Friday, 28 February 2014
Published by: Henry Holt & Co.
Genre: Fantasy (Young Adult)
Shadow and Bone tells the story of two young orphans, a girl called Alina and a boy called Mal, who have been taken in by a wealthy patron and raised by his housekeeper. They are not siblings but they are as close as brother and sister. When they are not in lessons or doing chores, they spend their time playing in the big house or on the grounds.
One day they are presented to three adults (known as Grisha) who have come to test them. They are not sure what the test is for but neither of them pass.
It moves forward to their teens, a war is on and they have both joined the regiment of Ravka. They are about to confront the dangers of the Shadow Fold, an unnatural phenomenon that has caused a rift through Ravka. Within the rift is complete darkness. It is where the Volcra reside: supernatural flying creatures that feed on human flesh, known to attack those who enter the Shadow Fold. Alina and Mal with their regiment are required to cross the fold. They are both afraid but understand that this is something they must do.
During the crossing they are attacked by the Volcra who swoop down on them from the sky. Mal puts himself in front of Alina to protect her. He is attacked and they are about to be killed when something strange happens. A bright and blinding light appears that causes the creatures to back away. Alina is rendered unconscious and wakes to find herself a prisoner under suspicion, but she does not understand why. She is brought before the Darkling, a powerful and seductive being, where she is accused of being the source of the bright light. She knows to herself that this cannot be possible but many testify that they witnessed the powerful light coming out of her. The Darkling uses his power to put this to the test, causing unexplained power inside Alina to respond to his call and dispersing the powerful light to everyone's shock - Alina included...
What I liked most about this novel was that it was different from any other YA fantasy I have read to date (many of which tend to follow a similar storyline and format - for one thing it is not set in a small town in the USA but a fictional country that resembles Russia). The beginning provided a good backstory of the main characters and, as the plot developed, a good clarification of the situation they found themselves in. I was not so keen on the middle part when Alina discovers that she is a Grisha and spends time in their presence. It got rather tedious and dragged for me. The story picked up pace once the true motives of the Darkling was made known to Alina (and to the reader).
Shadow and Bone is certainly a good read with an original plot that is imaginative and well thought out. Also, I found it to be rigorous (absent of flaws and/or plot holes, which is not easy to achieve). It was brought to my attention because The Bone Season is said to be very similar. I would agree with that and I would go as far as to say the central plot of The Bone Season owes a debt to Shadow and Bone (among others including The Hunger Games). That said, it's lack of originality of plot is compensated for by it's originality of mythology, complexity of plot and intrigue. In contrast, although intelligently written, I would not describe Shadow and Bone as intellectually challenging*.
I did enjoy Shadow and Bone and, were I to compile a list of noteworthy YA fantasy novels, it would definitely make the list (unlike some of the more obvious ones).
*An observation but by no means a criticism.