Shadow and Bone (Leigh Bardugo)

Shadow and Bone is the first novel in the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo.
Finished on: 31.5.2021

Alina and Mal have known each other since they were children, both orphans growing up in the same household. Since neither of them have magical abilities like the Grisha, they are both in the army, but in very different roles: Mal is a tracker, while Alina is a mapmaker. Both of their troops are headed to the Unsea, the Fold a strip of darkness filled with monsters that separates the east of the country from the west and can only be traversed under great risk. When they try to cross it, they are attacked and Alina suddenly discovers that she may have a rare magical ability after all. Upon this discovery, she is whisked away by the Darkling, leader of the Grisha and most powerful of all, to harness her ability – that may just be the key to get rid of the Fold once and for all.

Shadow and Bone is a good read with some nice, albeit under-explored world-building ideas. I may not be entirely excited about it, but I am looking forward to the second book in the trilogy.

The book cover showing a stag shape that seems to be filled with water or blue color on black background.

I’m not Russian, but I did (do) study it, so the Grishaverse has been on my radar for a while as it is inspired by tsarist Russia. With the Netflix adaptation, it was the final kick in the butt that I needed to finally pick it up. And, yeah, it wasn’t bad, but I was hoping for a little more from it.

The Russian-inspired setting is probably the book’s biggest selling point, but I have to admit that it worked only half-well for me. Some things were obviously deliberate but made me wonder about the thinking behind them a little – like using kvas as a stand-in for alcohol drinks. Other things made we wonder whether they weren’t mistakes. But above all, I just didn’t feel like it was particularly grounded in Russian folklore (with the possible exception of Morozova’s stag – and that would have been the real draw of the setting (for me). I mean, I have to admit that I am no expert in Russian folklore, maybe I just missed everything, but I could see the same story happening in any country-inspired fantasy setting.

The story and characters are very much your fantasy young adult standard fare. That is not per se a bad thing and Bardugo handles the tropes mostly pretty well, but it does make the book feel overly familiar and the characters a little bland (with the possible exception of Genya who is allowed a little more complexity). We’ve got mean girls and pretty boys, a protagonist who isn’t beautiful and who is klutzy, a love triangle (though not one that goes very far, for which I am grateful). The twists in the story aren’t actually very twisty – it plays out very much like you’d expect they will.

Alina has a lot of growing to do – and by that I mean growing in the next two books, because in this one she is frustratingly stationary, and passive. I can barely think of one (big) decision she really makes for herself.

That being said, Bardugo’s writing is smooth enough to make you read past all of this. And there is a reason that the plot elements she uses are young adult fantasy staples: they do work. So I will continue reading and see how things go from here.

Summarizing: entertaining enough.


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