My favorite kind of audiobook is something that I would have considered fine but nothing special if it hadn't been for the performance. I mean, a great book turned into a great audiobook is tautologically great, but I like it when a book that might not have been entirely worth my time is elevated by an excellent performance.
So I'm glad I found Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo, narrated by Lauren Fortgang. I've been meaning to read the book for ages, but I just sort of never got around to it, and to tell you the truth, it's that kind of book--YA fantasy that entertains but doesn't stick to your ribs. It's got a pretty great Russian-type setting, which is very nice, especially when the things like royal opulence vs. peasant misery are carried over.
Still, though, it was mostly your standard ultra-average-girl-finds-out-she's-the-chosen-one storyline. There are some twists and turns, some good, some heavy-handed. It's a pretty good book.
But what it's great at is filling my need for an audiobook. The reader has a very matter-of-fact voice, and she brings a lot more skepticism and sarcasm than the voice in my head would have heard for Lina's voice. I also think that her very American accent did a lot to keep any parts of the book with high fantasy pretensions grounded--I didn't get lost in Fantasy Story mode because the reader kept Lina a real person, reminding me of her flaws and feelings when the writing itself might have skated over them.
So the kingdom of Ravka is divided in half by an impenetrable desert of blackness called the Shadow Fold (note that all spellings and capitalizations are guesses on my part), which can be crossed thanks to the powers of the grisha (magic-wielders). Ravka suffers--cut off from her ports, the Shadow Fold only crossable with heavy casualties (man-eating creatures live there in the dark), at war on all borders.
Then Lina, an orphaned apprentice cartographer in the army, is discovered to have latent magic powers--sun-summoning powers, which could help the Darkling (head of the grisha) to destroy the Shadow Fold. She's whisked away from her life into the glamorous world of the grisha.
Now, if I'd written this review yesterday, it would have been all upbeat, but I'm closing in on the ending and I have to warn you that the climax of the story relies on something that, while not quite a deus ex machina, had me throwing up my hands in frustration. It's a plot point, and it's kind of spoilery so I won't give any details at all, but I will say that I could let what seems like a tonal inconsistency surrounding the magical system go, but I seriously rolled my eyes when the big twist came at the very last moment for no reason. Like, Glinda, why didn't you tell Dorothy about the shoes back in Munchkinland and save her all that walking?
So I have to admit that that had me pretty infuriated. And I see what the author is trying to do--to show that what seemed to be Lina's weakness is really her strength, and to paint her as genuinely flawed, because some bad decisions get made there. But in service of that admirable goal, there are some shenanigans that took me out of the spell that the story had on me, and that was a shame.
So, I'm giving this four stars overall, but one full star of that belongs to Lauren Fortgang, as does my intent to immediately acquire the sequel. In audiobook form of course.