Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Rating: 4 out of 5.

My most recent reading escapade wound up being a far different experience than I anticipated. After hearing how much my sister liked the Six of Crows duology, we decided to read them for our podcast. Me for the first time, Laura for the second. I ended up loving them, though I must admit I found Crooked Kingdom to be a step up from its predecessor. After that, I decided, since I liked those so much, I might as well read the Shadow and Bone trilogy. Because I loved Six of Crows, I wanted so badly to like Shadow and Bone, but Laura had a feeling it wasn’t going to be the series for me, mainly due to the prevalent theme of romance throughout, particularly the much loved and much loathed Darklina. *collective gasp of love or hatred*

It turns out Laura was wrong on one count but quite right on another. I actually did enjoy (at least the first book, since that’s all I’ve finished so far) much more than I thought I would. Alina is an interesting enough character, thrown into strange enough circumstances, that I kept wanting to know what happened next. I always love to find a main character I like. Even if they’re not the best character in the book, it’s still fun to be rooting for the MC rather than rolling my eyes at them for hundreds of pages (though I sometimes like to go that route, it sort of depends on the story). Shadow and Bone was definitely the type of book where the MC needs more than a few brain cells with which to operate. Thank you, Alina Starkov, for stepping up to the challenge.

Now for what Laura predicted correctly: I really don’t care for the Darkling and Alina’s weird sort-of relationship. Please keep in mind that I’ve only read one of three books, and I know very well this is a touchy subject (as it always seems to be with fictional couples). Nevertheless, I find the whole idea of an ancient fellow of indeterminate age seducing a seventeen year old girl to be…offputting. Plus, Mal is just dependable and kind and has always cared deeply about Alina, so I guess I just understand her feelings toward him a bit more than the lust she felt toward the Darkling. That being said, I’ve heard about people who like Darklina receiving quite nasty messages online, which is a particularly ridiculous thing to hear considering:

The books and characters are fictional.

And I should note that the Darkling is actually a fantastic character, if you ask me. He’s thoroughly creepy and untrustworthy, and I just might put my life into the hands of a volcra before him, but I completely understand (part of) Alina being drawn to him at first. I can’t say I wouldn’t want to know more if I met such a peculiar individual. I guess I just wouldn’t let the guy feel me up in a dark room.

I digress.

Let’s talk about Genya though. What a great character! I know she doesn’t have a huge role, but I love her friendship and dynamic with Alina. I always love to see a well-written female/female friendship that doesn’t seem forced. Their conversations feel genuine, despite the unrealistic setting and circumstances. I think that’s the sign of a good (or at least enjoyable, for me) fantasy book, when I can see real people inside the characters of the story. Genya is sassy but that isn’t her only personality trait, something I see too often in the books I read. I hope to read a lot more of Genya in future books. I love to see a character with a bit of sass and also a bit of class.

All in all, I did like Shadow and Bone quite a lot more than I expected, and I totally understand the heated debates I’ve seen online (though I have absolutely no interest in joining in). I like what I like, I dislike what I dislike, and I encourage you to do the same!

Did you read Shadow and Bone? Did you like it? Will you watch the spinoff series on Netflix?

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Five Characters You Need In Your Life

At some point, you’ve likely read about a fictional character that captivated your heart. Perhaps they were so kind and gentle that you couldn’t help but fall in love, or maybe it was the way you saw yourself in them and their struggles. Whatever your reason, that character meant something to you. They hit a chord that their predecessors hadn’t, and you’ll never forget them. That is the very essence of this post. These are my characters, my game changers.

Lou Clark (Me Before You by Jojo Moyes)

She stole my heart approximately four years ago, and she still won’t give it back! There is something so moving, so incredibly lovable about a woman who is unafraid to be her own bright, kind, feminine self. From her flamboyant clothing to her constant gentle demeanor, even in the toughest of circumstances, Lou is nothing if not inspirational—and I don’t use that term lightly.

In a world of conformity, Lou is entirely her own woman, bending to no one’s will. She is anything but ordinary—yet she never feels the need to point out her uniqueness to anyone, she just is—and she remains a constant reminder that I don’t need to be anyone or anything but myself. And me is enough.

Coriolanus Snow (The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins)

Now, we shall head to the opposite side of the Gentle and Kind Spectrum. So, what draws me to Coryo? The moral ambiguity, for sure. Right off the bat, he’s got this fantastic bit of shadiness going on. Throughout the entire story, I could never place him as solely “good” or “bad,” which is a practice that should be employed a little more in real life, if you ask me.

Honestly, every few pages, I would think “oh, what a sweetheart” and then a couple later, “I trusted you—how could you?” That alone made for one of the most interesting reading experiences I’ve ever encountered. Despite finishing this book about a month ago, I still question whether I actually love him, or if my feelings are so confused that I merely think I love him to avoid further confusion.

Hercule Poirot (Hercule Poirot Series by Agatha Christie)

Step aside, Sherlock Holmes, there’s a new detective in town. (I’m kidding! I love them both.) Maybe I just have a certain bias toward peculiar men who solve mysteries, but Poirot has the same sort of effect on me as Holmes—with his intelligence, semi-cockiness, and all-around likability. He’s basically a more personable Holmes.

Despite the similarities though, I must note he does not at all feel like a carbon copy when I read the books. There is no one—I repeat, no one—I would trust more with my case than this man.

Violet Baudelaire (A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket)

Violet Baudelaire is a revolution in the female character construct. Essentially acting as the caregiver for her younger brother and sister, she endures hardship after hardship, but keeps her head up, knowing she must continue fighting to protect herself and her family. This may be one of those cases where I see some of her in me as I, too, would create a sketchy DIY grappling hook to retrieve my sister from a tower.

Speaking of which, one of Violet’s main talents is her ability to invent almost anything she sets her mind to. That’s right. She’s caring, and intelligent, and kind, and inventive. I know the series is written in an ironic, satirical light, but Violet is truly a character to remember. She gets my seal of approval!

Gurney Halleck (Dune by Frank Herbert)

When beginning a book, I usually have preconceived notions of what a character will be like. And, excluding the few outliers, I’m usually spot-on. Then, every once in a while, a character jumps so far out of my expectations that I don’t quite know how to react.

For example, when I started Dune, I found out Halleck was the main character’s weapons teacher. So, of course, I formed a general “tough guy” picture in my mind, no doubt enhanced by the choice of Josh Brolin to portray him in the upcoming film. (Quite frankly, I already liked the version I’d created in my head.) In one scene, he demonstrates how to use a knife in a fight—blah, blah, blah—and then suddenly, a scene or two later, he whips out a baliset and starts singing. If that sounds strange to you, I hear you. If that sounds strange and fantastic to you, we’re in the same boat.

Who would you add to your list of characters everyone needs in their life? Leave a comment and let me know.