A lot of people made promises to me about this book - Goodreads pals, my fave bloggers, it even warranted the elusive in-person recommendation of seeing a friend reading it at work - but what struck me the most about it was what the book itself promises for the rest of the series.
Shadow and Bone, the first in the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, follows the story of the orphan Alina, an ordinary girl who finds herself wielding extraordinary powers, after being thrust into a fantastical situation in the Shadow Fold, and saving her best friend with a supernatural force she didn't even know she could harness. After the leader of the Grisha, the Darkling, takes notice of these powers, her life is transformed from one of military obscurity, to living in an opulent palace with others with Grisha talents, but none quite like hers. Alina is tasked with saving the world... but what will that kind of battle require? And who is she really up against?
Like I said, this book is extremely popular, especially with the many YA fantasy fans among whom I count myself a member. At first, I was a little bit daunted by the sheer hype, as well as the fact that in the first 20 pages or so, nothing was coming across as anything outside the typical trappings of a YA fantasy novel.
Let me just spell what came across in those 20 pages out for you: hunky, inattentive best friend; mousy, shy, orphan with low self esteem as a heroine; dark, brooding mysterious character who makes up the third corner of the love triangle... tell me, where haven't I seen these tropes before? Maybe I'm jaded, but this all was starting to seem fairly standard.
However, the levels of detail that went into constructing the setting, as well as a perfectly reasonable, passable amount of info dumping, allowed the world-building to start shining through all that basic plot fodder. Russian-inspired fantasy? That is not exactly a sub-genre you see all the time. And while the intricate amount of minutiae that is drawn into focus by Bardugo's descriptions in forming the palace and its inhabitants goes into pain-staking detail, it's one of the ways you can tell this book was a trilogy from the very beginning: there's so much effort put into making this world a cohesive experience for the reader, it's clear that you're expected to spend a lot more time in it.
What initially annoyed me about character development, was how characters would be described and given very basic personality traits, and then set into the action at very fast paces. At first, it came off as making characters half-baked, but then, as the action progressed, I realized the very basic level of acquaintance the reader had solidified with the characters allowed room for proving motive and establishing relationships, a more showing-rather-than-telling approach to concrete character construction, one that works especially well for a plot-driven YA book.
Final Verdict: An interestingly-constructed fantasy that results in much more than its stereotypical structure would initially reveal, Shadow and Bone is an exciting installment for fans of fantasy, and a stupendous starter for a series. I already have the next book in the series downloaded to my Kindle!