June's spotlight pick for Best Teen Book of the Month was a no-brainer--we were unanimous about Shadow and Bone and the only argument was whether or not to also include it on the adult list.
When an teenage orphan's hidden talents are revealed to everyone--including herself--she is suddenly whisked away to join the elite Grisha, the magically inclined people who live and work under the mysterious Darkling. Not unlike Katniss and Gale, the connection between Alina and Mal, the orphan boy who has been her best friend since childhood, is sweet, innocent, and fraught with difficulty--their story as much as Alina's self-discovery, was part of what made Shadow and Bone impossible to put down. The writing is so cinematic that I can still picture favorite scenes throughout the book despite my having read it months ago, and I really wanted to be a part of the Grisha world. The second book in this trilogy honestly cannot get here fast enough...
You can read more about Shadow and Bone from the author, Leigh Bardugo, in the Q&A with her editor, Noa Wheeler, below and check out a cool trailer for the book:
Noa Wheeler: I was really struck when I was reading Shadow and Bone by the beautiful setting. It’s not our world exactly but it feels very Russian. Can you tell me a little bit more about the setting and how it played into your writing?
Leigh Bardugo: I think a lot of people have come to expect the medieval European setting from fantasy, and I wanted to use a different cultural touchstone for my world. There's also this terrible tension between the beauty of Russian culture and the brutality of its history that just lends itself to high-drama narrative. The more I researched the more inspired I got.
NW: I truly believe that Shadow and Bone is a book for everyone. It’s fantasy but there’s plenty here for someone who’s not a regular fantasy reader to fall in love with. That makes it feel different to me from a lot of what’s out there. Do you agree? And if so, what do you think makes this book different?
LB: I hope you’re right! I tried really hard to make the book accessible to people who might not ordinarily pick up high fantasy. I’m a fantasy writer, so I love world building. I love maps. I love all that good stuff. But the story really began for me with the relationships between Alina and Mal and the Darkling. And I hope that comes through. Some people are put off by fantasy because they pick up a book and there are 10 terms and each one has 20 consonants and three apostrophes and you have no idea how to pronounce things and it kind of makes the book feel like work. So I tried to ease people into the world a bit more gently. That's also why I chose to tell the story from Alina's point of view. She’s very down to earth, very pragmatic, has a modern sensibility. I hope her perspective will make it easier for readers to enter Ravka.
NW: Another thing I think makes this book so different is that the magic is very accessible. For instance, I love the idea of the Small Science, of something that looks like magic being an enhancement of what’s actually around us all the time. Can you elaborate on that aspect of the story a little bit?
LB: I've just always been interested in the functionality of magic. I love Harry Potter and I always wondered what actually happens physically and structurally when you mutter a curse or wave a wand. I wanted to get into the nitty-gritty of how the magic worked. So the Small Science is really about manipulating matter at its most fundamental levels. It’s basically magical molecular chemistry.
NW: This is a little bit of a fangirl question, but if you could meet one of your characters who would it be and why?
LB: Well, my fangirl answer would be The Darkling. Because he’s gorgeous and mysterious and dangerous and all those fun things. But I would also love to meet Genya. She kind of serves as Alina’s guide into this magical world of the Grisha and the political maneuvering of the royal court. She’s a combination of a make-up artist, a plastic surgeon, and a sorceress—and on the surface she’s the classic fairy godmother, sassy best friend character, but there's a lot more to her than that. She’s been kicked around and looked down on a lot throughout her life, yet she’s always managed to keep her chin up and stay fabulous. I like that, and I think she’d be really fun to hang out with.
NW: What do you want readers to take away from this book?
LB: The message at the heart of the story is basically that the things that you fear most in yourself, the things that make you different, are also the things that give you power. And that embracing them can make you beautiful. So I would love it if people took that away from the book. I would also love it if people came away from it wanting to know what happens next for Alina and Mal! Things get really intense in the sequel, Siege and Storm. There are some new characters and what I hope will be some big surprises.