A light fantasy, Bardugo manages to give you just enough information to fully capture your attention, without being overwhelming, and is very much of the "show, don't tell" camp. I absolutely loved gleaning new bits of Ravka history or Grisha mythology from casual interactions, rather then in big info-dump sessions or the extremely forward ask-and-tell conversations. I do like my fantasy a little meatier, so I would have enjoyed more history and more mythology, but the amount provided was sufficient to understand Ravka and its inhabitants, while keeping you on the edge of your seat, eager for more! Reading the eBook, I would have also loved a map, so I am beyond thrilled to announce that there will be a map, illustrated by Keith Thompson, included in print editions.
The plot was probably one of the best-paced plots I've encountered in YA. I was so caught up in everything that was happening, so concerned about the characters I had grown to love, that I was completely blind-sided - twice! - by plots twists. I was so enamoured by Shadow and Bone that I wasn't having to stop and think about whether anything made sense so I wasn't being constantly pulled out of the fantasy world Bardugo had so elegantly crafted.
And elegantly craft she did. Everything is described in such vivid imagery that it was impossible for me not to cringe as I watched Alina enter the Shadow Fold to meet with the Volcra waiting within it's impenetrably dark clutches, or to gasp as the Darkling clapped his hands together to produce the tendrils of darkness that consumed all light, or to be completely awed when Alina broke down all of her walls, in order to release her inner brilliance.
I felt passionately about each character in Shadow and Bone - The Darkling, who's cool demeanour was shattered when he let something amuse him, and who ultimately broke my heart and stole my breath away; the embodiment of mysteriousness and allure, he was nothing short of intoxicating. Mal, who's easy-going arrogance was quickly replaced with the hardened composure of someone who has made fatal mistakes, was a refreshing change as a love interest. I cursed him for so quickly over-looking what he could have had with Alina, and rejoiced when he admitted his foolishness. He won my heart with his fearlessness, both in his desire to keep Alina safe and with his attempt to convince her of his true feelings:
"I missed you every hour. And you know what the worst part was? It caught me completely by surprise. I'd catch myself just walking around to find you, not for any reason, just out of habit, because I'd seen something that I wanted to tell you about or because I wanted to hear your voice. And then I'd realize that you weren't there anymore, and every time, every single time, it was like having the wind knocked out of me. I've risked my life for you. I've walked half the length of Ravka for you, and I'd do it again and again and again just to be with you, just to starve with you and freeze with you and hear you complain about hard cheese every day. So don't tell me why we don't belong together," he said fiercely.
And Alina. Her character growth was astounding. When you first meet her, she is naive and feeble, convinced of her complete and total averageness. As she stumbled through her many and varied mistakes, it was an absolute pleasure to watch her grow into someone who possessed both self-assured confidence and grace.
Plain and simple, I loved Shadow and Bone. Yes, the fantasy could have been a little heavier, but that's mostly a personal preference. The pacing, plot and characters were all phenomenal and I will wait in anticipation for the sequel!