SHADOW AND BONE by LEIGH BARDUGO (Shadow and Bone #1) (2012)
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo offered readers something fresh when it came out in 2012. While the YA world’s obsession with fantasy novels was just getting underway, Bardugo helped popularize them with her thrilling and imaginative trilogy of Russian-inspired novels that are still immensely beloved today. As for myself, I’ve had a weird relationship with Shadow and Bone, the first book in the Shadow and Bone Trilogy (formerly called The Grisha Trilogy). I distinctly remember requesting it at the Argenta Public Library because I saw it online and thought it looked cool. The original covers are gorgeous (as are the new ones that just came out this past year), and I’ve always been something of a fanatic for Russian-inspired stories.
However, when I tried to read Shadow and Bone for the first time, I got bored within fifty pages and quit reading. I returned it to the library and didn’t think about it too much until recently. This past year, I ended up buying the boxed set of the entire trilogy, all gussied up with their impressive new covers. I was committed now. I had to read these books. And so, in December of 2017, I did.
And I absolutely loved them.
Shadow and Bone follows our teenaged protagonist, Alina Starkov, and her best friend, Mal, as they’re heading with their regiment to a magical catastrophe site called the Shadow Fold. The Shadow Fold is exactly what it says on the tin. It splits the country of Ravka in half, like an ocean of darkness populated by monsters. Ravka, as you may have guessed, is based off Imperial Russia. Alina and Mal are soldiers in the imperial army, tasked with mapping out the Shadow Fold so travelers can attempt to pass through it as safely as possible. In the army encampment outside the Shadow Fold, Alina and Mal encounter some of the Grisha, Ravka’s order of magic users. Grisha can do things like control wind, fire, water, and even alter the appearances of other people. Alina has always disliked the Grisha, while many In Ravka almost worship them like gods. One of the Grisha is especially powerful—the Darkling. The Darkling is as much a royal figure as Ravka’s king is, and he has the ability to manipulate shadows and thus, the Shadow Fold.
To keep from making this review too long, I’ll cut straight to the point: Alina discovers early on in the novel that she has the power to summon sunlight. She is then taken by the Darkling to the capital of Ravka, where she works on honing her powers, all the while finding herself entangled in a conspiracy that not only threatens her life, but the lives of everyone in Ravka.
When I first read Shadow and Bone, I mainly put the book down because I didn’t like Alina very much. I found her boring and whiny. That’s because I didn’t give her a chance. Alina grows throughout the novel to be a powerful Grisha, and is given the title of Sun Summoner by those at the Ravkan court. What I like best about Alina is that she quite literally grows throughout the book. In the beginning of the novel, a big fuss is made about Alina being homely and malnourished. The reason for this is because she’d been repressing her powers for so long. The more she uses them, the healthier she becomes. It’s such a subtle, yet lovely trick that really adds to the nuance of the book.
Aside from Alina, our supporting cast is great too. There’s Genya, another Grisha who is the queen’s own personal cosmetologist due to the fact that she can make people appear more beautiful. There’s Zoya, a strikingly beautiful yet prickly Grisha who is always at odds with Alina. And then, of course, there’s the Darkling. The handsome, enigmatic, devious Darkling who tricks Alina into falling for his charms. We eventually find out that he only wants to use her power to control the Shadow Fold and use it as a weapon, but the Darkling’s character can’t be boiled down to just that. He’s a fascinating foil to Alina and a very good villain.
This review is long enough, so I’ll stop here, but Shadow and Bone is truly a great novel. The world building is rich and different and the characters grow with you as you read. It’s also refreshing to read a fantasy novel that isn’t medieval. Guns exist in Ravka. Airships exist in Ravka. The magic the Grisha use is more comparable to science than what we would think of as magic. Truly, the whole trilogy is fantastic, and if any of this sounds interesting to you, you can check out a copy of Shadow and Bone from the Oreana Library today!