Title: Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: YA / Fantasy
Series: The Grisha Trilogy
Synopsis: Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart. (taken from Goodreads)
So it’s pretty obvious that I’m a little late hopping aboard the Grisha love train. I’ve seen it around but never bothered picking it up (for reasons I will never understand to this day). I debated whether I should still post a review but I figured eh, what the hell.
I read the Six of Crows duology, unaware that it had been an extension of the Grisha-verse. So when I found out, I knew I had to read the Grisha Trilogy too and boy, do I regret not reading it sooner. It’s not a perfect book, and certainly not the best I’ve ever read. Shadow and Bone suffers from numerous (and not to mention cliché) YA tropes, but it was still fully immersive, and it made me fall even deeper in love with Bardugo’s wonderfully complex world.
The characters were okay at best. Likable but not lovable. Alina bears a resemblance to practically almost every other YA heroine out there and seems to focus on romance more than anything else. Her best friend and love interest, Mal, isn’t much better. The only exception is the Darkling, who might be one of the most fascinating YA antagonists I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. The story as a whole was intriguing as well as exciting and, despite a few eye roll worthy moments here and there, it managed to get me hooked enough to want more.
This portion of the review is a slightly more in-depth discussion of the book and will contain spoilers/rants/raves. Read at your own discretion.
That was one heck of a book. Okay okay, hear me out. It’s by no means perfect. There are a shit ton of flaws (that I will point out in a little while). Like I said in my short review, the book relied on so many YA tropes. I had already anticipated it going into the book, since those tropes are most especially prevalent in first books or first series in general. While the Six of Crows (SoC) duology offered me a thrilling heist with a ragtag group of criminals and outcasts, Shadow and Bone leaned a little more towards the whole “chosen one” storyline featuring that one plain-looking protagonist caught in a love triangle. See how cliché that sounds? But for some reason, it works.
Admittedly, the world-building itself for this book was slightly lacking. I’ve seen several complaints about the how the world was confusing but because I already read SoC prior, I didn’t have too much trouble with it. In fact, it was actually exciting to be thrust back into the familiar world of Grisha. Since the events in SoC happen after the Grisha Trilogy, it actually felt like I was opening a history book of sorts. I also might have squealed and went “KAZ AND THE GANG ARE FROM THERE” when Alina and Mal were set to sail for Kerch.
I do understand where the complaints were coming from though. We weren’t given much information about the other places and how their people were. If it weren’t for SoC, I would have no idea what Fjerda or Shu Han or Kerch was like. Maybe I’ll get that in book two. So the story takes place in an alternate version of Russia, and I had to look up some of the terms because my only knowledge on Russia is pretty much just based off Don Bluth’s Anastasia film. But aside from that, I thought Bardugo managed to create a believable and intriguing world rich with culture. Special mention to the Shadow Fold because that was an amazing pocket of the world and I’m really excited to delve deeper into its mysteries.
I absolutely loved the magic system… or science system, I guess? There was an explanation behind the Grisha’s abilities: the principle of the Small Science.
“The grounding principle of the Small Science was “like calls to like,” but then it got complicated. Odinakovost was the “thisness” of a thing that made it the same as everything else. Etovost was the “thatness” of a thing that made it different from everything else. Odinakovost connected Grisha to the world, but it was etovost that gave them an affinity for something like air, or blood, or in my case, light.”
What I love about the concept is that it doesn’t just pertain to a Grisha’s relationship with a certain element. It can also be applied to a Grisha’s relationship with another person or Grisha, as evidenced by how Alina immediately felt a strong attraction towards the Darkling and vice versa due to the similarities (and uniqueness) of their powers. Like calls to like.
I liked Alina as a character. I found myself connecting with her more than I had expected to. She was snarky, stubborn, and still managed to be fun, even when things were rough. I did have a few issues with her. She seemed to prioritize her romantic feelings over important things, which I found annoying. But overall, she was a pleasant enough character to read. My favorite part had to be when she performed alongside the Darkling during the winter fete. That was the point in the story when I began to truly feel that Alina finally accepted her powers and was actually proud of it. The scene played so, so smoothly in my head and had me grinning madly.
A lot of people really hate Mal. I’m sort of neutral here. I don’t hate him but I’m not going crazy for him either. While he certainly wasn’t the most interesting character, he remained loyal to Alina. I appreciate that. One thing I disliked about Mal though was how he didn’t appreciate Alina until he lost her. I guess it’s understandable because they’ve been together since they were children, and the possibility that they could be separated had probably never occurred to Mal. Still, it would have been nice if, you know, Mal actually showed Alina that he cared for her as more than just a friend even before Alina got taken away.
I think I share the entire fandom’s love for the Darkling. A seductive and charismatic antagonist with an unquenchable thirst for power? Sign me the fuck up. I was surprised by the Darkling’s initial demeanor. Like Alina, I wanted to trust him. He seemed so kind and genuine that I had to wonder what the hell people were talking about when they said he was evil. Then everything just fell into place so perfectly and hot damn. I don’t know whether I love him because of his brilliance or I hate him because of his cruelty. Probably both.
So let’s get to the nitty gritty. The things I didn’t like about this book (a.k.a all the YA cliches and tropes I’m so tired of seeing). First off, we have the “chosen one” thing going on. Alina is a Sun Summoner, the only Grisha that has the power to stop the Darkling. Special snowflake right there. Next, we have the love triangle. Alina has a thing for the Darkling, as well as her childhood best friend Mal. And I heard there was a third one coming up (a certain King that appeared in Crooked Kingdom). I was actually spoiled (it’s really, really difficult not to be when you hang around the SoC/Grisha fandom) so I already knew who the endgame was even before I bought the book. I guess that was the reason why the love triangle didn’t actually bother me as much.
We also have the whole beauty thing where Alina was described as a skinny, plain-looking girl at the start of the book. There were instances where Genya, a Tailor, would fix up her appearance and get rid of her imperfections. But I’ll give this specific trope a pass since Alina constantly suppressing her powers had been the reason she was frail. Having to do so is draining, and it makes sense that she’d be affected physically as well. Then we have the old jealous bitch archetype with Zoya. She’s this attractive Squaller who resents Alina for being so close to the Darkling, and is outright bitter towards her throughout entire novel. Yeah, this is one trope I can definitely do without.
I actually found the plot sort of weird. It was fast-paced but at the same time, I kind of felt like nothing much happened? The plot mostly consisted of Alina training, learning to accept her powers, and trying to figure out her mess of a love life. Some parts felt rushed but I honestly hadn’t noticed it until I finished the book. I think it might have to do with the author’s writing style. I’ve always found Bardugo’s writing incredibly easy to read, and I hadn’t even realized I was already nearing the end until I ran out of pages.
I was torn between rating this a three (objectively, it felt like a three) or a four (because I really, really enjoyed this book despite my criticisms of it), so I settled for a three-point-five! Great first start to a story I’m excited to see unfold.