Title: Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Adventure, Teenage Fiction
“This was his soul-made flesh, the truth of him laid bare in the blazing sun, shorn of mystery and shadow. This was the truth behind the handsome face and the miraculous powers, the truth that was the dead and empty space between the stars, a wasteland peopled by frightened monsters.”
As an avid reader, I picked up Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, and thought it just to be another teenage fantasy novel that has drawn me in with the beautiful front cover and promising blurb, yet could not deliver on the promises it made. However, little did I know, that it would also appeal to my historian side. Because, not only is this a well-written, addictive and well-thought out novel, but it is based on my favourite period on history, which is late Tsarist Russia. So, instantly I had to devour it. And I am so pleased that I did.
Set primarily in the once-great nation of Ravka, the reader gets drawn into the turmoil and horror that is plaguing the country. Despite its size, mountainous regions, legends, and historical cities, the country has been ravaged and divided in two by a virtually impenetrable wall of darkness, known as ‘The Fold’. And hiding within this division, there are flesh-eating creatures feast on whomever is desperate enough to attempt to cross. The Fold has brought untold damage to the world outside of it, as it completely isolates either side of the country, and keeps the Ravkans from different and crucial regions. However, there are still forces who want to discover the secret of the Fold, control it and make crossings easier. And this is primarily made up of the Grisha, who are Masters of the Small Sciences – a form of magic – and an elite of soldiers who have talents to control the elements, and guard the country and monarchy. And within this world, the novels follows the stories of two orphans, Alina and Mal, and how even the most unextraordinary people can turn out to be extraordinary, save a country defeat and conquer evil.
In Shadow and Bone, the reader is introduced to Alina and Mal as orphan friends who grew up together, and have both enlisted into the army. And, unsurprisingly, one of their first missions is to cross The Fold. But when this mission goes horribly wrong, Alina is revealed to not just be the ordinary girl she thinks she is, but a Grisha of extraordinary power and legendary talent. She is a Sun Summoner, and may just be the key to destroy the darkness of the Fold, and rescue Ravka from ruin. So, Alina is moved from the hard graft of the army and into the royal court to be trained as a Grisha, and she is under the control of the mysterious Darkling – a Grisha of equal power and ambition. During her training, Alina learns all about amplifiers – magical emblems that boost the Grisha powers – and she falls more under the thrall of the Darkling, and away from her old life as the orphan.But not all is as it appears in the court, and Alina has to decision to make that could either save the country she lives in, or save the people she loves.
Now, I have read the whole trilogy, and I loved them all, but it is very difficult to write a review on all of them without giving away too many spoilers. But Shadow and Bone was definitely one of my favourites. I believe that this could really be a stand-alone book, as it does end with a satisfying enough conclusion to make you think that it didn’t necessarily need to continue, but I’m very glad it did. The plot of Shadow and Bone was intriguing and had enough twists and turns to make it a good YA novel, and the world-building of Ravka was more than enough to keep me interested. As a Tsarist Russia historian, I have enough knowledge to know where some of the places were based on, and what characters were clearly based on which historical figures, which was a massive point-score in my book. But even if you didn’t know anything, it would diminish the story at all.
The world of the Grisha was a good take on the ‘guild of magicians’ that is sometimes used as overkill in YA novels nowadays. As a fighting force, they did seem fairly competent, and I did like how they were their own entity in a way. They didn’t necessarily follow the monarchy despite being under their control, and in the story it was shown that in different countries, Grisha weren’t respected as they are in Ravka, and even killed for being a commodity, rather than a person, which I found to be highly interesting. Also, with the use of the Fold, and the creatures that lurked within, Bardugo did have a good use of tension, and made you as the reader really get a sense of the terror that was felt, and how desperate the whole situation was.
But one thing I didn’t like was Alina. Which isn’t good considering she is the protagonist. Alina, to me, seemed to be too much of a drip, too indecisive, weak, a bit too whiny, and just not able to wield the power that she is born with. Now, I know that she is an orphan, and completely thrown into the deep end as she discovers her powers, but she just wasn’t the female role-model that should have been used. Let’s just say that she was not up to the same levels of Katniss and Hermione. Also what irked me was the love triangle. Love triangles can sometimes really work in YA, but it has to be done as a sideplot to the main story, and not take over the whole story, and make the conclusion depend on it. But, on a sidenote, within the love triangle, Bardugo did write passion quite well, especially with the Darkling. But apart from with the Darkling, the characters just felt a bit flat. The Darkling was an interesting figure as he had quite a lot of sides, and you weren’t really sure which one was his real side, and whether everything else was false. But, unfortunately with Mal and Alina, I just didn’t get on with them. In a writing sense, this was fairly well-written, and definitely showed promise for Bardugo to develop as a writer. There were some sloppy parts, but for a debut novel I thought it was gripping and moreish.
For a YA novel, it was well-done in world-building, in the plot line, and in the whole good-versus-evil thing. I’d recommend it and as an owner of the rest of the trilogy, I can say that when newer characters get introduced, everything gets a bit more interesting.
The rest of the trilogy is out to buy now!
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