Review: Shadow and Bone

This is one of many that I bought ages ago with every intention of reading, only to let it sit on my shelf until someone else talked about how much they enjoyed it. Over the long weekend, I figured I’d give it a whirl.

Shadow and Bone 

By Leigh Bardugo

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co, Square Fish, 2013.

The basics

In the Russian-influenced fantasy world Ravka, there are people who can manipulate reality, called Grisha, and everyone else. Ravka has been at war with its neighboring countries Fjerda and Shu Han for decades, but worse is the terrible Unsea, a scar of shadow magic infested with monsters that essentially divides Ravka in half. Ravka has two armies in this war: the First Army, made up of normal humans, and the Second Army, made up of Grisha and led by the most powerful Grisha, known as the Darkling.

Alina, a cartographer in the First Army, thought she was among the least exceptional of everyone else–thin, clumsy, and none too pretty. Doesn’t help that her best (and only) friend Mal is exceptional in so many ways. Imagine her surprise when an attempt to travel through the Unsea awakens Alina’s dormant Grisha power. Imagine everyone’s surprise when the Darkling declares the scrawny cartographer is their way to win the war at last.

The craft 

I flew through this book, in part because of the engaging world, but also because of its refreshingly active narrative. Crisp descriptions and lively verbs keep even the long treks across Ravka interesting. Alina has a quick tongue and I often found myself laughing at her conversations with other characters. Characters like Genya, a talented servant caught in the drama of court, brought a dynamic I’m not used to seeing in young adult fantasies.

That being said, there were a lot of “tropey” parts of the story I’d hoped would be a little different. Once again, we have a school (the Little Palace) where special young people learn how to control their powers–not unlike Vampire Academy or Harry Potter. Once again, we have the inexperienced yet unexpectedly powerful teenage girl who arrives on the scene to save the world just in time. Part of that, I know, is the genre, but I was hoping for something I hadn’t seen before.

Overall, however, I enjoyed the read. It helped jog some ideas for my own story, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.


Review: World, Chase Me Down

Was lucky enough to pick up an advanced reader of this at a work conference back in October. Initially I grabbed it because of the title–it implied such defiance, such deliberate danger–and because I’ve been wanting to break into more Western genre books. After I started, I realized it had been blurbed by two of my old college professors, so then I of course had to see it through to the end. Very glad I did.

World, Chase Me Down

By Andrew Hillman

Publisher: Penguin, Jan 2017

The Basics

Based on the true story of Pat Crowe, a poor butcher who got away with kidnapping his rich ex-boss’s son in Omaha, 1900, this story spans a little more than thirty years. He runs across the world and back while the newspapers try to decide whether he’s a criminal for holding an innocent boy for randsom, or a hero, taking $25,000 in gold from a millionaire businessmen who profits off overpriced meat. It’s an outlaw story and a have vs have-nots story all at once.

The Craft

The story is told in two parts, and each part in turn tells two separate parts of the story, alternating timelines every other chapter. So essentially, the story is divided into fourths. 

Part one tells the story of the kidnapping in real time, intersected by the events that compelled Crowe to comit the crime in the first place.

Part two is a court room drama, detailing what happened when Crowe finally turned himself in, woven in with his adventures during his 5 years on the run.

The effect is somewhat jarring–I found myself favoring certain timelines over others, wishing a chapter (and its conflicts and developments and sometimes really hilarious dialogue) didn’t have to switch to an entirely different time and place. But as all parts of the story are really the reflections of an older man, the mess of memories ultimately makes sense.

Crowe’s voice is slow, careful, almost mournful. There’s a bitterness in these reflections, but not quite regret. Almost like he’s saying that the things he’d done, and the things done to him, were really messed up–but hell, what a ride.

For someone who doesn’t read much in the way of westerns, this was certainly an entertaining read, even if the sometimes hopelessness of this character’s life made for slow reading. Will definitely keep my eye out for the next thing Hilleman writes.