Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Published: June 5th, 2012 by Henry Holt & Co.
Genres: Fantasy, young adult, paranormal
Trigger Warnings: Violence, blood, implications of past rape (but nothing is explicitly stated)
Pages: 356 pgs.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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.
Shadow and Bone is the first installment in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy.
Let the record show that my friend Maggie is to blame for putting the thought in my head that I should read this book. It wasn’t too long ago that I was standing in my local Books-a-Million, asking her over our joint Facebook message what I should get to read next; almost immediately, I got a response filled with all-caps and exclamation points: “GET SHADOW AND BONE!!!!!!!! GRISHA!!!!!!!!!!” Of course, I didn’t listen, but her recommendation always sat in the back of my head — maybe I should have at least picked it up at the library to see what the hype was about among the blogging community. However, that’s exactly what I did. I’ve made no secret of my disdain of some of the more hyped books found among the blogosphere, but I’m so pleased with the way Shadow and Bone turned out; it exceeded all of my expectations and then some.
Leigh Bardugo’s first book follows seventeen-year-old orphan Alina Starkov on the front lines of the Shadow Fold — an expanse of darkness harboring bloodthirsty creatures that separates her home country Ravka from the ports. A mapmaker by trade, Alina learns that she’s not quite as mundane as she once thought; once her regiment crosses into the Fold, she unleashes an inner power left boiling inside her since childhood. She’s immediately whisked away from toiling on the front and is dropped directly into the lap of luxury afforded to all Grisha, people who possess powers to manipulate certain elements. Alina’s unique power sets her far apart from other Grisha — and an important part of the plans for Ravka’s future.
My recent stints into fantasy have left me overall disappointed with the genre, but reading Shadow and Bone has invigorated me once again. Within this book’s covers lies a story about trust, self-discovery, and perseverance that is charming from start to finish. Does that sound ultra corny? Yes. Is this book anything but? YES. Bardugo has quite the skill in creating a world so multifaceted and realistic, despite the obvious fantasy elements, that it was almost tangible. I was fully convinced that, yeah, okay, an alternate Russia exists where the Bolshevik Revolution never happened and, instead, there are people who literally can control air, light, darkness, and other people. Her writing style is effortless, capturing me from the word “go” so that I wanted to do nothing more but to read this book from cover to cover.
Furthermore, Alina makes a fine main character, realizing within herself the things that are holding her back from unlocking her full potential. She doesn’t even believe that she’s Grisha at first until her powers become amplified by the presence of the Darkling, the leader of the Grisha. I really enjoyed following her development arc, especially once she realized that it wasn’t any external forces that controlled her destiny other than her own decisions and influence. Additionally, she isn’t a hard-line “good” character, as a contrast to a lot of chosen-one heroines. She makes some downright dirty decisions from time to time really to further her own self-interests, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a fascinating turn that I’m not used to seeing, so I’m intrigued to see where Bardugo takes us in the next books.
Furthermore, I liked how the romance played out in this book. It wasn’t necessarily in the forefront of the story like what’s seen so often in young adult, but Alina realizes that her pining after people can only prove to be disastrous for herself. The romance that does end up naturally blossoming comes only after the characters have a frank, honest discussion about their feelings without any pretense of “Oh, you’re my hero!!” Granted, the Darkling is described as dark, brooding, and handsome — which essentially outlines my partner to a T — so I couldn’t help but be enamored by him like Alina was, up until a certain extent.
However, books like this are not without fault. I wish that every other female character — with the exception of Baghra — wasn’t portrayed as some kind of shallow, self-possessed bitch. Come on, in a book about learning how to believe in yourself and unlocking your full potential, do we really have to pit girls against one another? These are people training to harness their powers, knowing that there’s a strong possibility that they will die out on the front. A little solidarity in this regard amongst the Grisha could have fleshed things out better. It would have been excellent to see Alina integrate herself a little bit more with some of the other Summoners once she started to believe in her powers, rather than her talking shit behind their backs.
It really is a shame that Shadow and Bone hasn’t been permanently added to my collection yet, but that’s why we check things out from the library: as a trial run before plopping $13.99 on a paperback. Despite my initial hesitation before picking it up, I’m glad to have been proven wrong and to see that this book definitely stands up to the hype that precedes it. I may have to put a whisper in someone’s ear to slip it into my stocking this holiday season.
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