Today I’m reviewing Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. I first read this book when I was 17 or 18, and I reread it in December of 2020. I’m going to start out with a spoiler-free review of the book, and then I’ll discuss some spoilers at the end.
In regards to the worldbuilding, I like that Bardugo strays from the stereotypical medieval Europe setting. Instead, Shadow and Bone is set in the country of Ravka, which appears to be based off czarist Russia. While I’m not a fan of the obvious Russian influences (I prefer fantasy to not be a copy of something in the real world), I do like that the setting and worldbuilding are something we usually don’t see in fantasy novels. What’s really interesting about the setting is a location called the Shadow Fold, which is this scary strip of darkness that separates the eastern part of Ravka from the western part. The Shadow Fold is a source of conflict throughout the book, and I like the uniqueness of it.
In terms of the magic system, this world is home to people who can wield the Small Science. They’re called Grisha, and there are three classes of them: Corporalki, Etheralki, and Materialki. The Corporalki can manipulate the human body and use these abilities to do things like heal or kill people. The Materialki can manipulate physical substances like metals and chemicals. The Etheralki can manipulate elements like water, air, and fire. There are two special types of summoners that are incredibly rare. They can summon shadow or light, depending on which type they are. You all know me. My favorite is obviously shadow summoning. What I love about this magic system is that it subverts a common trope. Rather than the magic draining Grishas’ powers, it actually has positive effects on their bodies and minds. This is one of my favorite trope subversions.
The plot centers around a teenage girl named Alina who is a cartographer in the army. When she and her friend Mal are attacked during a Shadow Fold crossing, Alina protects them with powers she didn’t know she possessed. This isn’t a spoiler because it’s in the back cover blurb. It turns out Alina is the Sun Summoner, the only Grisha who can manipulate light. She is taken away from Mal and brought to the Little Palace to train, so she can one day use her powers to destroy the Shadow Fold. Shadow and Bone focuses on this training and Alina’s attempt to outwit an opponent after a disturbing discovery. I’ll discuss this more in the spoiler section.
While following Alina’s training isn’t the most interesting thing in the world, I’m kept engaged by the tension between her and some of the other characters. I also like following her arc as she discovers more about her powers. Alina grows stronger and healthier, and it’s fun watching her change and learn to master her abilities.
This book has one of my favorite characters ever. The Darkling is a shadow summoner and the Grishas’ leader. I really enjoy reading about him and Alina. However, I don’t like reading about Mal or his and Alina’s relationship. Mal does some things that make me dislike him, and I will share those in the spoiler section.
Without getting into spoilers, a creature called Morozova’s stag plays a significant role in this book. I think the stag is a unique and interesting creature that differs from what we usually see in fantasy novels.
My overall thoughts are that I generally like this book. It’s one of my top ten favorites right now. The Darkling is one of my favorite characters, if not my favorite character ever. I like the worldbuilding and the dynamics between some of the characters, and I find this to be an engaging read. The biggest downside for me is Mal’s character, but I know some people really like Mal. Just because I don’t like him doesn’t mean you won’t if you choose to read this book. I would recommend this book for anyone who likes YA fantasy and is looking for something that has unique elements to it.
Now for the spoilers. You all know me and how much I love villains. This book’s villain isn’t obvious at first. Rather, Alina gets close to the antagonist, thinking he’s an ally, and only later does she discover his true nature. If you know me, you’ve probably guessed who the villain is. He’s the Darkling. The Darkling is just so cunning and manipulative, and he knows exactly what he wants and how he’s going to get it. However, his inability to trust Alina to help him completely ruins their relationship, and they become enemies. The Darkling also chooses to kill Morozova’s stag, using its magical antlers to take control of Alina’s powers, and then he uses their combined powers to expand the Shadow Fold and kill people. He’s using the Shadow Fold as a weapon to scare Ravka’s enemies and help him gain more political power. The Darkling is a great villain, and I love his dynamic with Alina, particularly in the first part of the book.
As for Mal, the reason I don’t like him is because he doesn’t realize how much Alina means to him until they’re separated. Then when they’re reunited, he tells Alina—to her face—that he doesn’t like how she’s changed, and he wants her to be the person she was before she discovered her powers. Using her powers has made Alina stronger and healthier, and Mal tells her he doesn’t want her to have those things. I’m sorry, but that seems toxic to me, and Alina shouldn’t be friends with Mal, let alone make him her love interest if he’s going to behave that way.
Those are the spoiler-based things I wanted to discuss. One is something I love about the book, and the other is something I don’t love about the book.
What do you think of this book? Have you read it? Are you interested in reading it? What’s your favorite type of Grisha? Let me know in the comments down below.