Shadow And Bone – Leigh Bardugo
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 destroy 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.
Review: I don’t understand hype, especially the hype around fantasy books. What makes one fantasy book better than the others? Most of them—including this one—seem very generic to me. Why have people been raving about this series for years? I think I missed something important.
I guess this means it’s unpopular opinion time. Brace yourself.
Shadow and Bone has a similar plot to other fantasy books I’ve read. The narrator, Alina Starkov, is an orphan who discovers that she’s a powerful magician called a Grisha. She might be the most powerful Grisha in the history of her kingdom. When her powers are discovered, she is sent to magic school, but she quickly learns that she is being manipulated. The Darkling—another powerful magician—may be plotting to use her to widen the Fold, a dangerous patch of darkness in the middle of the kingdom. Alina runs away from school, but the Darkling goes after her. He’s a dangerous enemy.
This book is fast-paced and easy to read. It’s one of those escapist novels that you can get lost in for a few hours. The world is different enough from ours to be intriguing, but not so different that it’s confusing. Alina is a badass, but she struggles with her self-confidence, which makes her relatable.
One of my favorite parts of the story is Alina’s relationship with her friend, Mal. They’re loyal to each other, even though they’re separated early in the book. They have a strong friendship that has the potential to develop into something more.
“‘I'm not like you, Mal. I never really fit in the way you did. I never really belonged anywhere.’
‘You belonged with me.’” – Shadow and Bone
The Darkling is also a curious character. He’s my favorite. The author keeps us guessing about his real motives. He comes across as an evil, controlling, wannabe dictator, but I get the sense that there’s something more going on with him. Maybe, deep down, he has good reasons to increase the size of the Fold. Or, maybe he’s just really talented at being a controlling dictator. Either way, he’s interesting.
This is a fun book. I had fun reading it. However, I want more than fun from my books.
For me, Shadow and Bone is too simple and generic. How many magic-orphan-saves-the-world-while-navagating-a-love-triangle stories do we need? Since I’ve read books like this before, I didn’t feel the suspense. I knew that Mal and Alina would ultimately succeed in thwarting the Darkling. There wasn’t enough real danger. Maybe that’s because I had a hard time picturing the Fold. Is it just a black spot full of screaming human-birds? I know that this book is part of a series, and the characters and world will become more developed in the next books, but I wanted to feel the characters’ fear. The Fold doesn’t scare me. The characters aren’t developed enough for me to really care about them.
Judging by the Goodreads reviews, people like the Russian aspects of this book. My family is from Russia, so I know it’s a fascinating, complicated place. For me, there isn’t enough Russia in the book. The setting seems like a typical fantasy setting sprinkled with awkward Russian-sounding words. It’s all very surface-level. I would have liked to see more of the culture. Alina grew up in this world. What was her childhood like? Why did she join the military? What’s up with these border wars? What makes this country unique? Maybe these things are shown later, but I wanted them now. I’m impatient like that.
Shadow and Bone was kinda disappointing. I’m still on the hunt for a unique fantasy book.
“They are orphans again, with no true home but each other and whatever life they can make together on the other side of the sea.” - Shadow and Bone