In My Mailbox #7

*If you caught this post yesterday, that’s because my brain fried and couldn’t differentiate SATURDAY from SUNDAY. In other words, I scheduled it for the wrong day. This post is virtually the same, but with the ~pretty~ addition of graphics. Enjoy.

In My Mailbox is a book meme hosted by The Mod Podge Bookshelf. Click here to read more and participate!

In My Mailbox is a book meme hosted by The Mod Podge Bookshelf. Click here to read more and participate!

Earlier in the week I had a five-page, single-spaced research paper due. High volumes of absolute panic shot through me all last weekend–courtesy of procrastination–and I sank into Hermit Mode. I survived on ramen noodles and peanutbutterchocolatebanana shakes, and not a soul dared to disturb me. The only outside contact made was through Skype, which mostly consisted of one-sided research paper complaints–from my end, anyway.  For hours and days, I sat and sat in front of the computer: typing, sitting… typing, sitting. And so on. This cycle repeated for what must have been five days. Five days. Now, with my paper handed in and only finals left to worry about, sitting and typing at the computer is the very last activity I have in mind.

But books arrived in the mailbox and at my doorstep, and I then I found myself creeping through bookstore shelves… Which means one thing: I have new books! All of which I’m eager to share, and so here I am: sitting and typing…

Siege and Storm

I remember when I first read Shadow & Bone and how excited I felt to read a copy. As it happened, the book was released a few days before spring quarter ended, and Shadow & Bone was my reward for surviving pre-calc. This year I figured I’d save Siege & Storm for after finals (June 11th/12th), too. I figured I’d be adult-like and prioritize responsibly, which meant nothing but test prep. Siege & Storm proved too great of a temptation for me, because I read the book anyway. (Expect a review. But after finals. You see me prioritizing?) I delayed study time and blew off a night’s worth of sleep to finish Leigh’s book, and I have no regrets. The second book is a huge improvement from the first–not that I don’t like both–but the series grew up in Siege & Storm. I’m pining for Ruin & Rising already, and how could I not with an ending like that? Instead, I’m settling for a Bone & Shadow re-read.

S&B and TES

I was dumb enough to clump in my order of Shadow & Bone and Sanderson’s book with my Siege & Storm pre-order — otherwise these two would have shown up months ago! I’d hoped to re-read Shadow & Bone before Siege & Storm, but that didn’t work out. I intend to finish off the first Grisha book a second time before writing up  my S&S review, and besides… Since I finished S&S, I am left with a giant, gaping hole of nothingness wondering what to do in life now that I’m out of Grisha reading material. A re-read is exactly what I need.

The Emperor’s Soul has me particularly excited, though. I first learned of it after reading Carl’s convincing review from Stainless Steel Droppings. His commentary urged me to check the story out, and after reading many reviews on several of Sanderson’s other books, it’s difficult to think I’ll feel disappointed. The Emperor’s Soul sounds like an imaginative novella, and I even plan to read The Rithmatist afterward.

The Sweetest Dark

Pretty girls in pretty dresses aren’t exactly my favorite forms of cover art, and I admit that The Sweetest Dark‘s jacket discourages me. It’s the book’s summary, however–aside from the “girl-meets-two-handsome-boys/love triangle” aspect–that caught my interest. Mostly due to the books historical fantasy genre, Shana Abé’s series reminds me of Robin Bridge’s Katerina Trilogy. I can’t say Bridge’s The Unfailing Light impressed me (review to come later), but I did enjoy The Gathering Storm. I have my doubts about The Sweetest Dark, but I hope Abé will prove those doubts wrong.

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Recommend a… (book by a debut author)

Recommend A… is a weekly meme run by Chick Loves Lit. Click here to check out future prompts and take part!

Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Published June 5th, 2012 | Henry Holt and Co.
Fantasy

Summary from GoodReads:

Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, the one thing she could rely on was her best friend and fellow refugee, Mal. And lately not even that seems certain. Drafted into the army of their war-torn homeland, they’re sent on a dangerous mission into the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh.

When their convoy is attacked, all seems lost until Alina reveals a dormant power that not even she knew existed. Ripped from everything she knows, she is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. He believes she is the answer the people have been waiting for: the one person with the power to destroy the Fold.

Swept up in a world of luxury and illusion, envied as the Darkling’s favorite, Alina struggles to fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But as the threat to the kingdom mounts, Alina uncovers a secret that sets her on a collision course with the most powerful forces in the kingdom. Now only her past can save her . . . and only she can save the future.

I admit that I would like to give Shadow & Bone a second read, because I’m almost — almost! — embarrassed to say that I love the Darkling. Go ahead: you are free to make fun, but I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone. Bardugo does well in getting readers to like the villain, and while I would hate for this news to spoil anyone, I don’t believe it’s difficult to pick up on the Darking’s intentions. I spent time thinking about his character — his future role, how it would clash with Mal’s position, and not to forget how the Grisha age is dying. Where does that leave him? It leaves him as the antagonist, and dammit, I like him. So maybe I was infatuated (ahem), but new perspectives come with second readings.

Regardless, Shadow & Bone took me on a light fantasy adventure, and I would readily read it a second time.  Bardugo sucked me into Alina’s story quickly and with ease, and I maintained interest until the last page. This is a book I didn’t want to end, although it is not difficult to get so absorbed into the text that, in consequence, I didn’t realize the speed at which I stormed through it.

If Shadow & Bone has at all roused your interest, you can read an extended preview of the book: Chapters 1 – 5. In relation to Bardugo’s Grisha world creation, The Witch of Duva: A Ravkan Folk Tale is something else to read as well.

Find my review here, and check out the book trailer below!

Now, one book recommendation is to be expected, but I could not resist the temptation to suggest a second book:

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Published July 10th, 2012 | Random House Books for Young Readers
Fantasy

Summary from GoodReads:

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina’s tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they’ve turned the final page.

In 2002, Rachel Hartman did publish a comic book, Amy Unbounded — which takes place in the same universe as Seraphina — but the debut fantasy is the author’s first novel. What can I say about Seraphina that I haven’t said already? Even before the book’s release, pure excitement radiated off me in frightful blasts, and it has only worsened now that I have read it. Much to the dismay, perhaps, of everyone around me — and to my wonderful followers — I enjoy praising this book (a lot). In contrast to Bardugo’s novel, Seraphina is undoubtedly much more high fantasy. (It is also, I would like add, more developed in world-building aspects than Shadow & Bone.)

Rarely do I ever stray into high fantasy, as I prefer grounding myself in worlds similar to my own. Throw too many strange creatures and made-up languages with odd pronunciations my way, and my brain says it is time to step away. The likes of J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis were as deep as I dared to venture into the fantasy genre for years, and even then: our primary world still exists. As a result of reading Seraphina, I am more friendly with this genre. Hartman crafted an entire world I think readers will enjoy exploring, and I am quite fond of the Vulcan-like dragons.

My review can be read here. I warn, however, that Hartman’s pace is indeed steady and slow. Seraphina takes some time to read, which appears to be one of the chief complaints among reviewers.

These are my recommendations this week! If you have read either book, I would love to hear your thoughts.
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Book Review: Shadow & Bone (The Grisha #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy, #1)Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: ★★★★

Before reading Shadow & Bone: learn Ravkan pronunciations! You don’t want to end up like me and grow to love Genya as GEN-yah.

So, when can I read the second book? 2013, it says. Oh, well, that’s great, because I needed Siege and Storm two days ago when I finished Shadow & Bone. If I survive the prophesied apocalypse, I hope to not wait too long. No doubt I’ll quickly find another book to swoon over in time, but the Grisha trilogy is my current fascination.

Wait! I protested, but the Darkling was already turning away. I grabbed hold of his arm, ignoring the gasp that rose from the Grisha onlookers. “There’s been some kind of mistake. I don’t… I’m not…” My voice trailed off as the Darkling turned slowly to me, his slate eyes drifting to where my hand gripped his sleeve. I let go, but I wasn’t giving up that easily. “I’m not what you think I am,” I whispered desperately.

The Darkling stepped closer to me and said, his voice so low that only I could hear, “I doubt you have any idea what you are.”

I made several earlier attempts at reviewing Shadow & Bone, but I’m finding it awfully difficult. How can I convey the gratifying reading experience I had? Reading over my review, I believe I failed to capture it.

If you glance at Shadow & Bone‘s summary, a warning may signal. It may tell you the pages of this book offer nothing but an old plate of an often re-dressed premise: an unremarkable girl suddenly discovers a hidden strength, a power to help fight against an oppressive force and save her country. She’s in love with a boy who doesn’t seem to reciprocate the emotion, but you must be wary of the man lurking there on the side. That man is possibly the new love interest and — oh my — the villain. (I have to rephrase the last bit to better fit Shadow & Bone‘s antagonist: that’s the… villain? Are you sure? Because Bardugo does one hell of an excellent job at getting us to like him.)

Meet Alina Starkov: an orphan who never felt like she belonged anywhere but with her best friend, Mal. Not in the orphanage and certainly not in the First Army as a mapmaker. Her home is not a place but a person, but even this seems weakened as Alina and Mal prepare to enter the Unsea.

The Shadow Fold, or “Unsea,” — a long, dark swath — separates the land of Ravka from its only coastline, leaving those who travel through at the peril of flesh-eating creatures called Volcra. Alina Starkov, however, is the one who can change this. (Why? Because she’s Grisha extraordinaire. She’s Alina, the Sun Summoner!)

Inside the Fold and surrounded by Volcra, Alina’s convoy is attacked. Left and right, Volcra sink claws into bodies of men and women, carrying them further into shadowy depths where cries are eerily silenced. Before Mal becomes Volcra dinner, Alina unleashes a stunning power she never knew she had. A blast of light emerges, fighting off the Volcra swarm and saving many more lives than just Mal’s. Her ability and importance now recognized by the Darkling, Alina is whisked away to train and enhance her power as one of the elite Grisha.

“Do you think I care what you want? In a few hours’ time, every Fjerdan spy and Shu Han assassin will know what happened on the Fold, and they’ll be coming for you. Our only chance is to get you to Os Alta and behind the palace walls before anyone realizes what you are. Now, get in the coach.

He shoved me through the door and followed me inside, throwing himself down on the seat opposite me in disgust. The other Corporalki joined him, followed by the oprichniki guards, who settled on either side of me.

“So I’m the Darkling’s prisoner?”

“You’re under his protection.”

“What’s the difference?”

Ivan’s expression was unreadable. “Pray you never find out.”

Torn away from Mal and all that she knows, Alina finds herself, alone, thrust into the foreign Grisha hierarchy. For the first time, she begins to find her place without Mal by her side. Under Baghra’s tutelage and the Darkling’s support (or would you call it favoritism?), Alina’s power grows as her character develops. Alina will have to discipline control over her skills, unearth secrets that cloak the Darkling in mystery, and learn who truly holds power over Ravka.

As noted by several (intelligent) reviewers, Bardugo’s portrayal of Russian culture and language is not accurately presented. From what I gather, this has sent many people into an understandable upset. I, however, know little about Russia and took no notice of these blunders. Be warned: if you feel knowledgeable enough, you may also feel eager to whip out your editing pen.

Other reviewers state dissatisfaction toward Alina’s character and/or Bardugo’s writing style. Reading through the book, and as I reflect on the story, I find a scant amount of shortcomings (per my literary taste). The writing is fluid as the characters are layered and believable. Female and male characters alike are never forced into contrived, stereotypical roles to fit a strained storyline.

On that note, one aspect I did not expect in Shadow & Bone is the “romantic” subplot, and I can count a number of ways this could have gone wrong. To start: Bardugo could have wrung it dry into the realm of over-fluffed love stories that side-sweep stronger, more important narratives. Fortunately, Bardugo doesn’t do this, and Alina, as well as other characters, keep sight of what’s significant: the Border Wars, the looming end of Grisha age, and the danger Ravka suffers in face of the Fold. With larger details to focus on, the love interests unfolded naturally and felt organic rather than forced. The writing itself strikes me as well-balanced: detailed, but not superfluous. The story sails forward in smooth direction as everything falls into place.

This was his soul made flesh, the truth of him laid bare in the blazing sun, shorn of mystery and shadow. This was the truth behind the handsome face and the miraculous powers, the truth that was the dead and empty space between the stars, a wasteland peopled by frightened monsters.

Book one of the Grisha trilogy truly is one complete story in an ongoing arc. Once I started I found it difficult to walk away, lured and eager to discover what awaited on the next page. It feels thrilling and sad to become so absorbed into a story that I dub real life as an annoyance. Trekking deeper into the story means I grow closer to the book’s end, but once the end is there it better do justice.

I pay particular attention to how authors conclude their books, keen on finding a sense of wholeness — that all there is to the story has been said, and that it is here: sitting on my lap and neatly packaged. Some authors fail to bundle their stories when one book is part of a continuing adventure. The story can end abruptly or teeter at an odd cliff-hanger. Leigh Bardugo, however, did not disappoint me, and I anticipate Siege and Storm‘s release. If I could time-travel into the future…