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.
Note: spoilers, but also everyone on the planet seems to have read this, so.
It feels so strange to feel like you’re the last person to read a book. Shadow and Bone has been around for so long, I think I was still in high school when it was first published. And it’s so beloved amongst readers. With the Shadow and Bone Netflix series coming out next month, and everyone and their dog rushing to gush over it, I thought I would finally make an attempt to pick up this well-loved “classic” series. I had never really intended to, but if I didn’t now, I probably never would (if anything, Ben Barnes made me do it.)
My expectations weren’t high, but they weren’t low, either. As far as “YA fantasy published in 2012” goes, this pretty much hit the bill, but I found that I actually did enjoy it, and part of that was knowing how beloved this series (and the spinoffs) are amongst other readers. It does feel like a debut, which it is, but in a promising way that encourages me to keep pursuing because as any author does, Leigh Bardugo will grow as a writer into something magical – and I know this to be true. There’s no way that Six of Crows would have the reputation it does if she wasn’t. So while I wouldn’t say this is the greatest debut of all time, it has such a rich future ahead of it.
I found the plot to be moving weirdly fast, but wouldn’t necessarily call it fast-paced. Rather, there wasn’t much down time between plot points. Instead of showing that several months had passed, it went by in a sentence. Personally I like to see the character growth myself, instead of being told that it happened but was too boring to document. I feel like I also would have liked a bit more world-building. I mean it was fine and functioned well enough, but I do feel like it would have helped me a little bit to learn more about the Darkling and his history, along with the history of the Grisha. That being said, even though there wasn’t as much world-building as I would have liked, this one wasn’t particularly difficult to understand, but I’m chalking that up to the fact that at this point, I’m pretty good at being able to visualize fantasy worlds. It also helps that this book is fairly easy to read and follow along.
I found Alina to be…well, a bit dull, and fairly gullible, to be honest. It very much felt like she was always just slightly miserable, particularly when it came to Mal. Even when she becomes a Grisha and moves to the Little Palace, I could never tell if she was happy with her new situation. Later, when she is reunited with Mal, and she tells him that she was truly happy with the other Grisha, I had a hard time believing her, because I didn’t feel that at all. I could tell that she was pleased she was learning how to control her new power, but not that she was particularly ecstatic about it. She’s also too trusting, and seems to agree with everything anyone tells her very quickly. Particularly with the Darkling, who she falls for rather immediately. Considering the reputation he had, and how much she believes in that reputation, I expected her to be a bit more wary of his intentions. This also extends to other characters she interacts with as well. I was shocked at how quickly she bailed on the Darkling by believing what’s-her-face to be his mother – and her claim that he is truly so much more evil than he seems. She may not be wrong, but I thought Alina would take a bit of time to come around to that idea, particularly because as I mentioned, she seemed like she had believed everything he told her so whole-heartedly. The next moment she’s already escaping, with no plans at all, and I’m still just trying to process what just happened.
I’m still a bit confused about Alina and the Darkling’s relationship. I thought, going in, that it was going to be enemies to lovers, but was a bit addled when they didn’t really seem to be enemies at all. I mean, she was obviously a little wary of him, but that was due to everything she had ever heard about his reputation. Even in the first few scenes they shared, he certainly had an eerie, mysterious vibe to him, but not spectacularly evil. Especially as they started spending more time together, I got the feeling that all the Darkling’s motives were because he was intrigued by her and wanted to get to know her more closely. And I got that same vibe from Alina, as well. It felt like his reputation was all talk and no actual action, and at this point we hadn’t really seen him do anything evil or talk about sinister intentions.
Obviously, I was quite wrong on this front. If we are truly seeing what kind of person he is now, then yeah, I’d say enemies to lovers is probably going to be pretty accurate. I mean, I know they get together. I think. At least now, maybe it won’t be so rushed like it felt at the beginning. I’m a big fan of slow burn and I hope this is it.
We’ll see. It’ll be so fun to read this review after I finish the series to see how wrong or right I was.
As far as Mal goes, I didn’t realise he’d be such a prominent character in the book. I had never even heard his name mentioned before, so I thought his character was strictly part of Alina’s past after she became a Grisha. At certain points I was sure he was going to turn up dead, and his death would serve as a turning point in Alina’s journey. And yet, he keeps coming back. That being said, Mal really kind of, well, sucks. While I understand they have shared history and life experience, I couldn’t really see why he and Alina were friends. They seem so different, and in the first few scenes, he didn’t really exhibit any feelings or even just general sentiment towards her. So when he comes back later, claiming he’s in love and that it was his life’s mission to make things right with her, I had a hard time believing it. He’s boring. Alina deserves something (and someone) far more interesting (I may say that’s the Darkling, but we’ll see how I feel about that later). They just don’t feel like they’re in love, you know? They say they are, and they act like they are, but honestly, I just think they’re confused. I think they think they’re supposed to be, so they act like it, but they aren’t. By the end, I preferred them much more as friends, and maybe, MAYBE, if the spent their whole lives together, they could be like, romantic friends. I don’t know. They just don’t feel right.
Overall, I do feel like I enjoyed this. It’s important that I went in with an undetermined level of expectations. I think if it had been better that would obviously be fine, but I’m not mad that it’s at where it’s at. There’s only so much you can expect from a debut, anything else is just cherries on top. And obviously it has made me want to read the rest of the series, which is the most important function of any first book in a series anyhow. There’s great potential in the writing. The plot, too. The plot in Shadow and Bone felt a bit predictable in some scenes, just based on how the author phrased certain words or Alina’s thoughts (Oh, Alina wonders what her old friends would think if only they could see her now? Seems like a great time for Mal to show up). But I’m expecting more, and I think I’ll get it, which is a lovely thought. This book is a product of the era that it was published in, but it also stands up, which is good enough for me.
Also, if anything happens to Genya at any point, I will scream.