Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: young woman is talented (or super-powered) but annoyingly neurotic and passive, spending a lot of time pining over two different men in her life (at least one of whom is a childhood friend) within an oppressive sci-fi or fantasy setting.

Shadow and Bone proudly wears the clothing of a typical youthful heroine YA novel, but ultimately won me over with its intriguing fantasy world. Ravka is more war-torn than authoritatively dystopian, featuring a realm of pure magical blackness filled with nightmare creatures that divides the kingdom.

This is a world of 18th century technology (rifles!) mixed with X-Men mutants who can essentially cast unlimited spells within certain masteries, like fire, wind, or darkness. These Grisha are powerful, but carefully trained and managed by the kingdom – not hunted and down and captured like most YA novels would devolve into.

Alina is still a bit of a whip with little agency of her own most of the time, but she has a solid character arc in the first novel as she awakens to her powers, discovers the truth about the Unsea, and rediscovers her true love. It’s a quick, easy read, and ends on a high note that makes me interested in reading the rest of the series and learning more about this world.

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