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/

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Upcoming Reviews

I just received two Advance Readers Copies, both from Penguin Young Readers Group! Exciting. They are Hold Still by Nina LaCour, and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.

Some summaries from the back covers:

HOLD STILL — That night Ingrid told Caitling, I’ll go wherever you go. But by dawn Ingrid, and her promise, were gone, and Caitlin was alone. Ingrid’s suicide immobilizes Caitlin, leaving her unsure of her place in a new life she hardly recognizes. A life without the art, the laughter, the music, the joy that she shared with her best friend.

But Ingrid left more than a memory behind. Devastating and hopeful, playful and hopeless. In words and drawings, Ingrid documented a painful farewell in her jounral–just for Caitlin. Journeying through Ingrid’s final days, Caitlin fights back through unspeakable loss to find renewed hope.

A breakthrough new voice in fiction, Nina LaCour brings the changing seasons of Caitlin’s first year without Ingrid to the page with indelible emotion and honesty.

THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE — When her fiery older sister Bailey dies abruptly, seventeen-year-old Lennie, bookworm and band geek, is catapulted to center stage of her own life–and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lenni’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Pairs whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.

Both of these novels seem to be sort of middle/junior high level books dealing with more serious subjects.

Reviews soon.

Ice Land by Betsy Tobin

COVER ice land by betsy tobinRating: 8 out of 10

Ice Land combines the gods of Norse mythology with the everyday lives of ordinary humans living in Iceland around 1000 CE, and the story itself was just as lovely as the paperback cover.

Fulla is coming into her own as a young woman living on her moderately wealthy grandfather’s farm. She’s pretty and she knows the practical things like making a meal and riding a horse. Looming in her near future is a betrothal which, as Icelandic society dictates, will be decided by her grandfather, since both her parents are dead. But this isn’t what Fulla wants.

She craves the unexpected. Each day, she rides her horse across pock-marked fields of blackened lava to the hot pool, her servant Helga two strides behind. And each day, she prays her life will somehow burst its narrow banks.

But the gods do not listen

Her future was set out long ago, like runes carved in stone. She will reach the age of consent, marry a man of her grandfather’s choosing, and bear him as many sons as she can endure. She will watch her boys grow into stout young men, learn to wield the sword and axe, and die violent deaths. Just as her father did.

Her father, Jarl, died in a land dispute against their neighbor, another large farm-owner named Skallagrim. This fighting and dueling has been going on for as long as Fulla can remember, and her grandfather, Hogni, has become bitter about the conflict, wishing only to enjoy his dwindling days as an old man.

Fulla encounters Vili, son of the enemy Skallagrim clan, through several escapades and a bond forms between the two young people, an impossible bond because of their shared history and the fact that Fulla will soon be betrothed and married to a man of her grandfather’s choosing.

In an alternating narrative, Freya, the famous Norse goddess of love, hears a prophecy and travels to the land of the dwarves in order to search out a mysterious golden necklace which will supposedly help her with a looming and deadly catastrophe: the volcano Hekla has been rumbling and causing earthquakes in the land of Asgard, and promises destruction in the near future. Freya has loved and lost in her own time, and knows that her race, the race of the “gods,” is a petty, jealous, and shallow group. Christianity is growing on Iceland, and the old gods are getting pushed backed.

I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly Ice Land would be all about–the summary provided on the back wasn’t very descriptive–and I admit, shallowly, that I picked it up because the cover was pretty, and also because I haven’t had much exposure to Norse mythology and I thought it would be interesting to learn something about it.

I feel like, all in all, the plot itself wasn’t spectacular–not particularly adventurous or exciting, but the characters themselves and Tobin’s writing created a different world. Tobin follows that writer’s maxim, “Show, don’t tell,” perfectly. She didn’t have to say “Fulla is a teenager and can be a little bit rebellious, but she’s also fairly intelligent and practical, she observes the world around her and understands a lot.” Tobin showed it through her narrative which allows the reader to get to know the characters as people, and not as little bits of text printed on a page. She did this with all the characters, and also with the way she described Icelandic culture and life.

Sometimes the alternating narrative thing doesn’t work out too well for me–usually I become more interested in one than the other. But in this case I enjoyed how everything was very balanced and and came together really well. Fulla and Freya both kept me interested.

Here was a great bit from Freya, Norse goddess of love:

Cats, I decided, had certain advantages over men. They were loyal without being sycophantic, independent without being absent, and affectionate without being rapacious. That they choke up balls of fur and leave dead rodents at my feet is unfortunate. But it is not grounds for divorce.

I was very engrossed by Ice Land, it was beautiful and mythical and I will be reading more from Betsy Tobin in the future.

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

Summary: Last book in the Twilight Saga.
Rating: 6 out of 10

My Thoughts: You’re going to expect one of two things from me–either an “EDWARD CULLEN IS MY SOUUULLL MAAATE” kind of review, or a “DIE, STEPHENIE MEYER, DIE YOU UNHOLY WITCH OF A BAD WRITER” type of thing. I almost kind of expect it of myself, because that’s basically all I’ve heard from the two camps that so vehemently defend their positions on the famed Twilight Saga.

Okay, I don’t like it. But before the next preteen girl that reads this tracks me down and tears me to shreds, I’m going to admit that it’s not a bad way to spend a couple hours. It’s entertaining and intriguing enough to hold my attention. Meyer’s got a good hand on the English language, and there were a couple spots that had me laughing out loud.

Bella’s world is much, much too perfect. I know I’m at risk of sounding whiny myself, but Miss Swan gets everything she wants, when she wants it, without having to lift a single little pinky finger. There’s no loss, or triumph, no hardships or tough spots. She’s got it all, immediately. I don’t think she learns anything, and as a result, the target audience of adolescent girls doesn’t learn anything either.

I’m not saying that it’s a golden rule that you have to learn A Big Moral Lesson from everything you read, god no, otherwise I wouldn’t have read half the books that I have. At least learn something. And by something, I don’t mean the stuff you learn from Bella’s book, “How To Turn Immortal While Avoiding All Usual Nasty Side Effects Because You’re Perfect!” It was all just a little anticlimatic, disappointing… unfulfilling.

The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott

Rating: 6 out of 10
Summary: Shadows fall across the beautiful, lush kingdom after the queen is attacked by an unnatural beast, and the healing skills of her daughter, Alexandra, cannot save her.

Too soon the widowed king is spellbound by a frightening stranger, a woman whose eyes reflect no light. In a terrifying moment, all Alexandra knows disappears, including her beloved brothers, leaving her banished to a barren land.

But Alexandra has more gifts than she realizes as she confronts magic, murder, and the strongest of evil forces, and is unflinchingly brave as she struggles to reclaim what is rightfully hers.

Commentary: I could not help but make constant comparisons to Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest. Mariott’s The Swan Kingdom, as a result, seemed like a slightly watered-down version aimed at much younger readers. It was just okay all the way through–okay characters, okay plot, okay story.

One thing I had trouble with is how easy the quest seemed to be for the protagonist in The Swan Kingdom. It didn’t seem like she had to do all that much in order to gain the reward and set her brothers free. She had constant, friendly, almost deus-ex-machina type of help all the way throughout the story.

On the other hand, I thought Mariott’s villain was very well done, added a bit more depth to the novel. Cool backstory, gave me a pleasant surprise.

Nothign especially spectacular as a book.