Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The one who can summon the sun

Usually, when we talk of fantasy, we think of a world similar to medieval Europe. Leigh Bardugo's fantasy novel, Shadow and Bone, does transport us to Europe all right. But this time, the place feels a lot like Russia.

Just reading the characters' names is a giveaway that we're no longer in familiar territory. The main character's name is Alina Starkov. Her best friend is Mal Oretsev. Alina and Mal live in Ravka, which unfortunately has a large area covered in absolute darkness and infested with flesh-eating monsters, the Volcra. This area, called the Shadow Fold, divides the country in half.

Apparently in Ravka, there are people who possess supernatural abilities and are then recruited to serve in the Second Army. Collectively called as the Grisha, they are of three types. The first, Heartrenders and Healers, can kill and heal. The second, Squallers, Inferni, and Tidemakers, can control the wind, fire, and water. The last, Durasts and Alkemi, can control objects. The most powerful of these Grisha, the Darkling, is in search of the fabled sun summoner, a Grisha that can command light, who can hopefully destroy the Shadow Fold.

Map of Ravka, showing the Shadow Fold (The Unsea)

Alina may just be the sun summoner herself, as she's proven that she can unintentionally light up when provoked. Naturally, the Darkling recruits her to the Grisha, separating her from the handsome Mal. However, it turns out that not everything the Darkling says is true. Alina discovers that the Darkling was responsible for creating the Shadow Fold and he just wants to use Alina to destroy the Volcra before enveloping the whole of Ravka in darkness.

This is fantasy, and, of course, we can't just have one stand-alone novel. As the first book of the Grisha trilogy, Shadow and Bone kicks off the trilogy wonderfully. The blurb at the front cover somehow says it for me; it is a novel unlike anything I've read before. The setting is a good departure from our usual, and it's refreshing to not find any dragons nor dwarves nor fairies in the narrative. Ditto with angels, werewolves, and vampires.

There's a forgivable I've-read-this-all-before feel to Shadow and Bone. And one hopes that the succeeding books will live up to first book's promise. Nevertheless, Shadow and Bone is a book that even non-fantasy readers would probably love. It has something for everyone: romance, magic, adventure, bloodshed, and drama. And despite all these varied elements, Bardugo still holds everything together, keeping the story tight and the characterization distinct and well-developed. I can't wait for the second book!

Read this book if:
  1. You've always been fascinated with Russia.
  2. You're patient enough to wait for the series to be complete.
  3. You're into YA fantasy.


Ryan said...

I want to read this, but I'm really not looking for a new series to start.

Peter S. said...

Well, in a way, it's also a stand-alone. But there are still too many unresolved story lines. Bummer.