Book Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Reading format: Paperback

Content warnings: death, violence

Rating: 4/5

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In Ravka, all children are tested at a young age to determine if they possess magical powers. Those who have this ability train as Grisha. Alina, who’s never been good at anything, is a mapmaker in the First Army. She’s about to make her first trek across the Shadow Fold, a dark and deadly expanse filled with flesh-eating monsters that splits her country in two. When her regiment is attacked while crossing the Shadow Fold, threatening the life of her dearest friend, Alina unleashes a power she didn’t know she had.

Her powers unveiled, she is swiftly whisked away to the Little Palace to train with the Grisha. There she is expected to learn how to harness and control her newfound powers. Alina has also attracted the attention of the Darkling, the leader of the Grisha, who’s convinced that she’s the key to destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting the country. While at court, she discovers a dangerous secret that threatens the very existence of Ravka and the surrounding nations.

I know Shadow and Bone was published a while ago, but I first learned about it from the trailer for the upcoming Netflix show. The first chapter, or the prologue, rather, is what hooked me. Bardugo introduces us to Alina and Mal, two young orphans who quickly become friends on Duke Keramsov’s estate, which is utilized mostly as an orphanage. We’re given just enough details to provoke intrigue about the Grisha before the scene fast forwards to Alina’s and Mal’s lives in Ravka’s First Army.

I thought the writing in this was great. I didn’t find it repetitive or boring and I thought the storyline moved along at a good pace. Though the story is told through Alina’s point of view, the characters and their personalities are described well. Mal is everybody’s friend, seemingly everyone’s dream guy, and is nearly perfect at everything he does. Alina has always been weak, can barely keep up, and despite their strong and long friendship with Mal, still wonders how they’re even friends. The other characters we meet along the way are just as aptly described, with their actions lending credence to their personalities.

I also thought the world-building was decent for the first book in a trilogy. We don’t visit a lot of different places in Shadow and Bone, but I didn’t really lament that fact. I found the plot and descriptions of the places and people we do visit and meet to be engrossing and detailed enough that my appetite for more was whetted. Ravka is Bardugo’s take on an alternate tsarist Russia. It’s my understanding that Russian folklore and mythology is woven into the story. (Admittedly, I’m not familiar with Russian folklore and mythology, so I’m sure some of the references were lost on me.) Before reading the first words of this book, the map at the beginning suggests this and also alludes to this story being set in an alternate Earth-like world. The countries to the north and south of Ravka are reminiscent of Scandanavian and geographically central Asian nations, respectively.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book. If you’re looking for in-depth and detailed world building, multiple points of view, and great quests typical of adult fantasy, this is maybe not for you. But if you’re open to YA fantasy and want a captivating and relatively fast read set in an alternate Slavic country, then I think you’ll appreciate this. Feel free to leave a comment if you’d like to discuss this book further!

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