Have you ever read a book and then felt somewhat uncomfortable because it shared some unexpected similarities with the book you were writing? This year, I've actually been seeking out books that had something in common with my book, but the similarities in Shadow and Bone snuck up on me in a mildly uncomfortable way. For one thing, there was a couple of characters who have magical abilities that are uncannily similar to a couple characters in my own book. (And both of them were powers that I congratulated myself on inventing.) In addition to that, there was a major plot twist that was also very similar to a plot twist in my, erm, series. And while, yes, yes, I know, nothing is original, everyone treats this story element differently, blah, blah, blah, it still made me a bit uncomfortable.
Maybe that's why I had reservations about enjoying this book. Back when I read Wanderlove, I recognized that it was a very good book, but because of certain insecurities that I was facing at the time, it was a bit difficult for me to enjoy it. I guess something similar happened with Shadow and Bone. It's a good book. It really is. But because of the similarities to my own book, I felt like I was judging it with much higher standards. The story overall is very good--good characters, good plot twists, interesting and unique world-building. But there were a lot of smaller issues that I had with it.
1) The magic and "powers" felt inconsistent. This is kind of weird to explain, but it seemed like there were no underlying "rules" regarding what kind of magic was and wasn't possible. While it was mostly X-Men style (ie, each character has one particular type of power), it seemed to work along the lines of following the author's whims. ("Okay, I need this kind of thing to happen, so I'm going to throw in this other random ability.") Like, for example, there's this random power called "the Cut" that only the most powerful Grisha characters have, and that's in addition to whatever power they have. Also some of the powers just felt silly (one girl has the ability to make people pretty). And what about Alina's power? How exactly does everyone recognize it if she's the only person in the world to have that power? Have there been Sun Summoners before her? The only other alternative I can think of is a prophecy, but the former seems much more likely. (Then again, this last part is something that might be explained in future books.)
2) The Grisha school (don't remember what it was called). I usually don't like high school type settings because they're rife with unrealistic stereotypes. I mean, seriously, does every book need to have a token mean girl?
3) Alina's actions in the end were somewhat hypocritical/nonsensical. She is against the Darkling killing people, but she has no problem abandoning a bunch of innocent foreign ambassadors when she leaves the Fray. Also, I don't understand why she didn't tell Mal about the amplifier.
So as you can see, most of my criticism is over small things. But this is an enjoyable book, and I definitely want to read Siege and Storm. Especially since we get to learn more about the Darkling.
Edit 3/21/2013: Kendall at Blogging for YA picked up on a lot of problems that I missed. And now I realize that I completely agree with her. So maybe I wasn't just experiencing competitive high standards. (I still want to read the next one, though.)