Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Okay, since I have just finished reading Shadow and Bone yesterday, I’ve decided to let it simmer and do the review the following day. So, I’ve let it sit and now I am ready to do my review. I want to start by saying I will do one review that has no spoilers, and a secondary review with spoilers that gives more information.
Let’s get started.
No Spoiler Review
I started reading this book after a review I read that said it was a firm example of how to properly introduce a high character cast. As a writer, I don’t take everyone’s words at face value, but the book had great reviews so I got myself a copy once I was able to spare the money.
That being said, I dislike first person point-of-view, and when the first chapter “before” was in third person and then the next chapter (the bulk of the story), was in first person, I found it jarring and honestly a bit disappointing. The third person felt tighter, better descriptions, and all-around stronger. That doesn’t mean that the book wasn’t well-written, it was, and marketing wise I believe first person is more popular in young adult novels anyway. So, I do think it was a good choice overall, especially with the way the main character, Alina, thinks and feels. It’s like having narrator throughout the story, but one who gives good descriptions.
The story wasn’t what I was expecting, from the beginning I saw it going in a totally different direction than it did, but from the first inciting moment when they are on the Shadow Fold, to the end, I couldn’t put the book down. I stayed up for 12 hours reading this book. I think that says a lot about the story and the writing. I could not stop reading. I had to know what happened next.
There was a long period where I found myself simply frustrated, nothing was happening, and it was because Alina wasn’t allowing it to. It makes sense to her character arc and the story itself, but I found myself begging for something, anything of excitement to happen. When it finally did the book picked up a nice pace and started really rolling, while still being calm, somehow. This is a very character driven story, mind you, and we’re just experiencing events as they happen to Alina. I thought the romance would be MORE, I thought the fight scenes would be LONGER, but that turned out to not really be the story that was being told. I found myself reading more about a girl finding herself while all this bad and crazy stuff is happening, rather than an outright adventure. This is not a bad thing, it was just not what I thought it was going to be, and that’s okay. It was still an extremely fun and exciting read, full of drama and realistic characters. I found myself wanting to slap Mal once or twice, and I found myself angry with dumb choices Alina made.
The best part of this book was that I had no idea who the bad guy was until it was almost the end. The amount of unreliable narrative was beautifully crafted and you learn who to trust WITH Alina rather than just knowing. I must commend Leigh Bardugo for her craftsmanship and I am excited to read book two and three in the coming months.
Some added information, while this book does pass the Bechdel test, it only barely passes the Mako Mori test. It does pass the sexy lamp test, but the amount of diversity in the book was extremely lacking. I understand the setting is a mixture of Russian and somewhere else, but I never got the sense that anyone was anything other than white. I actually thought that Alina was darker skinned, but I was wrong – because at points of the book she is described as pale. I was super bummed by the lack of diversity, but hopefully going further with the trilogy that will change. If anyone knows more details, if Shadow and Bone had any characters of non-Caucasian lineage, please let me know. Also, it would have been nice to see some disabled characters, I understand that the magic to heal exists, but maybe someone who thinks the Grisha are evil and wouldn’t let themselves be healed, that would have been cool. One of my favorite characters was the engineer, David, and Genya – and I probably would have more enjoyed their romance to that of Alina’s. More on this in the Spoiler version below.
If you are interested in the spoiler version of this review please continue, if you don’t want the book ruined – stop reading now.
Please keep in mind that I loved this book, and the next part of the review is going to be extremely critical. You can love something and still be honest.
Alina was a pain in the ass. She purposely was holding in her magic over a dude, and I understand the whole orphan thing, I really do, but it was annoying. Just when I think she’s got her head out of her ass, Mal shows back up and confuses her again. Honestly, I think the Darkling really did love Alina, and when she kisses Mal toward the end of the book he loses his potato about it.
Alina is young, in love, and boring. This is a very typical female trope, and though Alina proved to be a girl with actual emotions, she spends 90% of the novel trying to please someone else. Typically, that someone else is a man. The main set of her arc seems to be learning to accept her power, the magic in this is called “little science” which I found very interesting, I will get into that later. It would have been really nice to see Alina work past her need to please people, and I hope she does in later books.
Mal… I actually didn’t want Mal to show back up. Least of all, I didn’t want him to express love for Alina. I wanted to hit him. He literally screwed a bunch of other girls, and led her on like a stray puppy. When they finally come together at the end, Alina falls right back in love with him and reverses all the progress she made. Mind you this is a very realistic thing, I have met plenty of girls who have and still do, do this. Which makes this an acceptable arc, albeit a frustrating one.
Mal didn’t have a real arc, his arc was learning that without Alina he missed her and he had taken her for granted. Typical dude wants the one thing he can’t have all of a sudden. Didn’t care for him, still don’t.
The Darkling, he was incredibly deceptive, and he is very coy. As it stands I am still unsure if he did what he did out of anger or because his mother wasn’t lying and he is just a bad guy. If he was a deceptive liar, I want Alina to defeat him, but if he’s not I don’t want her to just run back to him just cause – that is a worry for the books going forward, that this weird love triangle will continue. The Darkling has this undertone arc – maybe I was reaching but I was certain he went from wanting to use Alina to actually falling in love with her, and then later his heart breaking when she left and he found her kissing another man. This could just be me, again now that he’s acted like a child and started freaking out and is being a psycho I don’t see redemption for him.
So, the world building was good, I enjoyed the different way the armies were set up. The different take on magic was interesting, how they theorize how it works and utilize it like a science, but it also stifles the actual progress of real science which I found worked well and made it more realistic.
The way some people are amplifiers to help make other Grisha stronger was fascinating, as well was the bone amplifiers that could be made. I found the way Alina was trained in her magic was also quite interesting. The magic was one of the most well developed part of the world building. (If you need help with world building, look at my youtube channel, I will be posting how-to videos on this exact subject.)
There wasn’t a lot of negatives for this book, but on the writing, itself, Leigh has a serious issue of describing someone’s eye colors constantly. I already know their eye colors, once or twice is all I need. I found it to be obnoxious, and thought it was a bit of a cop out for other features she could have been describing.
General: Some of my favorite things was the way the magic was described, so her descriptions aren’t bad, just the overuse of eye colors. Her characters felt realistic, Genya and her love of David the engineer who barely noticed her even though she was Oh-So-Beautiful was adorable and I really enjoyed it.
As for the way characters were introduced it was very smooth, and not overwhelming to the reader. The story flowed nicely, like I said before I felt the pacing was good but a little weird.
So, in the beginning we have Alina and she’s a cartographer in the first army, and her, Mal, and her cartographer friend are going to pass through the Shadow Fold, this is where we hit the first inciting event. They are attacked by Volcra that turn out to be the mutation of real humans after they were succumbed to the Darkling’s immense power. The second cartographer that Alina was friends with, dies, and this is like in the first five chapters and was an intense, heated moment. The problem is, that was the most exciting and intense moment of the entire book. The other exciting moments were sort of lackluster, and it became a more mental and emotional story. Not a bad thing, but I would have liked more action.
I think this about covers a full review on the story of things I disliked and liked, without going overboard and just giving the story away. If you would like a few pages of your manuscript gone over I can give full-detailed breakdown of story, characters, first impressions, plot, and structure. Contact me through the contact form.
-Johannus M. Steger