Book Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Series Number: 1
Published: 6 June 2013
Page Count: 369
Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Orphaned and expendable, Alina Starkov is a soldier who knows she may not survive her first trek across the Shadow Fold - a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. But when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed. Now Alina will enter a lavish world of and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country's magical military elite - and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift. As the threat to the kingdom mounts and Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation. Welcome to Ravka . . . a world of science and superstition where nothing is what it seems.
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This series has been on my TBR for quite a while and I’ll be totally honest, finding out that Ben Barnes was in the Netflix adaptation prompted me to finally read it. I’m a big fan of his and when I started hearing great things about his role in the show I wanted to watch it even more. Before I start talking about my thoughts on the book itself I want to mention that, if like me, you wanted to read the book before watching the show, you actually need to read two books. There are multiple book trilogies and duologies that are set in “Grishaverse” and for the TV show they’ve mixed things up a bit. They’ve used the chronological events of the Shadow and Bone trilogy but also added in the characters from the Six of Crows duology. The Six of Crows duology takes place after the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and while it alludes to events that happened it doesn’t give you massive spoilers. However, the TV show does give you spoilers for two of the main characters in Six of Crows because events that happened before the novel are shown in the TV show.

Yes, that is all very confusing (especially as the first book of each series has the same name as the series). In short; I personally advise reading the first book of both series before starting the TV Show if you want to avoid spoilers.

Now, onto my review of Shadow and Bone.

I enjoyed the book, and I was quite happy when I finished it. Yet, as you can see, I’ve only given it 3 stars. I considered giving it 3.5 but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it really didn’t even deserve that half a star. So what went wrong for me? Considering this book is so beloved by so many people? Well, to put it very bluntly the story is so incredibly BASIC. It has its charms, yet, at the end of the day, it really is such a fundamental fairytale plot. There was one plot twist and honestly, it was about as unsurprising as finding out that if you step outside during a rainstorm you are going to get wet. I kept waiting for something, anything, to jump out and bite me, to surprise me and at about 82% I was like… is this it?

I think I can see why people are so fond of the book and it’s all to do with the protagonist, Alina. Unlike other protagonists, she’s extremely likeable. She’s a plain Jane, and I think people probably relate to that. She could be anyone, she is anyone, just a random girl that something extraordinary happens to. She’s swept away into this world of magic just like so many of us are swept away by things in life. The problem for me is that I like my protagonists to have a bit more of a spark. While she’s someone who puts their head down and works, when push comes to shove she doesn’t stick her head up and say “screw you, I’m not going down without a fight”. She relies too much on what other people tell her to do, on their guidance.

I normally don’t include spoilers in my reviews, however, I feel that the romance in this book is something I need to talk about.

Spoiler

I normally bond with the love interest of a novel very quickly, however, I took an instant dislike to Mal from the first moment we met him. In the TV series, they’ve done a lot to make him more likeable, to show that he is in love with Alina and cares about her from the beginning. However, in the novel, he is a complete tosser. I’m sorry, but he is. I actually cheered for her getting over him, even though I knew that there was something incredibly shifty about him not responding to her letters. I knew that the Darkling had done something to ensure that they had been separated, although at that point I thought he had just done it to get her to concentrate on her power and leave her past behind.

It left a very bitter taste in my mouth when he suddenly appeared to save Alina and told her how much he’d realised he missed her, and instead of telling him he had treated her like crap, she just lapped it up. Because that is what girls are supposed to do right? When a guy tells us they missed us, we’re supposed to just fall head over heels for them and forget their transgressions. No. No, that is not how it goes and it’s extremely harmful that novels continue to fetishise this type of toxic behaviour. It leads to teenagers growing into women that are vulnerable to abuse.

Especially so when the heroine of the story is literally shown fleeing into the arms of the hero to escape “the villain” who literally just enslaved her. The one saving grace is that Alina is shown as saving herself from the enslavement and saving Mal in the process. It is the only time in the entire novel that she does something with some form of passion, and I really hope the next novel is not going to be filled with her guilt at the price of their escape. As the good guy some guilt is to be expected, she’s not a mass murderer after all, but too much guilt taints the necessity of what she had to do and her reasons for doing it.

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I will be checking out Six of Crows next so I can continue watching the rest of the Netflix show, and eventually, when I can get my hands on it (aka when my library gets it in) I’ll pick up Shadow and Bones book 2. But I’m not as excited by the prospect as I was before I picked this book up. Maybe this is a series that gets better with book 2, maybe it’s not. I’ll just have to wait and see.

 

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