2012 really was a great time to be alive in the YA fiction base, because that was when it was overflowing with strong girls who had to save the world but, oh, yeah-- most importantly-- find time for romance. Between VAMPIRE ACADEMY, THE HUNGER GAMES, and SHADOW AND BONE, I don't know how any of us had time for sleep. I read a lot of these girl power-in-love books, but SHADOW AND BONE was one of the few I didn't touch. I think I didn't get into it because the fans seemed so annoying, like they were holding this book up as the lodestone to which all YA should aspire, and using it to shame some of its girlier, more romance-focused counterparts, which I thought was gross. But I want to see the TV show, so I decided to finally bite the bullet and read the books and boy, was I surprised.
***VERY MILD SPOILERS (NO BIGGIES)***
The plot of this book does not reinvent the wheel. It's set in Fake Russia, part of which is covered by a Vampire Dementor Quilt. The Vampire Dementor Quilt is threatening Fake China and Fake Finland as well, and people are getting nervous because that VDQ could fuck up them up in a hot minute, just like a Peep in a microwave. Especially since the king and queen are in their castle, acting like the phrase "Let them eat cake" is a rule to live by instead of a cautionary tale, with the queen even keeping her very own Facetune witch on standby (you might think I'm joking, but I'm not-- ask me what a Tailor is, go on, I dare you).
Alina Starkov is a grunt in the army with her childhood best friend and fellow orphan, Mal. She's a shitty mapmaker but hey, it's a living. Until one of the Dementors from the Dementor Quilt attack them and she explodes like a Gusher made of pure sunbeams, and one of the army people narcs on her to Great Value Russian Kylo Ren, aka Daddy Darkling, aka Daddyling, who's like, "Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but I'mma cut you, bleed sunbeams maybe?" And she DOES. Instant promotion. Suddenly, Alina is a witch and treated with all the respect that station deserves (not much apparently).
I don't want to say too much more, but let's just say that the Daddyling is one of those idealists who ends up becoming a despot. There's plenty of allegories for men like him in history, men who will do anything to see out their vision no matter who they hurt, so I won't bother to name names. But his trajectory, and the way Alina's parallels his, is really well done. That scene with the stag almost made me cry, it was so powerful. Buuuuut this book would be dragging itself to the finish line without its villain. All of the hype surrounding this book is because of the villain. Hell, part of the main reason my friend Heather got me to read this in the first place was by telling me it had a hot villain.
So I liked the story and the world building was okay, even though I feel like the YA fantasy genre is now kind of overrun with Fake Russia and Great Value European stand-ins (and I know most of those came after this book became popular, but I didn't read those first and I am fatigued). The book is also pretty slow to get moving and there's a lot of skimmable scenes in the palace. Despite THAT DADDY DARKLING KISS SCENE THO. I loved it. Give me a good kiss scene after a makeover montage and a ball that makes no sense and I'll fall for it every time. #girlythings Was it very cheesy in a Happy Hunger Games sort of way? Yes, but I didn't care. But unfortunately there was also a kiss scene with Mal and I hated Mal. And what pisses me off about Mal even more is that I'm pretty sure he's the end game for the romance and he sucks.
(Did I mention how much he sucks?)
For most of this book, I was waffling between a three star review and a four, because even though Alina kind of started out as a bland chosen one Mary Sue, I feel like she actually had to make some really difficult and interesting decisions that defined her character in an interesting way. Ultimately, I decided to round up because of the villain romance elements (you knew it), that complete and utter bastard of an ending, and also because of some plot twists that actually made me gasp.
I can't wait to read the next book.
3.5 out of 5 stars