You know, I've always loved the Middle Ages in Western Europe (I was OBSESSED with it as a kid), but Eastern Europe is really my motherland. It's fantastic to finally read some nice Slavic fantasy! I felt right at home in Ravka.
I'm 100% Ukrainian, and I grew up in a household that celebrated all the holidays in the traditional Ukrainian way. I grew up with Ukrainian folktales (lots of talking animals), and a good bunch of Western ones made to sound more Slavic. Snow White is a Western fairy tale, right? My first introduction to it was through this epic Ukrainian picture book:
|(The publisher's name is awesome: A-BA-BA-HA-LA-MA-HA. Seriously.)|
Anyway, back to Shadow and Bone. Leigh Bardugo's world felt so much like the fantasy Ukraine in my head did when I was told folktales as a kid. Every country or culture in our world has their own "structure" for folktales. You know the classic ones from Western lit: There once was an old king and he had three sons (of course, the youngest one gets the girl. WHY?). There once was princess with an evil stepmother. Etc, etc, etc.
The Eastern ones generally start like this: There once was an old [very old - like grandparents old] couple who really wanted to have kids - but couldn't. Or: Deep in the forest there lived [insert animal].
And there's usually a Baba Yaga (old witch that lives in a house that stands on chicken feet, like this:)
|Creds to LiaSelena's DeviantArt page for this awesome work!|
My point is - there are things that are inherent to Slavic folktales, just as there are things that are inherant to Western ones. And Leigh Bardugo makes Shadow and Bone just feel Slavic, even if it doesn't have Baba Yagas and talking animals. There are little things that make it feel so comfortable and homey for someone like me who's been raised with this stuff.
Firstly, the Ravkan words are almost all near-legitimate translations with real Slavic roots. I don't think Leigh Bardugo is at all Slavic (the bio in my book says she was born in Jerusalem), so I highly commend her on going that extra mile and creating a language that feels Slavic, sounds Slavic, but isn't Russian, Ukrainian, Polish or whatever. It's just some Slavic language. THAT'S AWESOME. And a ton of work for someone who isn't even from a Slavic background. WA.
(I found this post where she talks about creating the Ravkan language. I totally picked up on a ton of stuff she talks about in that article!)
By the way, as she mentions in her article, kvas is real:
As she says, in the books it's a stand-in for vodka, but in reality it's not alcoholic. It's fermented rye bread.
Also, kefta is clearly taken from the word kaftan, which is basically a Ravkan kefta.
I love how the words are sort of the same but not exactly. This gets me SO EXCITED.
Okay, enough about the worldbuilding, which you can clearly see I ADORE.
On to characters.
I think Mal is inching his way towards a spot my Literary Crushes list. We'll see if the next two books put him on it. I'm sort of hoping they do. :-) The Darkling, on the other hand.... everyone talks about how he's so sexy, so desirable, so yummy. To be honest, he creeps me out. I have no interest whatsoever in bad boys, and don't really see why some people think that they are so attractive - in fact, they scare me. Nice boys all the way!
But as a Character - the Darkling's pretty great. I think it's commendable that he creeps me out so much, since that means he's pretty well written.
Alina is fantastic, and I'm looking forward to seeing her development in the next two novels.
The writing itself seemed.... simple? No, that's not it. I don't exactly know how to describe it, but let's just say I felt like I whizzed through the book. I don't want it to sound like a bad thing. It's just I felt like the story was just washing over me and I barely gave any effort to actually reading it. Maybe it was just such a contrast to recently-read books like Gone With the Wind.
Anyway, it was an excellent book and I was SO excited to finally read some Slavic fantasy. I can't wait to read the next two books, especially now with all this hype about Ruin and Rising! I'm feeling so behind.
If you've read Shadow and Bone - what did you think? If you haven't - have you read any other Slavic fantasy, and do you have any recs for me? Or even any other non-Western fantasy - I'd love to read some!