Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo
Very often I find people apologising for the books they read. It seems to become the vogue for people to make excuses as to why the read Harry Potter for example as if reading YA fiction is something to be ashamed of.
Personally, if the story is good and the characters are enjoyable than that is all that matters. One of my sons has devoured Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series. Wanting to discuss it with him, I have read the first three as well and have to say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them.
I was only vaguely aware of the Shadow and Bone series and it wasn’t until I saw the advert on Netflix for the forthcoming TV series that I got interested. I immediately downloaded the first book:
Here is the blurb:
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 royalty 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.
I enjoyed this novel but wouldn’t say I loved it. Alina is your classic protagonist that you will find in 90% of young adult fantasy novels (i.e. an orphan who is unaware of her powers) but that doesn’t matter as she is very likeable and it is a trope we all know and love. The problem I have with her is that she was a little passive. Things just seem to happen to Alina and well, she just lets them. She does undergo some personal growth as a character but there is no signs of this developing throughout the novel, it is more when she is forced into a corner that she stands up for herself.
The two other male characters I have mixed feelings about. The Darkling was initially intriguing but suddenly changes mid-way through the novel and then becomes a little too cartoonish as a villain. Mal on the other hand is a great character. The scenes he shares with Alina are well done and the dialogue between them is easy and feels natural.
The setting is a little under explored but I really like it. The Grisha are intriguing as an elite fighting force and the Shadow Fold dominating the middle of the landscape with its grotesque monsters is a great idea. However, I very much got the sense that we were just given a taster of what is to come in the series, rather than having the world realised in great detail.
The plot is simple. Alina is identified as having great power (Sun Summoner) and the Darkling wants it for himself whether for good or evil the reader is not sure about in the first half of the novel. Whilst the plot evolves around Alina and her attempts to control her power, I couldn’t help but think Mal’s offscreen journey was more interesting. In truth I would liked to have read about both.
The majority of the story unfortunately involves the pettiness of other characters. There is the token mean girl in Zoya which really does highlight how this is intended to be a YA novel. I would have much preferred the attention to be on Alina being more proactive in exploring and discovering things for herself.
As I said at the start, overall I enjoyed the novel rather than loved it. There were things I would have liked to have seen expanded on and characters fleshed out, but as an opening novel it is decent and I will be checking out the second novel.