Although I didn’t reach my goal of 50 books read in 2016, I still read plenty of great novels that I otherwise may not have picked up. One of those books was Six of Crows, which is about a group of ragtag ruffians and thugs on a mission to break into an impenetrable fortress in a foreign land. I absolutely loved it and when I found out there was a sequel, Crooked Kingdom, I knew I had to get my hands on it right away.
It was in this way that I fell head over heels in love with the world and characters created by Leigh Bardugo. I’d go as far as to say she’s now one of my all-time favourite writers. She has such immense talent and a gorgeous flow to her writing that you just don’t see that often anymore.
A friend of mine picked up the first Grisha novel, Shadow and Bone, for me for Christmas and I finally sat and read it yesterday. I couldn’t put it down and finished it in a few hours. The story follows an orphan girl called Alina Starkov as she discovers a unique power within her that thrusts her into the world of the magical elite. She must trust the mysterious and dangerous man known as the Darkling in order to destroy the Shadow Fold, an area of darkness that is slowly destroying the war-torn nation of Ravka. Along the way, she must face up to her love for her childhood friend, Mal, the feeling that she doesn’t belong and her attraction to the fearful Darkling.
I loved the character of Alina from the get-go and I especially loved how she was described, her personality and her simple goals. Alina isn’t a stunning beauty like so many other protagonists in fantasy novels, she’s fairly plain but sometimes pretty when she gets enough sleep and uses her power. When she says no, she means no, and she’s complex and insecure and worried about not just herself but her childhood friend and her country. She isn’t self-absorbed and she’s just so likeable. I could see myself being friends with her.
There are plenty of twists in the story and many things I didn’t expect, particularly in relation to Mal and the Darkling. I love being surprised by the direction a story takes. Naturally, this book is still full of the type of clichés us fantasy YA readers are used to at this stage – female protagonist with power she didn’t know she had, two love interests, a palace with an incompetent royal family etc. – but Bardugo takes those clichés and writes about them in such a way that it feels so fresh. Her storytelling is unexpected, surprising and at times completely delightful.
I loved learning more about the Grisha that Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom introduced to me, and I’m eager to re-read the series to see what Easter Eggs I can spot! Alina Starkov actually made an appearance in the book through the eyes of Nina Zenik, the homesick Grisha Heartrender trying to save a man she wronged and her fellow refugees.
Overall, I really loved this book. It really made me visualise what Ravka is like and I’m looking forward to seeing how Bardugo expands her world further in Siege and Storm & Ruin and Rising. Her characters are memorable and complex and full of life and I’d be practically hyperventilating with excitement if someone dropped book 2 and 3 in my lap right now. It’s the start of what I have no doubt is an excellent series, and I heartily recommend you read it if you like stories with magic, war and dangerous love.