Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Alina lost her family in the Border Wars and now depends solely on her close friendship with fellow orphan Mal. Now the two of them are in the army together and head off for the dangerous crossing of the Fold, a place where magic contaminated the very world and covers it in darkness and horrible monsters. When the two of them were younger, they were tested for magic themselves, but neither of them had any. So what happens in the Fold is even more remarkable. The ship they are crossing in is attacked by hundreds of beasts and Mal is horribly wounded. Alina shields his body with her own as the monsters attack, but then she loses consciousness herself. Coming to, she is guarded by soldiers and taken before the Darkling himself, a man almost as powerful as the king. But what could she have done that would make her worthy of his attention?
It is difficult to believe that this is Bardugo’s debut novel. Her writing has a wisdom and surety that is very special. From page one, I was captivated by the strength of her world. Set in a Russia-like place, the world and society are solidly built and remarkably original. This is a world torn apart by war, where there is also an internal power struggle happening that could cause irreparable harm to the society too. It is a world where villains look like heroes and heroes can appear villainous at times.
The individual characters are well written and finely drawn. Alina is a heroine who often doesn’t act like one, a girl with power that she does not understand, and a loneliness that aches the bones. She is brave, strong and at the same time young and naïve. The Darkling is equally successfully written. He is aloof until he is close, disdainful until he is captivated, and completely complex. He’s a delight of a character, one that offers no easy answers.
Highly recommended, this is one of the most original fantasies I have read in awhile. Not populated with vampires, zombies or angels, it is still filled with magical writing, amazing characters and one incredible world. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Company.