The Shadow and Bone trilogy focuses on Alina Starkov and introduces the world of Ravka and the Grisha. Grisha are people with special abilities, and most of them can be sorted into three groups - Corporalki, Etherealki, and Materialki. Corporalki can manipulate the body; Etherealki can manipulate wind, water, and fire; and Materialki can manipulate matter, like glass and metal. In Ravka, Grisha are respected members of the nation's Second Army, led by a man simply known as the Darkling. The Darkling is a little different than your average Grisha - he has the ability to manipulate darkness, bringing forth shadows and shade, even on the brightest of days. The Second Army has always been led by a Darkling, including the one known as the Black Heretic, whose lust for power created the Shadow Fold, a great swath of darkness filled with monsters that cuts Ravka off from its ports, forcing the country into near-constant war with its neighbors to the north and south.
When we first meet Alina, she and her regiment are headed for the Shadow Fold in an attempt to cross over to West Ravka and bring back supplies. Life in the Ravkan army is okay, though Alina has been feeling out of sorts, especially since her best friend (and secret crush) Mal Oretsev, has done well in the army, making friends and proving his worth. Everything changes though when their attempted crossing is beset by volcra, the monsters that live in the Shadow Fold, and Mal is attacked. As Alina tries to keep him from being carried off, there is a bright burst of light. Alina is a Sun Summoner, and is Ravka's best hope at destroying the Shadow Fold - well, once she learns how to use her power. Soon, she is whisked away to the Little Palace, where all Grisha learn how to use their abilities and live in comfort. Her days are now filled with training, learning Grisha theory, and the Darkling (oh, the Darkling). But the Darkling's intentions aren't exactly noble, as Alina comes to learn. As the story unfolds over the three books, she finds herself pulled in different directions, and representing different things to different people. Whether they think she is a living saint, an orphaned girl, or a Grisha general - at the end of the day, she is just a girl with a power that can transform the world.
I'm a huge fan of this series and this world. While this trilogy does fit fairly neatly into the "chosen one with special powers who must save the world" arm of fantasy, Bardugo does a great job of characterizing Alina and her struggle to define herself, especially when so many people want her to be something that doesn't feel true to her. I also like the eastern European and Russian touches to Ravka - at the time the series was first published, that set it apart a bit from all of the other YA fantasies coming out. And, in true YA style, there is also just enough pining and romance to give a break from some of the heavier aspects of the story. So, if you like YA, trilogies, fast-paced stories, or if you watched the Netflix show and just want to know what the books are like, check these out!