age of children's and YA literature.

You don't need me to tell you that post-Twilight there have been thousands of Young Adult paranormal fantasy books published, and I know from my fellow bloggers that some of these have been outstanding and some have been terrible. However, and I am more than happy to face criticism for this, because of my distaste for Twilight I am not sure I have read very many of these, the whole paranormal romance thing leaving me completely cold. Yes, I have judged the blurb of a multitude of books by that 'little-bit-of-sick-in-my-mouth' reaction that one particular book instills in me. Thus, I have not read any of Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments books, and nothing by L.A. Weatherley, Sarah J. Maas, Sarah Rees Brennan, or Maggie Stiefvater. And until very recently, nothing by Leigh Bardugo.

Shadow and Bone, the first book in Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy, is yet another book that I was fully aware of but, when I received a blogger newsletter from those fab people at Indigo, did not jump out as a must-read book. Especially when I looked at my TBR pile. Nah, I really didn't need that one staring at me for months, making me feel guilty for leaving it unread. However, a few months ago I was asked if I would be interested in reading it in order to give a 'boy' opinion on the book. The person who asked me to do this felt it had great boy appeal, but had been sadly dismissed by male reviewers as yet another post-Twilight girly paranormal romance. As I have a great deal of faith in the person who made the request as far as books go, I glady accepted the 'challenge'. 

When the book arrived I started reading it pretty much straight away, although I have to confess that another book arrived soon after that I had been really looking forward to and Shadow and Bone ended up being put aside for a while. And then back in August I was invited to attend a special Leigh Bardugo event in London, and the guilt started to play heavily on my mind, and so I restarted it from the beginning. And, a little to my surprise, I really enjoyed it.

In fact, I'm not sure there is anything about this book that a teen male lover of fantasy stories would not like. Yes, it has romance, but then so does life, so do the majority of Hollywood blockbuster action films, and so do The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Romance is but one thread woven deftly amongst many others, including an incredible fantasy world, brilliant characters, intriguing political machinations, and a fast-paced, unpredictable plot. The world, in particular, is one stood out for me as one of the most appealing aspects of the story. I don't read much epic fantasy, so I'm not exactly an expert in this area, but I found the way that Leigh Bardugo used Russia and its folk tales to craft her Ravka both extremely appealing. Old Russia is a world away from the western world, both past and present, and makes a wonderful platform on which to craft a new, fantasy world. In much the same way as Amy McCulloch so successfully used elements of Mongolian tradition for her brilliant Knots duology, it works so well.

Shadow and Bone is the first book in a trilogy, and I am definitely interested in reading the next two books to find out how the story develops further, although it may have to be over time, occasionally slotted in between others in the TBR pile. I will also be pushing it at school to those boys who like fantasy stories, but want something a lighter and less time-consuming than George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice saga. Before I go, I would like to make one more suggestion: if you ever have the opportunity to attend a Leigh Bardugo event then I strongly encourage you to do so; the event I went to in London was one of the most enjoyable I have been to and Leigh Bardudo is an incredibly interesting and endearing speaker.


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