Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo

About the Book

The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.

Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite—the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?

The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfill her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.

But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him.

358 pages (hardcover)
Published on June 5, 2012
Author’s webpage

Each year I give myself a goal to explore an area of literature that I haven’t ever really explored before. This year I have two goals: One is to explore young adult speculative fiction and two is to read more books with strong female protagonists and/or books written by women. Luckily for me, this book fit well in both goal categories, and reminded me why my goals to explore areas of SFF that I typically try to ignore is an absolutely wonderful, delightful goal.

In all honesty, I was a bit afraid to start Shadow and Bone due to the obvious Russian elements, which I was afraid would come of cheap, borrowed, and campy. However, Bardugo never really let her world feel any of those things. Yes, there are obvious Russian-esque elements, but the world itself is unique enough to stand on its own. The Russian elements are just a nice pepper throughout the book that really allows readers to relate to the text a bit more than they otherwise would. The world has a feel of both familiar and other blended fairly seamlessly into an intoxicating, enchanting stew that readers will quickly find themselves immersed in

That being said, this book is less about the world and more about the characters. There are some typical elements, like the protagonist, Alina has been orphaned, and discovers that she has some incredible power that has yet to be seen. While this is a fairly typical plot point, it was wonderful to see a protagonist who wasn’t out alone, who didn’t know everything, and have some tough-as-nails retort to every statement. Alina is very human, very normal, and her close friendship to Mal adds a fantastic dynamic to the book.

Perhaps it is Alina and Mal’s relationship, and the emotion that Bardugo infuses it with that sets the stage for the truly compelling moments later in the story. Shadow and Bone is a book featuring young characters, but their choices and their life experiences allow Bardugo to really play with a wide range and deep scope of emotions. In fact, it is the emotions and the atmosphere that really kept me going through the book. Alina as a character might have her issues, but readers will instantly feel a kinship with her. Her emotions will become your emotions, which makes Shadow and Bone a surprisingly powerful, emotionally jarring read.

And speaking of things that surprised me about this book, the prose is right up there on the list. Bardugo can write. She doesn’t just write, she paints a picture with her words and I quickly found myself reading the book as much to savor how she put her sentences together, as for any other reason. There aren’t any wasted words, and the fact that every word counts makes every word that much more powerful. Combine that with the atmosphere, and the emotions, and you’ll get a book where every word has the potential to be a punch in the gut, in the most delicious ways.

“What is she to you anyway?”

“Here’s my answer captain. She’s the thing that made this all okay-The threadbare coats and the old boots and the guns that jams when you most need them to fire, the loneliness of knowing that you don’t matter, that you will never matter, the fact that you’re just another body, another uniform to be sent into the fold or the frost, another good boy who knows his place, who does his job, who doesn’t ask questions, who will lie down and die and be forgotten. What is she? She’s everything, you dumb son of a bitch.”

However, nothing is perfect, and the same can be said with Shadow and Bone, though often I felt that the positives of the book far overshadowed the negatives. Shadow and Bone is told in the first person perspective of Alina, which really works well for the most part, but this also means that there is a lot of flip-flopping on whether certain people in the plot are good or bad. Now, I tend to think that’s a good thing. I like it when an author keeps me guessing, and when the “ah ha” moment is a surprise. However, there are plenty of people out there who will find the lack of foreshadowing, and the flip-flopping, annoying. Secondly, the world, while fascinating, felt a little stunted at times, overpowered by the castle and Alina’s time there. The training and education itself wasn’t incredibly detailed, which is a good thing, but I a few more details probably would have made her time there a bit more interesting. As it was, her personal developments were interesting, and the secondary characters that came and went made almost no impact on me. I truly wish that portion of the book felt as real as the rest of the novel.

The ending is really well done. Bardugo draws together all the threads of the novel and weaves a really well drawn conclusion that will leave readers satisfied, but also anxious to read the next book. In fact, I was quite surprised with how well Bardugo drew together many of the aspects of the novel and got some powerful conclusions from them.

Shadow and Bone truly surprised me. While the book isn’t perfect, it really shows just what I’ve been missing while I’ve been studiously avoiding the young adult section of the library. What a fool I have been to not realize, or explore, the many gems hidden on the YA shelves. Shadow and Bone is surprising, powerful, emotional, jarring, and nothing like I expected. This is one of those books that establish the author as someone to watch. Shadow and Bone left me feeling hollowed out, and that’s just how I want a book to leave me. I want to feel like I lived that life, and I want it to leave me exhausted, breathless, and full of intoxicating thoughts and hungry for so much more.

 

4/5 stars

2 thoughts on “Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo

  1. This was my favorite YA read last year, and like you I was a bit surprised. I heard the praise but tempered my expectations; no need, it was real good. Really the only thing I didn’t like was the petty schoolyard politics the greatest magic users in the land resorted to, and thankfully that was a short section of the whole thing.

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