“The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and the youngest, and because they haunted the Duke’s house like giggling phantoms…”
Unexpected powers, hidden secrets, and a kingdom coming undone. Need I say more?
Shadow and Bone is Leigh Bardugo’s first novel and also the first novel in the Grishaverse trilogy. Originally published in 2012, it has since been made into a popular Netflix series. A sequel series set two years after the events of Shadow and Bone also exists as the Six of Crows.
Although originally unknown, the series has since grown in popularity. It’s praised for its original and unique setting, a fantasy world based off of the Russian Empire of the early 1800s.
The story follows Alina Starkov as she’s suddenly tossed into an entirely new world after a vicious attack that almost cost the lives of her and her best friend Mal. She’s revealed to be a Grisha, rare people with the ability to manipulate different elements at will. The leader of the Grisha, the Darkling, whisks her away into their nobility-esque lifestyle. She’s told to train in order to harness her new power, and in a world at war, she reluctantly agrees. But nothing in this glittering world is as it seems, and Alina’s about to find out that the true villains may be closer than she thinks…
Shadow and Bone is a surprisingly enjoyable novel that struggles with fantasy clichés.
- It’s a refreshingly unique world. The setting of this novel is unlike anything I’ve ever read before, which is a great relief considering the number of medieval-middle-earth-remakes most fantasy books fall into. The descriptions of the world and cities are beautiful and engaging, and despite being so different it’s surprisingly easy to jump headfirst into them.
- The plot is just as unique as the world. Despite the clichés that this book seems to deal in, the plot more than makes up for them. It’s a dark almost fairytale-esque story full of plot twists and dramatic reveals and just when you think you’ve got everything figure out, something insane happens yet again. It keeps the reader at the edge of their seat trying to figure out what could possibly happen next.
- Despite all the stereotypes that Alina falls into, her moral compass is genuinely commendable. When her powers are revealed and she suddenly finds herself the second (if not first) most powerful person in the world, she doesn’t let that title overtake her. She refuses to harm others no matter how easy it would be, and for that, at least, she deserves to be applauded.
- Stereotypes. Are. Everywhere. The main character is a humble-plain-ordinary-orphan-girl. The Darkling is dark-mysterious-heartthrob-bad-boy. Even Alina’s teacher is an old-wizardly-wise-mentor-figure. Some of the plot twists are predictable, a lot of the characters are clichés, and even the ending can be seen from a mile away.
- The so-called ‘love triangle’ was physically painful to read. To begin with, in order for something to be a love triangle, it needs to have at least one LGBT+ character. Otherwise, it’s just a love corner. And it’s usually the woman who’s backed into it. And as every Y.A. love corner fan knows, we have a plain-if-not-ugly-looking girl, a boy-next-door best friend, and a tall-dark-and-handsome stranger. Physically. Painful.
- All the men in this book are controlling and aggressive. It’s rare to find a novel without at least one decent male character because let’s face it, even in literature men are treated better than women. But in this book, not only are there very few male characters that the reader actually gets to see, they are all borderline if not outright abusive. They’re possessive, demanding, emotionally manipulative and generally Not Good.
Overall, I’d give Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone a three out of five. It’s a stereotypical cliché that manages to redeem itself through world-building and plot.
I’d recommend this novel to die-hard fantasy young adult fans, but not to anyone else. While it is enjoyable at times, there are far too many tropes to overlook if you don’t enjoy Y.A. fantasy.
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