RATING: 4 1/2 STARS
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.
[THIS BOOK IN ONE SUPERLONG SENTENCE: An orphaned peasant girl in a Russia-inspired fantasy world works as a mapmaker and longs for her handsome best friend, but her world speeds into darkness when the element-twisting Grisha elites discover that she possesses legendary power.]
I requested Shadow and Bone from my local library after seeing a huge buzz about it all over the online bookisphere. After the first 10 pages, I was surprised— ohmygodholyshitmylifeischangedFOREVER shocked, actually. I became instantly addicted to Alina Starkov’s story.
Her world is dark, bloody, and surprisingly romantic. As I type this, I’m eagerly waiting to pick up the sequel, Siege and Storm, from the library. Anyway, let’s start digging into this non-wonderland that no one should ever want to live in, but we read about it anyway just to get sad, angry, and way too attached to fictional characters in the process.
“The problem with wanting,” he whispered, his mouth trailing along my jaw until it hovered over my lips, “is that it makes us weak.”
Shadow and Bone‘s worldbuilding is thorough, intricate, and of genius proportions. Ravka and its surrounding countries are feudal governments with a distinctly Russian-like culture, from the names of citizens to food and drink. The Grisha, people with powers that range from ethereal to heart-bendingly physical, appear elite to the impoverished peasants. But all Grisha in Ravka are the servants of one man: The Darkling. And he serves the King.
Alina and Mal are two adult orphans serving in the First Army, which is composed of soldiers who are not Grisha. Alina envies the Second Army; she wishes she could be one of the beautiful Grisha girls in their blue, red, and purple robes, with flirtatious smiles and cocky battle moves, residing in their luxurious tents. But she’s not. She’s pale, limp-haired Alina—apprentice to a mapmaker and best friend of a more attractive boy who has his pick of females. She longs for Mal and their closer days at the orphanage.
Mal’s cute, so cute that even Grisha girls want a piece of him. I sometimes enjoyed his character, but I felt like Alina deserved more than Mal. He may have a lot of good qualities, but he overlooked her so many times in favor of girls with brighter smiles. Sorry, but that’s not something that can just be forgotten. I’m watching you, Mal. -_-
The Darkling’s power is unique, and his lineage has granted him sovereignty over all Grisha soldiers. The Darkling’s entire character embodies shadowy seduction. His magic is the strongest in Ravka. He is scary. His eyes are a blackened, hungry storm. And he is way too charismatic not to make out with (just being honest here). There’s plenty of him in this book, and I still couldn’t get enough. The Darkling is beautiful, and when he and Alina come face-to-face, there is no way to resist his smile or his teachings that promise more power.
Alina’s a sassy girl who still has a lot to learn. This chick is insecure and naive; those two traits get her into a boatload of trouble. I winced, laughed… & I was so embarrassed for her at one point that I just shook my head and slammed the book down. She’s a dork. You can’t afford to be a dork when sophisticated, body-severing warlords like the Darkling are twirling you around. But in her heart, she’s still a peasant girl, and I care about Alina more than I usually do for protagonists.
Alina is not exactly a girl to idolize, but I feel a kinship with her. I, too, was once a naive, dorky girl who longed for the handsome guy but instead faded into the background. And I’d like to think that just like Alina, my special superpower engulfed everyone, transforming me into a splendiferous non-dork, blindingly gorgeous and beloved by every peasant in the land. (Yeah, a girl can dream, right?)
Alina’s character development was amazing to behold. I felt like I was growing with her, from the fighting moves to the devastating realizations about court intrigue.
There are countless other characters to fall in love with. I won’t say what, how, or who for fear of spoilers, but every character’s personality is profound; even if they’re evil, Bardugo’s writing skill allows you to get close, to know them in an intimate way. Words on pages come alive into a world before your eyes. I literally felt as if the sentences were engulfing me in a twister and transporting me to Ravka. Yeah. It’s that good.
I was a bit apprehensive during the first half of the novel because I totally thought that Bardugo was going to chicken out and go for an easy plot. She didn’t. This woman WOWed me with her writing prowess; she’s simplistic yet stylish; she’s romantic yet harshly realistic.
Shadow and Bone was published in 2012, but it was eerie how multiple fantasy novels (with huge followings and sales) published in 2015 share key elements with this novel.
I know that fantasy has always had its tropes: the chosen one, magical powers, dark creatures, love triangles, political intrigue, etc. I’d gobble that smorgasbord up forever. Unlike some of the YA-fantasies that were published more recently (*cough* Red Queen *cough*), Shadow and Bone formed an original story that can never be forgotten; a tale with blackness and bone; the birth of something sinister and sad. Shadow and Bone is unlike anything I have ever read before. And I love it with all my heart.
You should read Shadow and Bone if you like fantasy, heroes, antiheroes, magic, insecure girls… Oh, just read it. READ IT!!! 😡
This novel is the first installment in the Grisha Trilogy.
Shadow and Bone was published on June 5th, 2012 by Henry Holt and Co.