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Shadow and Bone (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, #1)
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Gary | 1470 comments I picked this up yesterday, and there was some interest in the "What are you reading next?" discussion, so I'm going to go ahead and start up this thread and see how things go.

Don't forget to use spoiler tags!

message 2: by Yoly (new) - added it

Yoly (macaruchi) | 792 comments Nice! I will join you eventually in a few weeks.

message 3: by Gary (last edited Jan 09, 2020 05:54AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gary | 1470 comments I was a little worried about this one in the beginning. The opening "we're orphans" and "everything is vaguely Russian" made me think it was going to be a revisit of the The Bear and the Nightengale which we read a while back, and while I didn't hate that book, I don't have a big need to revisit it. Then after that prologue there's a lot of Alina mooning over her childhood friend, Malyen. That romance (one-sided as it appears to be in the beginning of the book) doesn't track for me at all. They were orphans as children, and grew up together. That very strongly implies a brother/sister relationship to me, and unless we're imagining her as a alternate reality Russian version of Brooke Shields and the Shadowfold as a dim version of the blue lagoon, that romance doesn't work. Teenage angst is teenage angst, but the friendzone is a palpable force in the real world like gravity. That's just science.

Once the action starts, though, it dives right into the world she's built, and things move away from that unlikely not-bromance. Maybe those early bits were ticking boxes in the YA writer's outline or something, but they just seemed bloodless to me. It picks up pretty quickly once they get into the Shadowfold. The different kinds of Grisha start appearing, and the social dynamics involved start to appear, and I'm interested in the magic system she's presenting.

message 4: by Gary (last edited Jan 18, 2020 11:15AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gary | 1470 comments I'm at about the 3/4 point.

There are a lot of YA/romance elements. A love triangle, the trope of a girl discovering her self-worth and confidence, etc. Much of that is very predictable and, frankly, a bit trite for my taste, but I don't think I'm the core audience for this thing.

I found myself most interested in her magic system, which isn't given much focus. She talks about the origin of the Shadow Fold for a bit, but not exactly how such a thing might come about. There is just a bit about how the Grisha's powers work. For instance, fire-wielding Grisha don't really wield fire, but gather up combustible materials which they they light with some mundane source. But how they come to be, and any more details about how their powers might work are pretty much gloss, which is unfortunate. From what I can tell magic is magic, and those who wield it are about the equivalent of comic book mutants, just having access to a particular super power or not more or less at random. There is at least one case of there being a sort of bloodline component (details are kinda spoiler-ish, so I'll leave it at that) but most of the Grisha are taken from their parent, and raised in a kind of Professor X's mansion, if I might continue the analogy, where they get trained up. What they actually do with that training doesn't really happen for the majority of them. We see a few here and there, but they mostly appear to be just aristocratic layabouts, elevated to their social position by their status as magic wielders.

I haven't done a whole place name search, but I think her world building is what I have called a "close historical novel" or a "slightly alternate history novel" in the past. That is, it's pretty much Russia with name changes, and the inclusion of her magic system. She doesn't delve terribly far into this, however, so it's hard to say from this one volume of the series. Christianity and churches still exist, for instance, and the religion appears to be unaltered by the existence of many people who can work all kinds of "miracles" that rival or surpass those in the Bible. That doesn't seem very likely to me. The existence of magic, even the relatively low magic of this setting seems like the kind of thing that would have more of a cultural impact.

There's a McGuffin search that forms the second half of the novel, which I'm curious about. The motivation for that search is a bit thin, as are a few motivations throughout the book. The kinds of arguments that would lead to good character foundations do happen, but they happen quite quickly. Again, lots of spoilers on that, so I'll not chime in until other folks get a chance to read it for themselves.

message 5: by Gary (last edited Feb 03, 2020 02:56AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gary | 1470 comments I finished this one up the other day. In a lot of ways, I found this a tantalizing book. I remain curious about her world building. The magic system, for instance, doesn't really get fleshed out. People have powers, and those powers vary from one another, but they are, effectively, "mutants" in the comic book sense. It's not a magic system like any number of other fantasy worlds where characters can study and advance. Characters can train to improve their ability to use, and apparently the strength to some extent of their powers, but they aren't really engaging in a magic system so much as a randomly acquired special ability.

We find out that the Darkling is more or less immortal, or so long-lived as a to be nearly the same thing. I'm not sure how this fits into the rest of that magic system. He's just long-lived kind of randomly. His (view spoiler) to be, but we don't know why in particular. His powers don't seem to lend themselves to long life any more than any others, so I'm still wondering about that. Most of those elements of the story aren't described in this installment.

The rest of her world building was also tantalizing. I'm still curious how her "near historical novel" or "slightly alternate history novel" manifests. Again, not really fully fleshed out in this installment, and one of the things I was most interested in.

There's an awful lot more of "YA Romance Novel" elements in this book than I would personally prefer, but I would not appear to be the target audience for this one. As I mentioned before, I just didn't get the romantic nature of Alina and Mal. To me, that childhood friendship seemed much more like a brother/sister relationship, so the more romantic it got, the weirder it seemed to me. It didn't work for me at all, and since that relationship forms such a large part of the novel that means most of the text didn't either.

The conclusion is, perhaps, a little abrupt, and I found it a smidge anti-climactic in that Alina doesn't seem to have needed a whole heck of a lot of help. So, there are a lot of secondary characters introduced who basically disappear from the novel in the third act, or who whose appearances are desultory. I think there was a real missed opportunity there for Alina's friends to have their moments in the denouement, but they didn't get anything. Again, maybe she's saving that for a later installment. This is, after all, book one of a trilogy. I think we've mentioned the whole "trilogy" thing more than once, so I'll not belabor the point other than to say that this being a trilogy seems to have tallied up many of the problems with that form. In this case, the rapid, somewhat unsatisfying conclusion, and the lack of resolution for most of the characters being the major issues. I suspect we're expected to read two more books for those things to happen, and I don't think I'm going to invest that kind of time in this series to get there.

So, overall, I gave it three stars here on GR. Honestly, 2.5 is probably more accurate, but I tend to round such things up for the sake of a review.

message 6: by Gary (last edited Feb 03, 2020 02:55AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gary | 1470 comments Here's a rather old thread here on GR regarding some of the use of Russian terms and names in this book:

The author herself chimed in a few times.

The complaints noted in that thread have to do with some of the somewhat slipshod use of gendered names and such. Some of those errors are relatively minor. I don't think I'd be overly worried about "Grisha" being "Greg" in Russian, for instance, even though that seems to have really bothered one person. At the very least the etymology of that name ("to watch" or "alert" or by implication "shepherd" or even "flock" or "herd") works as much as not. Having a group of magically empowered people called "the Greg" doesn't strike me personally as all that ridiculous. At least, not any more ridiculous than "The X-men" or "Slytherin" or "Bene Gesserit". Other examples seem to stem from somewhat shoddy research/editing. However, "Ana Kuya" apparently means "Why the fuck?" in Russian, which actually is pretty hilarious.

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