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“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing.

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"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."— J.K. Rowling

Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo The biggest issue with this book is actually NOT the utter fail at correctly incorporating the Russian elements into the story.It's that I'd never be able to pick this book out of a generic YA book lineup.It's like a ninja, perfectly blending into its surroundings, into that painfully generic landscape that plagues YA literature recently, the lackluster background against which few gems truly stand out. And gem this one is not.I think at this point there is a formula that many YA writers view as foolproof, and that's what we have got working here. First of all, the story has to be told in the first person by a young female protagonist.¹ And so here we have a teenage girl who thinks of herself as unremarkable and plain² but at least she has the three winning S's - she's smart and sarcastic and sassy!³¹ Why does it seem that almost every YA story nowadays features the first-person narrative by a teenage girl? Is that a new law?² We know she is plain because she has the ugliness-defining brown hair, a YA prerequisite for plainness. Also, she is too skinny, which apparently is a common YA flaw.Skinny brown-haired women, ladies and gentlemen. The ugliness is overpowering, right?³ Or, actually, that's what we're *supposed* to think. What she comes across is the OTHER S's: sullen, sulky and self-absorbed. She is also a bit stupid¹. Oh, and also specially-equipped-to-see-negatives-in-every-situation-including-perfectly-happy-times. Seriously, coming from poverty and harsh military life, she still finds the will to complain about a horrible horrible day in what amounts to the Dreamland of this kingdom because people were soooooo meeeeeeeeeaaaaaaan to her, woe!¹ Case in point for stupidity - you don't mouth off to the second most powerful person in the kingdom who you believe is capable of evil. You just don't. It does not come across as sassy but as stupid.Anyway, then she finds a super-special snowlake-unique power that apparently no one realized she had, and eventually becomes all pretty and desirable and stuff. And lands herself in a boarding school/king's court full of mean girls¹ and even has several makeovers! Along the way, she unexpectedly becomes a fighting badass! And then there are two hot boys² swooning over her! ¹ Why is it that most pretty girls in books like these always have to be evil to the plain-Jane protagonist? Why do women writing about women tend to vilify women? (Yes, I loved writing the word 'women' three times in that short sentence.) I know, I know, there is Genya who is nice, but all other pretty women are eeeeevillll or stupid.² Well, in all honesty, one of them could make centenarians look like children. And it does turn out that it's not just Alina's inner and outer beauty that turn him on but that he actually has an ulterior motive for pursuing her. Therefore this love triangle gets snuffed out rather quickly. But I do think that this ill-fated almost-romance/attraction will come into play in the sequels, however.At some point, she inevitably makes a requisite decision about self-sacrifice for a noble cause, if needed. There are declarations of undying love. She also makes big and stupid decisions for the sake of loooooovvvvvvvveeeeeeeee.Sounds pretty generic, doesn't it? Yes, it does. But the attempt at drawing inspiration from Russian culture could have set it apart from the other generic stories for the largely Western-centric crowd.See, adding some Rusianness is supposed to make your story infinitely cooler, right?But alas, that did not happen. If not for occasionally thrown in exotic-sounding (to a Westerner) Russian names for people and objects (add a samovar to a story and occasionally call your king a tsar for your ethnic flavor!), you would really not be able to tell where this story is supposed to take place. I guess the real country where it's set is the faceless characterless dystopic YA-landia with the traditional settings, stock responses, and common conventions.============================But since I read this book for its butchered (and really inconsequential) Russianness¹, I will spend some more time discussing it. (Tatiana, by the way, has written an excellent review touching on this subject.)¹Speaking of getting so many Russian things wrong. Well, first of all, why do we even care? Well, the reasons are twofold and both stem from the fact that Russia is the biggest country on the planet, which means that:(a) It should be pretty easy to find information about its culture and language, including a native Russian speaker beta-reader, perhaps.(b) There are quite a few people in this world that will be easily able to spot out what you did wrong.Also, don't give me BS about the country of Ravka not being Russia but simply being inspired by it. Bullshit. You use Russian names and Russian words in your book - therefore I will assume that Russian is indeed the language you are using. End of story.The titular 'Grisha' is still what makes me cringe. Every. Single. Time. It is a diminutive of a Russian name Grigori, and roughly equivalent to English 'Greg'. Just imagine you reading a story where the elite yielding mysterious powers is collectively known as 'Mike' or 'Bob' or 'Billy'. Do I need to say more?..............................Grigori Rasputin. His mom probably called him Grisha.Since Alina is a woman, her last name should be a feminine version of Starkov. Basically, her last name is Starkova.¹¹My original thought that maybe in this world Russians just stopped distinguishing between feminine and masculine last names was proven wrong when there was a mention of the character who does possess a feminine name - Morozova². Therefore I must conclude that the distinction is preserved in Ravka.²Interestingly, the character with the feminine last name Morozova has a masculine first name - Ilya. So either this world is flip-flopped in that way, or Bardugo could not bring herself to do a simple google search of name Ilya to see where it was a boy or a girl. It is NEVER a female name, despite ending in a vowel (just like Nikita is only a male name, by the way). It's particularly annoying because a 10-second google search could have spared this mistake; no knowledge of Russian culture is even necessary here!'Otkazat'sya' really does NOT mean 'abandoned'. It means 'to refuse'. It's a verb and should not be used as a noun. A 5-second Google translate search gives me a better version than Bardugo came up with.KVAS. OH MY GOD, KVAS. Dear Alina, a boy who groped you while drunk on kvas does not have an excuse of drunkenness, after all. Kvas is a fermented drink containing less than 1% alcohol. You'd have to drink a barrel of it to be drunk, after which you'd be too busy peeing nonstop rather than groping girls. For crying out loud, my mom let me drink it when I was a toddler. Getting drunk on kvas is like suggesting that people get drunk on Seven-Up. Therefore comparing champagne and kvas is like comparing oranges to chalk or monkeys to cactus. Same kid after 10 years of kvas drinking. Dangerous drink, I say, dangerous!Now, there were good things about this book, too, don't get me wrong. It was a very easy read in a relatively decent prose. It flowed well (but so did Twilight, after all). The love triangle died in utero. There was an actual plot and not just lovesick gazing. The love interest was actually a rather decent guy who is not tortured by his dark past.But there was NOTHING about this story that allowed it to stand out even a little bit out of the uniform landscape of similar books. Nothing except the little frustrations with the misused Russian inspiration. I guess you'd like it if you're looking for another book that's "just like" a fantastical book with a young heroine and a love story that you read and loved. If you're looking for any originality, it's not there. Therefore I award it the lackluster 2 stars.