Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Summary: Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near-impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one unlikely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life– a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha… and the secrets of her heart.

My Thoughts: Shadow and Bone has been popping up all over the YA/fantasy blogs recently and I finally got my hands on a copy from my library. I finished it in less than 12 hours and I’m eager for the sequel, so that tells you a bit about how much I liked it.

I think this is Bardugo’s debut novel, and she did a great job taking the traditional high fantasy genre and putting her own twist on it. There’s some great new world building here that was very well done, explained smoothly and  naturally, and made a lot of sense to the plot, which honestly doesn’t always happen in fantasy novels. I also liked the sort of old Russian influence on a lot of the language and the culture in Bardugo’s world–that’s something I haven’t really seen before in YA fantasy.

I especially, especially liked the way Bardugo book-ended her story with the prologue/epilogue-type chapters, where the style and narration switched slightly and opened and closed her story to great effect. Bardugo’s story here has just the right amount of action mixed with mysticism and the unknown.

I’m glad to have a new fantasy series to follow; I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel when it comes out! Also, the cover is one of the more awesome book typography and design combinations I’ve seen in awhile.

Author Website: http://www.leighbardugo.com/

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

COVER a countess below stairs by eva ibbotsonRating: 6 out of 10
Summary: After the Russian revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian countess, has no choice but to flee to England. Penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination.

Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly overwhelmed by her new duties–not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme. To make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there’s the small matter of Rupert’s beautiful and nasty fiancée. . . .

My Thoughts: Eva Ibbotson is a fairly good writer. She’s a little on the “fantastical” side–some of the things that happen in her novels are a little hard to believe, but I think that contributes to the overall fairy-tale, perfect-world, happy-ending feeling, which sometimes you just need. I know it’s not realistic, and I know it could never happen in real life, but I just love that warm, fuzzy feeling in my chest that somewhere, somehow in some make-believe world, happily ever after is possible. Impossible, awesome coincidences are possible, and things just always work out right in the end. Sometimes you just need that.

A Countess Below Stairs gave me that. It was sweet and entertaining, and while I didn’t like it as much as I’ve liked other Ibbotson books, it was still a nice read.

Hush: An Irish Princess’ Tale by Donna Jo Napoli

Rating: 7 out of 10
Summary: Melkorka is a princess, the first daughter of a magnificent kingdom in mediæval Ireland — but all of this is lost the day she is kidnapped and taken aboard a marauding slave ship. Thrown into a world that she has never known, alongside people that her former country’s laws regarded as less than human, Melkorka is forced to learn quickly how to survive. Taking a vow of silence, however, she finds herself an object of fascination to her captors and masters, and soon realizes that any power, no matter how little, can make a difference.

My Thoughts: Many might glance at the title, see “Princess” and immediately think happy fluffy cloud thoughts.

I”m not sure whether this novel is classified as YA, but there is mature content as Melkorka, our protagonist, is forced into the world of slavery. The style is very sparse and gritty, and Napoli does not spare the readers the darker details of life. There are open wounds and violent sexual assault, but all serve to highlight the cruelties of human slavery.

Melkorka was a very interesting heroine. I didn’t feel a very strong connection to her, but I admired her and her fortitude. Very beautiful and gloomy story. It’s based on true happenings, and the ending sort of depressed me, but it was very well written all the same.

The connection to mythology was great, I’m glad the author wove in the variation on the traditional enchantress/shapechanger tale.

I think this might actually be the first Napoli book I’ve read, and I wasn’t disappointed. Hush is very different from your traditional “princess” tale.

It’s very… hm, magnetic. That’s the best word I can think of to describe it.