Book Review: Shadow and Bone
Fresh off ending my love affair with Cassandra Clare’s shadowhunters, I needed a new fantasy to get lost in this summer (although it was hard to say goodbye). Although I’m a little late to the party, Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy was just the ticket, taking me on a journey through Ravka, a fictional Russian-esque land torn in two by an ominous “swath of near impenetrable darkness” where carnivorous monsters dwell called the Shadow Fold.
An action-packed page-turner, Shadow and Bone takes some common YA themes–isolation, trust and betrayal, self-acceptance, and even love triangles–to a deeper level. The story opens with a girl and boy at an orphange being tested for powers by the Grisha, Ravka’s “magical elite.” Neither are found to be very promising. Fast forward a dozen or so years and our orphan heroine, Alina Starkov, is an all-grown-up but lonely mapmaker in the Ravkan Army. Her best friend, Mal (Malyen Oretsev), has grown into a handsome and well-liked tracker, who also happens to be very popular with the ladies. (Womp, womp for our leading lady.)
While entering the Shadow Fold, their regiment is attacked by the volcra (monsters), and Mal is hurt. In response, Alina unknowingly unleashes pillars of light to fight off the volcra, giving the regiment enough time to retreat. Turns out Alina’s power is unique. She is then taken to the Darkling (what’s in a name, indeed), the leader of the Grisha. He tells Alina he wants her help in destroying the Shadow Fold and the volcra, and decides to send her to the Ravkan palace to train with the other Grisha.
Once again, Alina finds herself feeling lonely and out of place. Except now she’s at a palace with the magical ability to summon light. And, actually, she’s not even very good at summoning it. The rest of the first book focuses on Alina’s struggle to accept who she is and learn to command her power, something she only accomplishes after she let’s the thought of Mal go. She and the Darkling develop a connection in that both of them are unique in their abilities, even among Grisha. (Hello, love triangle!)
SPOILER PARAGRAPH: The Darkling tells Alina that they need the antlers of a stag from Morozova’s Herd–an ancient, magical group of white deer–to act as an amplifier to her powers. The Darkling sends hunters–including Mal, who is unnaturally skilled as a tracker–after the herd. All seems to be going well, until Alina learns that the Darkling actually intends to use the amplifier to essentially enslave her and abuse her power. Plot twist, anyone? It gets worse, though. The Darkling is (wait for it)… the one who created the Shadow Fold hundreds of years ago! Alina decides her only hope is to beat the Darkling at his own game and find the stag (with Mal’s help). I’ll leave the rest of the plot out to avoid completely giving the book away.
As an avid fantasy/YA reader, one concern I have when starting a new series is that protagonists are often the least interesting characters to me (I’m looking at you, Bella Swan). In Alina, however, Bardugo delivers a powerful, but often insecure, and compassionate heroine defined not only by her abilities, but also by her choices. And choices have real consequences in Ravka, for everyone. Marianne Williamson’s quote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us,” offers a very interesting parallel to Alina’s journey.
Even in a magical world, Alina realistically reacts to stimuli in her environment. She is relatable, because–like many readers, especially children and teens–she feels invisible. Ultimately, she is able to embrace her power and identity. This is certainly not a unique theme, especially in YA, and neither is the love triangle that develops. Like The Hunger Games, the heroine’s choice is between what is familiar and what is new. And even though the Darkling’s intentions are less than altruistic (his name is the Darkling, for crying out loud!) he sees, and even admires, Alina for exactly who she is, something Mal was unable to do. And while I love Alina, the Darkling and some of the secondary characters are very intriguing to me. The benefit of a series is that there is space to develop other characters, and I hope Bardugo takes the time to flesh out his back story.
The plus side of being late to the Grisha party (maybe my invitation was lost in the Shadow Fold?), is that I don’t have to wait so long for the next book, Siege and Storm. The last book, Ruin and Rising, comes out later this month. Sidenote: These are some of the most beautiful and unique cover designs I’ve seen in a long time.
If you like fantasy, Shadow and Bone ticks many of the important boxes: kick-ass heroine, magic, flying monkeys–err–monsters, carriage races, and the imminent threat of dictatorship. Shadow and Bone does have something for everyone, and I would recommend this book as a great gift, especially for teens or people who are not big readers. The book really drives home the message that the most important thing is to be able to see–and love–yourself for who you are. The people who really matter will learn to follow suit. And with all this action, it reads like a movie plot. Maybe that’s why the rights have already been picked up for a possible movie deal?
My Rating: 8/10
Did you read Shadow and Bone? Tell me what you thought with a comment below.