I love a good fantasy story, full of high adventure, mystery, intrigue, romance, and strange magic. For a long time, a lot of fantasy worlds, influenced by Tolkien's Middle-earth, have been based on a romanticized version of medieval Western Europe. Which is fine, I love me some Tolkien, but I've been wanting to branch out to other fantasy lately, fantasy that's less Tolkienesque. Someone recommended Leigh Bardugo's Grisha Trilogy, set in a world that's like a magical version of Tsarist Russia, and since a lot of my ancestors came from Russia, I dove into the first book, Shadow and Bone.
Alina Starkov and her friend, Mal, are refugee orphans in Ravka, a land that has been ripped in two by the Unsea, a long stretch of permanent night where terrible monsters dwell. When Alina and Mal grow into young adults, they begin serving in the King's army, protecting Ravka from enemy nations and risking their lives to cross the Unsea and reach western Ravka. It's while attempting to cross the dark Unsea that Alina discovers she's one of the Grisha, people who wield the power to manipulate the world, masters of "the small science." While most Grisha can control fire or water, sculpt fabric or metal, heal or harm flesh, Alina is one of a kind, being able to wield a light that could potentially rid Ravka of the Unsea for good. She's taken away from everything and everyone she knows to begin learning how to use her powers at the palace of the Emperor, under the tutelage of the mysterious Darkling, the greatest of the Grisha. But the more time Alina spends in the royal court, the more she sees that nothing is what it seems to be, she doesn't know who she can and can't trust, and things are much worse than she thought.
Shadow and Bone is a fast-paced, imaginative adventure with cool magic/weird science, engaging characters, great plot twists, and a good dose of Russian crankiness. If you liked the Harry Potter series, The Golden Compass, or Altered, I think you're going to enjoy Shadow and Bone.