☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
If you haven’t already read this trilogy, then you might be considering it in anticipation of the upcoming screen adaptation. I know I certainly did, and after making my way through the Grishaverse, I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to seeing Leigh Bardugo’s amazing characters on screen. But for now I’ll stick to reviewing Shadow and Bone – the first book of the series.
There was, and is, plenty of hype surrounding the Grishaverse, and for this reason I expected to be thrown into a huge and convoluted fantasy world that I wouldn’t want to leave for a long while. Unfortunately, I felt that Shadow and Bone fell a little short of its reputation, and had to toss up between 3 ½ and 4 stars. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it though. Bardugo’s stellar writing and incredible characters had me hooked and I finished the first novel the very same day I started it. So, I waited a week, grabbed my fine-tooth comb, and took a good long look beyond the great writing and into the nitty-gritty details to find what didn’t quite do it for me.
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.
Ah, the characters. Doesn’t it always come down to the characters? Shadow and Bone offers a variety of different personalities and motivations that really held my attention, even in moments where the plot didn’t feel particularly strong. Alina was a humble, funny, and overall likeable main character, who really nailed the fish-out-of water routine. The mystery surrounding The Darkling had me flying through the pages in an attempt to just learn more, and the unique side-characters were both refreshing and offered a subtle and genius way of world-building. The only negative I can think of is centred around personal preference – I don’t often enjoy the ‘chosen one’ trope or love triangles, but for the characters and writing alone, I would have given Shadow and Bone five stars!
Another thing I really enjoyed was Ravka – the fictional setting. It’s not often that I find fantasy worlds based on Tsarist Russia and it was also really interesting to see the dynamic between ‘commoners’ and the Grisha. Speaking of the Grisha, magic is always going to be a plus in my books. Bardugo’s take on magic, or the ‘small science’ as it’s referred to, is unique and fascinating. I was left with a lot of questions about these powers, but that just made me want to read a whole lot more!
Can never resist a good map!
There were points in the book where I thought an author of Bardugo’s caliber could have dealt with a bit better. Without giving too much away, there is a moment near the end where a huge (or it should have been huge but fell a little flat due to minimal build-up) epiphany is had. Not only did it feel too sudden, but it also allowed Alina to bypass one of the major points of conflict in the story in a way that made me feel a little cheated – considering how much of a problem this particular situation was made out to be throughout the novel. Super vague, I’m sorry!
Additionally, the ending wasn’t quite what I expected. While it definitely raised a million questions that had me eager to read book two, I again felt that the resolution was too sudden to enjoy. Even in a world of fantasy it didn’t feel entirely believable, or logical, in my opinion. I hope I don’t give too much away by saying this, but it’s the main thing that kept me from giving Shadow and Bone a higher rating. I have never enjoyed seeing a protagonist develop incredible amounts of power out of thin air. The best part of a hero’s journey for me is watching them struggle and fight their way up to being someone who genuinely stands a chance against a powerful villain. While I could see that in the early stages of the book with Alina’s training, I was disappointed in the end.
I really did enjoy my first look into the Shadow and Bone trilogy and I even snatched up the Six of Crows duology and King of Scars for good measure! Anyone looking to give the Grishaverse a go, don’t be too dissuaded unless any of the things I mentioned above are absolute deal-breakers. Bardugo’s writing makes for a really easy and enjoyable read, and Shadow and Bone was a promising start to a trilogy I have no doubt I’ll read again. As always, please let us know your thoughts below!
//Have you read the Shadow and Bone Trilogy? Which book was your favourite?//