Goodreads: Shadow and Bone
Series: The Grisha #1
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 destory 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.
Shadow and Bone intrigued me with its subtle magic and original atmosphere (a Russian-inspired YA fantasy!). Overall, I enjoyed the concept, the characters, and the atmosphere, but the book did not live up to the hype of the blogosphere. I found it an enjoyable fantasy but am not ready to rate it above my favorites of the genre.
The premise of Bardugo’s magic is interesting: children are tested for magical abilities and, if they possess it, are transported to study at a university for Grisha. Each person controls a different type of magic, and the Grisha have developed their own hierarchy based on the variety of powers. Each group of Grisha wears a different color robe; each is granted a different amount of respect from other Grisha and from outsiders.
Ultimately, however, the magic is not the most captivating or original I have encountered in fantasy. Somehow, everyone’s power besides the Darkling’s and potentially Alina’s is bordering on the mundane. No one does much that is particularly flashy or dangerous and, in fact, readers spend much of the novel becoming acquainted with a girl whose power is used to brighten hair, erase dark circles, and generally make the queen appear more beautiful. Of course, Grisha and their magic are normal in Bardugo’s world, but it seems odd that it would appear equally commonplace and lackluster to a reader living in a world with no magic.
The politics of the novel similarly have a lot of potential that is never fully realized. They appear to be complex but should have been explored more to give readers the full effect of how dangerous and widespread the intrigue is. [spoilers rest of paragraph] One character is even introduced and then ominously appears throughout the book, as Bardugo builds the impression he is embroiled in some evil political scheme, only to have practically no bearing on the plot. Perhaps he is more active later in the series, but his unexpected lack of importance in Shadow and Bone is disappointing and, frankly, strange considering how frequently Alina encounters him and comments on his suspicious behavior.
Underwritten plot elements, as one might begin to suspect, are the plague of the book, and the major plot twist is the worst offender. [spoilers rest of paragraph] It happens so suddenly and Alina believes all her new information so quickly that I was positive this “twist” was a joke—that Alina would fall for it only to discover she was completely mistaken and silly to have acted so decisively on so little intel. Turns out I was the foolish one during this entire affair and really during the second half of the book. I waited for chapters for the “big reveal” that never came—because Bardugo was completely serious, but I just couldn’t tell. Awkward.
This apparently disparaging review aside however, I truly did enjoy the book. My complaints are not that the book is poorly written, but that it is never as well-written as it clearly has the potential to be. Additionally, the stakes for Alina and her entire country are immense by the conclusion, promising a sequel that will be full of action and personal growth for several characters. Readers can also expect more of the romance that permeates much of Shadow and Bone. I will definitely continue reading the series and recommending it to others.
Discuss! Have you read this book? What did you think of the major plot twist?