Top Fantasy Book to Read This Year

I've been waiting for a book like Shadow and Bone for a long time. I just didn't know it. I was bored with the books I was reading -- they were all the same.

Then came along a sly little read that immediately intrigued me with its Russia-like setting (the cover gives a nod to classic Russian architecture) and gripping story.

From the Goodreads description: "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 lonely 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."

Nothing says gripping like "monsters who feast on human flesh." From there, Shadow and Bone establishes itself as a classic fantasy tale: there is something dark and wrong about the current forces in the world and an unsuspecting underdog is forced to face them with powers she does not yet understand herself.

Works Like Magic

Usually my first question when starting a new fantasy book is where's the magic at? (I'm a demanding reader). Fortunately, Shadow and Bone didn't keep me waiting. Right away, I found out that there are Grisha, the magical elite, and everyone else.

Alina, a lowly cartographer in the Ravka army, has never really cared that she wasn't a Grisha, despite being denied the rich lifestyle and privileges that come with the powers. She's been content to follow in the shadow of her best friend Mal, who doesn't realize how much Alina really cares about him.

The key conflict that hooked me right away was when Alina was put in a dangerous situation in the Shadow Fold (the breeding ground of those flesh-eating monsters) and summons a power she didn't know she had. Her life suddenly becomes an accidental rags to riches story, as she's unwillingly whisked off to the royal court for the high life of a Grisha.

The complicated unraveling of Alina's power and her experiences at court offer readers a look into the snarky, secretly tough personality of this girl who's fighting to figure out who she is and how she fits into her new life - one absent of her dearest friend and unrequited lover.

Czar-n't You Glad I Recommended This Book

Something that set Shadow and Bone apart were the names of the places and people referenced in the book. There are occasionally unidentified, italicized words in a foreign, native language that weren't always explained (like drinking kvas, wearing a kefta and being an oprichniki).This forces the reader to use context clues to piece things together (or bust out their smart phone to look it up).

Although some may not like this extra "work" while reading, I found that it kept me curious and on my toes.


I was more than impressed with this amazing debut novel. When my first reaction is to tell everyone I know about a book, you can bet it's a keeper. I highly recommend Shadow and Bone for fantasy and young adult book lovers alike -- it will stun you with its solid world-building, epic romance and relatable characters.

Now A Feature Film

DreamWorks recently optioned Shadow and Bone, and it will potentially be coming to a theater near you. Shadow and Bone author Leigh Bardugo weighed in on the news:

"When we started getting interest from Hollywood, I guess I was a little leery. I think fantasy adaptations can be tricky. They're just really easy to get wrong. But when Dreamworks and David Heyman got involved, my worries went out the door. From the first meeting, I knew that the story and the world were in good hands.

In terms of the film, I'm just curious to see who becomes a part of the project and what they bring to it. Because we're living in the age of Pinterest, I've gotten to put a lot of my ideas and inspiration out there, but it's more fun to see how readers envision the characters and the world-- the fan art, the gifs and graphics, the casting suggestions. To have people invest in the story that way is such an honor."

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What fantasy novel made your "best of 2012" list?