Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, #1)

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company

Date Published: June 5, 2012

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Shadow and Bone is the first book in the trilogy of the same title and of the larger Grisha-verse.

It’s basically a generic Chosen One fantasy book with vague Russian “inspiration.” That’s really all there is to say about this book; it literally is not deeper than that.

First of all, let’s talk about the Russian-esque setting and culture of the book. The title Grisha makes me raise my eyebrows a little because I recognized it as the name of the dad from Attack on Titan, and then after some very quick research (that apparently the author was too lazy to do herself) I found out the word is basically the Russian version of Greg. Then, I had to look up why Leigh Bardugo chose to call her magic-users Greg and I found out she fucking did it on purpose? She knew it was the diminutive name for Grigori, and she still thought, “Yes, that’s the perfect thing to call magic-users in this fantasy world that I’m writing.” Somehow that pisses me off more than just assuming she didn’t do her research. I can’t even take this whole Gregverse seriously now that I know this.

And that’s not all. For me, the other most noticeable error was the way that surnames are used completely incorrectly. The main character is Alina Starkov rather than Alina Starkova, and there’s another person named Ilya Morozova rather than Ilya Morozov (Ilya is a male first name, and Morozova is the feminine surname.) And this doesn’t seem to be an intended switch.

Honestly, I mean, I’m not even Russian, and all this stuff annoyed me. Like, come on. If you can’t put in at least minimal effort, how is anyone supposed to take this story seriously? I don’t doubt that she made even more mistakes than those if someone like me with a very loose grasp of Russian even could see those.

Mostly, though, the Russian setting meant random possibly Russian words being thrown around and italicized but none of it really added any depth to the world. It’s a generic fantasy world with some Russian language sprinkled on top to try to trick the reader into thinking the setting was unique even though it’s really not. It’s every other Western fantasy world just decorated with Russian-esque words and names.

That is just one of the ways in which the book remains superficial.

Let’s start with Alina. I liked her at first, and I really wanted to continue to like her, but then her character hit a wall. Full disclosure: I don’t generally like Chosen One main characters. I was pleasantly surprised that Alina had to put in a little effort to reach her potential as a Greg and the Sun Summoner. But other than that her character saw no development at all throughout the 350 pages of this book, and occasionally it was inconsistent, and it’s especially noticeable because it’s written in first-person. Sometimes she’s sarcastic and snarky, but in general she’s naive and makes a lot of stupid decisions. Can we pick one characterization and stick to it?

The Darkling has the potential to be interesting, but he falls short too. I found his evil-ness sort of contrived and unbelievable. His manipulative side is actually decently written, though. There just isn’t anything more than that. Again, the key word is potential.

Then there’s Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend and main love interest. There is nothing here. He’s a good tracker so he’s used as a plot device to this end a few times, but he has no actual depth and when he shows back up after Alina’s stint in the Little Palace I found myself bored to tears because there’s no actual chemistry here due to the lack of being developed characters in any meaningful way, so their interactions are about as interesting as watching paint dry.

The pacing is this book’s only saving grace. The majority of this book I read in the span of 2 days. And at no point did I think it was an amazing book, but it was fun. Well it was fun until I found myself bored during the last 20%. After that, even The Darkling’s catching Mal and Alina wasn’t enough to pique my interest in the story once again.

The plot is very formulaic. Plain girl is secretly Super Special and is the only hope to save the world. This is why I don’t generally like Chosen One stories, they all follow the same set of instructions and I don’t like reading the same thing over and over.

Despite all it’s flaws, I will be reading the next two books in the trilogy and hoping to see improvement. This was Leigh Bardugo’s debut novel so I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Admittedly, I’m only reading this trilogy to get to Six of Crows, because I want all the context of the world-building in these books before going into that duology. Though the near complete lack of world-building in this first book makes me wonder whether I’ve made a mistake in choosing to read these first.

Anyway, yeah, I wouldn’t recommend this unless you’re stubborn like me and I guess want to read them to get to the later books in the world.

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