Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.75 / 5 stars)
Alina has never considered herself anything important; an orphan, a mapmaker, a nobody. She is just one face in the army, nothing like the infamous Grisha who display insurmountable power. But, as they cross the Fold one day, Alina unleashes a power beyond her wildest imagination. At first she doubts it happened, but when she catches the attention of the Darkling, she discovers that she is the lone sun summoner in Ravka…and she might help change the world.
Truth-to-told, I entered Shadow and Bone skeptically. Already, YA as a genre enters uncertain territory for me. Sometimes the books work, such as Six of Crows, but others lean too far into being YA, and I struggle to connect with the characters. This is particularly true for me when it comes to YA books narrated in the first person.
While overall, I enjoyed the plot of Shadow and Bone – and have full intentions of reading the rest of the series and watch the TV show – some parts of this book just didn’t work for me.
But first, let’s talk about the good: the Grisha are full realized magic users, both who face admiration and discrimination on both sides and in different ways. The worldbuilding around them is sound, and Ravka as nation is full realized. While Six of Crows as a true story about characters, Shadow and Bone is a teenager’s perspective on the world around her. Alina is powerful, and she slowly comes to terms as to how to utilize her abilities…which she unknowingly suffocated throughout her life. But, she is also a realistic teenager; she trusts the wrong people, she doubts herself, and she easily can be manipulated. Yet, her conviction shines; like her powers as the Sun Summoner, she is also the light. She stands up for what is right, and holds herself to a high standard, to meet the ones she admires. This is a standard YA protagonist, but at its core, it works.
Overall, I loved the plotline. The Darkling does indeed make a (spoiler) fantastic and complex villain that manipulates Alina for his own uses. Certain characters shine above the rest as well with Genya being my favorite. The idea of an amplifier to make abilities stronger seems to also play into some of the ideas with Juda Parem in Six of Crows (and I suppose I’ll learn more about that as well). Bardugo has obviously put a lot of care into this universe.
Yet, I do take issue with a few things in the story. While Alina is a fantastic protagonist, strong in her own right, the plot – for the most part – happens around her. She is thrown from one location to the next, not really in charge of her destiny until the very end of the book when she fights back against the Darkling’s influences. This could be viewed as a magnificent example of character growth though, which is quite typical of many books. Truthfully though, Alina is somewhat bland too. While I can tell you she is the Sun Summoner, has a strong moral compass, loves teasing Mal, and tends to belittle herself…I can’t tell you *much* about her. She’s in her head a lot, as most teenagers are, and she’s a survivor. So on one hand, kudos to Leigh Bardugo for writing a believable narrator, but on the other…I just wish there was a bit more.
I also tend to be hesitant with certain tropes in YA fiction…especially the love triangles. These triangles have of course been latched onto by the fan base on social media about whether Alina belonged with the Darkling or with Mal. The Darkling is a fantastic villain, as I have mentioned, but he’s manipulative. His relationship with Alina is one of power, that is uncomfortable to an extent. Alina is 17 and the Darkling is, well, ancient. I have never been one for those romances with such a big age gap, and I was excited to see her go back to Mal, her friend, the one who has fought to protect her. I know, I know, a lot of people think Mal is bland and boring. I didn’t think so though (especially with the bonus letter at the end of my edition). Mal is a soldier, like Alina, and he’s young…trying to balance his duties with the love he didn’t know he had. Yes, he can be a little in his head and annoying in instances, but what teenage boy isn’t?
Granted, Mal being the influencer over Alina’s powers also doesn’t sit right with me either. Her powers unlocked to save him; she unlocked them again when she stopped fretting over him; and again, she unlocked them to save his life. I hate the idea of an heroine’s powers being tied to a love interest.
Overall, I did like the story though. I’m in love with the Grishaverse and have intentions to read the rest of the books in it. In fact, I still basically read this book in one sitting (with a few small breaks), so it kept my attention from start-to-finish. Since I went in with lower expectations for this book, I can definitely say that the book surpassed them.
What’s it about?
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.