3.5 starsIf YA Fantasy is your thing, you've probably already read this. And if you haven't yet, I'm quite confident that you will like Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone. Look no further that the growing mass of 4 and 5 star reviews for confirmation. As for me, I feel like my expectations were probably too high. I found this book through the popular list on GR and read many glowing reviews even before turning the first page. I'm gonna love this, I thought. Everyone says so!I'll admit that while reading, I was swept into and away by the story. I refused to stop until I read the entire thing. Last night, when I closed the book, I thought, "I'll give that 4 stars." This morning, with the rush of the climax and resolution fading, I feel a little sober. This book is not without its faults. Shadow and Bone tells the story of Alina Starkov. I think it's important to point out that the magic of SaB comes in the form of setting, details and characters-- NOT the plot. The plot is YA Fantasy generic. Plain, orphan girl in love with her childhood friend who doesn't notice her, plucked from obscurity and brought to a another place for a classic make-over and some falling in like (or lust...) with a Mr. Large and In Charge. Stripped down that way, I'm sure that can remind you of any countless number of other books. The first that popped in my head was the recent (and terrible) The Selection. Like I said, SaB's strength then comes in other details. First, the setting. The magical and dark world of Ravka has a strong pull. I really enjoyed every bit of it, from the Shadow Fold to the Grisha and their bright clothing and magical powers. The mystery and intrigue of it all are such that it bolsters the story, and almost covers many of the other weak points. Almost. I have a big issue with YA fantasy: so many times, a dark, big world is set as the stage, only to have a superficial story play out on top of it. You have an entire strip of shadow in your world with flesh eating monsters. People are praying for and to you. So much else is going on. It's amazing to me how much time was devoted to thoughts on being pretty and belonging and having a friend and the cute boy kissing me. Really? I mean, none of these things are bad in and of themselves. They are normal teen concerns. Alina Starkov is NOT a normal teen. This is NOT a normal situation. This is NOT a normal setting. Flesh. Eating. Monsters. Tacking on to that, I had a problem with the way beauty was handled in this book. All the magical people are beautiful. The palace is beautiful. The queen is beautiful. Genya is beautiful. There is a whole, "let's look in the mirror and enjoy how beautiful we are" scene. Yeah, yeah. Fuck you all. Sorry for my language, but not really. I'm not sure why Bardugo is obsessed with beauty, or why that comes across in her story, but I would've preferred if our potentially kick-ass heroine with the unique magical power were not so concerned with the bags under her eyes. There are few elements in the story that could have been grating, but that Bardugo managed to integrate well. Firstly is Alina's confidence, or lack there of. Alina doesn't believe in herself for the first part of the book. She's thin, weak and sickly. She doesn't believe that there could be anything special about her. It could read in an annoying way but two things help and work here: 1.) Alina still has some fight in her. She's quick, witty, and smart. In the face of danger, she will still run even if she doesn't believe she can get away. 2.) There is an explanation. There is a reason outside of self-esteem issues for why her body is sick and I really liked it. It was a key moment for me while reading. Another one of these elements is what can be considered a love triangle. It's a love triangle-lite, I promise. It never comes off as a "which boy should I pick?!" situation, thank God. These two men, Mal and the Darkling, almost exist on different planes. I liked both Mal and the Darkling, though it felt like we got to spend a little more time falling for the Darkling. He's easy to root for as a handsome and powerful man. A big turning point comes courtesy of the dynamic between Alina and the Darkling and I'm okay with admitting that while it could've been obvious, Barduga pulled me deep enough into her story that I didn't see it coming. A bit of the relationship between Darling and Alina was ruined for me later by what the author says about it in retrospect. I would've loved it if Alina would've admitted that she was falling for him. Why not? He paid attention to her, looked after her, was funny, is handsome, and he's in a place of power, where everyone can look up and admire him. Instead, we get "I hated him and yet my heart betrayed me and felt his magical pull," bullshit. I might've groaned, "oh baby Jesus. Not a magical pull...!" It makes Alina seem weak in a way she never did, even as she struggled through her training. It was a little too, "us girls can never control our silly emotions" or worse, "my mind is saying no, but my body is saying yes." Give me a break. A lot of the positive reviews include a lot of touting of Bardugo's writing style. I don't get that. It wasn't bad, by any means, but I also didn't see anything special there. I did appreciate that she let a lot of the world develop for us. Yes, we didn't know everything that was going on at first, but I like when an author trusts my intelligence enough to let me slowly piece things together; to learn the world and its elements. I hate info dumps. The dialogue was all nicely done and I felt like I could picture a lot of what was described, but again, I'm not sure that I would say the writing was extraordinary. I enjoyed the climax and resolution except for the very last conflict. The big moment comes courtesy of a realization and I just hate that. More often than not it feels like a cheap way out, and to me, it felt that way here. Oh a big scary, life or death moment? I SUDDENLY REALIZE SOMETHING. And bam, here we come resolution. Meh. As for the ending, I felt okay with it. Too many times in trilogies too little is resolved at the end of the first book. I felt like we had a conclusion to THIS book, but still enough cliffhangers to lead us into the next. In the end, I feel like this was a strong debut and a good opening to the Grisha Trilogy. I'd recommend it to my YA enthusiast friends. The ones I know like a good fantasy trilogy. I don't entirely get all the fangirl squee'ing, but, different strokes, y'know?