Shadow and Bone (Book #1 of the Grisha Trilogy)
Fantasy / Young Adult
Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, she is sure of only one thing: her best friend, Mal – and her inconvenient crush on him. Until the day their army regiment enters the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. When their convoy is attacked and Mal is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power not even she knew existed.
Ripped from everything she knows, Alina is taken to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. With Alina’s extraordinary power in his arsenal, he believes they can finally destroy the Fold. Now Alina must find a way to master her untamed gift and somehow fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. As the threat to the kingdom mounts and her dangerous attraction to the Darkling grows, Alina will uncover a secret that could tear her heart – and her country – in two.
Rating: 4.75 / 5
It’s been KILLING me that I finished Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone about three weeks ago and I’ve had zero time to write the review. In fact, when I started writing this, I was afraid I’d forgotten everything about the book! Luckily it’s coming back to me now – and that’s a good thing, because Shadow and Bone is an incredible start to what I hope is a fantastic trilogy.
Within a few chapters, I found reason after reason to love Shadow and Bone and blazed through the story faster than I’d expected. First of all, there’s Ravka, the richly developed world inspired by tsarist Russia. The rustic villages, bleak tundra, and ornate royal palace seemed so real in my imagination; and the names of characters and towns had that distinctive Russian feel to them. When I wasn’t reading the book and was outside wearing my new L.L. Bean winter parka, I often felt I had momentarily gone to Ravka. 🙂 The Grisha’s environment was amply fleshed out as well, from their elitist beliefs and color-coded attire to the conflicts within their ranks. And we can’t forget about the magic system, which draws from both elements and chemistry. Not everything is revealed in this book, but I have a feeling I’ll learn more as the series continues.
The characters of Shadow and Bone are wonderful, too. I connected quickly with Alina and admired her for her pragmatism, frankness, and compassion. She’s no “Mary Sue,” though; she has her flaws and weaknesses, and makes some bad decisions as a result. But how can you have a real story if the protagonist is always right? I also liked Mal for his duality, a charming young man who carries a ton of weight on his shoulders. And if I had to choose, my two favorite minor characters would be the servant Genya (a bit superficial, but she means well) and Alina’s instructor Baghra (talk about having a no-nonsense attitude!).
The Darkling needs his own paragraph, and for good reason. Some readers loathe him for his manipulative, slippery ways; others think he’s an awesome villain. Me? I think the Darkling is somewhat one-dimensional, but I still liked him a lot. There were points early on in Shadow and Bone that I actually sympathized with him, and I held onto a sliver of hope that he was being sincere – even though I suspected his true intentions (and I was right!).
By the way, don’t be alarmed of the implied “love triangle” with the three main characters. It’s more of a case of being lured to the dark side without truly knowing it. 😉
Shadow and Bone might also be one of the most well-written fantasy novels I’ve read recently, regardless of the target audience. Bardugo offers lush descriptions, visceral reactions, witty dialogue, and sharp action verbs. The setting and the execution of magic in particular leapt to life because of her fluid, vivid writing style. Like with Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See, I wrote in a journal any words and phrases that resonated with me. (Something tells me this “note-keeping” will become a reading ritual.) I love it when the quality of a book’s writing excites me as much as the story itself.
So, now you know why I not only tore through Shadow and Bone is a matter of days, but also why I adore it. An original fantasy world of darkness, color, and intrigue; well-rounded characters led by a relatable heroine; gorgeous writing that enhances the escapism this genre provides – they’re also factors that make Bardugo’s first installment to the Grisha Trilogy a must-read for fans of both YA and adult fantasy. The only critique I have is that I sometimes wished there was a glossary to help me fully understand or imagine the Russian-esque terms. Otherwise, I can’t wait to return to Ravka and see what happens next to Alina in Siege and Storm!
Have you read Shadow and Bone? What did you think of it? If you haven’t read it yet, do you think you might check it out based on what you’ve read above? Let me know by commenting below or visiting the same review at Amazon or Goodreads.