SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo 356pages, $17.99
Alina and Mal were orphaned in the Border Wars as children and grew up together in an orphanage. Like all people of their class they’ve been drafted into the Kings Army. During a crossing of the Fold, a waste land where an ancient spell has blocked the sun away, their sand skiff is attacked by demon like creatures called volcra. One of Alina’s friends is carried away, and her best friend Mal is attacked. When she herself is nearly carried away by a volcra as she fights to defend her friend, a bright flash of light ignites across the sky and sends the volcras away. When it’s determined that the source of the light in all of that darkness is Alina, she’s hauled before the Darkling himself, a man of immense magical power and second only to the King.
Her rare gift gets her whisked away from Mal, the only person she calls a friend to the elite Grisha academy at the Little Palace. No longer considered a mere peasant, her new world of endless fighting drills, hours long sessions with the crusty old instructor Baghra, and social occasions that find her out of her depth have her wishing for the simple life of military cots and day long marches. But when Mal doesn’t answer any of her letters, she lets go of her old life and focuses on the one man she feels values her above all else.
The Darkling has plans for her. Together he promises, the two of them with their powers of light and dark can tear back the dreaded darkness that has enveloped the Fold and bring peace to the people of their world. But the old woman Baghra shows up one night with a warning for Alina. Everything isn’t as she was lead to believe. Now, not knowing who to trust she ventures off away from her new happy life fleeing those who would involve her in their evil plans.
Cleverly drawing her inspiration from Russian history, Leigh Bardugo has managed to flesh out the usual Young Adult plot skeleton of girl protagonist torn between two loves with a handsome tale of a Russo styled world continuously at war with an unknown dark force. Her use of the first person keeps the reader’s relationship with Alina an intimate one. Though the characters don’t necessarily stand out from most of the characters one finds in Young Adult fiction, they are never the less well written enough to make the reader care what happens to them. And for the first time in many books read by this reviewer, Ms Bardugo has written a delicious villain full of complexity and nuance. Great villains are hard to write and she’s written one of the best.
The story is exciting, beautifully written and entertaining to the last page. The Yaroos! Team gives this book 4 stars out of a possible 5 stars.