Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In a swiftly moving story, Alina Starkov must figure out who she really is in light of the discovery of a suppressed power that she alone possesses. It makes her powerful and desireable, and now she is faced with new situations and decisions that mean life or death.
Loved the setting... The cold mountains, frosty forests, and the grand castles seemed a little exotic and a perfect backdrop for the story. You've got the grandeur and the drama of the courts, but also some action on the battlefield, with some dark and complicated magic and romance thrown into the mix. I also liked how she incorporated old folktales in the story to give it that mid-19th century feel, where people still went dancing at balls, rode horses everywhere, were swept off their feet by princes, believed in superstitions, and chased after legends. Some might be bothered by the artistic licenses taken by the author, but I don't know much about Russia/Russian, so it didn't bother me much. Found some of the words/names a little hard to pronounce though.
So, this doesn't mean that I didn't like the book (I really did), but I didn't like the main character, Alina. She seemed like a character I've read many times before: plain-looking girl who rises to fame and beauty because of a talent/power/skill that she has and now she's stuck in a love triangle and then she stands up to something against all odds . . . etc. Sound familiar? But it wasn't that that made me dislike her. She just didn't seem very strong to me. She was a bit self-centered and never held strong to anything, except maybe her relationship and past with Mal, and even that she gave up at one point. Her final stand/self discovery at the end was a great moment, but I still think she has a long way to go before she becomes something great. But hey?! What about the other characters? Well, they were definitely more altruistic and strong--which made reading the book much better. Mal was great, and the Darkling character became more interesting as time went on. He's got some great secrets.
I liked the undertones in this book, which centered around mercy and self-discovery. Truly lovely and descriptive writing. Can't wait for the sequel!!