Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (The Grisha – book 1)

Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo

Pages: 352

Published: 5 June 2012

⭐️ 4 / 5

This book (and the entire series actually) has been on my shelf and my TBR for a long time. I bought all 3 books in the series several years ago and they’ve been sat on my bookshelf ever since. Towards the end of 2019 I finally got around to them, after uni destroyed my love of reading almost irreparably, and I am so glad I am now on this bandwagon.

Warning: technically there is a small plot spoiler below in the form of a relationship but honestly if you don’t see it coming from the first page, I don’t know what to tell you…

Plot

This is a novel about discovering yourself and carving your own path. When Alina discovers a magic (and by extension, a strength) she didn’t know she had, she’s whisked away with people she doesn’t know to a place she doesn’t know where she doesn’t fit in and is not accepted. She is forced to leave behind the only person she knows, her best friend Mal, and it’s like she’s orphaned all over again. The fact that Alina has to learn about herself as one of the Grisha is really effective in terms of worldbuilding. The reader is able to learn as Alina is forced to learn. This is the first book I’ve read in a while that has a magic system, which I really enjoyed. It’s been very well constructed considering in theory the Grisha can only control one of 3 different things but their own grasp of their power dictates just how much they can do. Another thing I really enjoyed about the worldbuilding is that there was mention of other countries meaning the world extends beyond Alina’s immediate environment. It feels like we are going to explore some of this later in the series, which I really hope is the case.

The description of the Fold is really striking and I love that the metaphorical darkness seen in most fantasies is a literal threat in this series. It’s interesting to explore this concept and the reason the Fold exists. I think it gives the opportunity to remind ourselves of the child-like vulnerability that comes with being afraid of the dark, only this time there really are monsters lurking beyond your vision.

We do get to see a fair amount of Ravka in Shadow and Bone as Alina (and eventually Mal) head out on a nation-wide quest. One strength of this being done is that the reader was able to see ‘normal’ life in this world as opposed to the military or magic lives we’d experienced before. This also meant the reader was able to get to know these characters fairly well as, for the most part, they were alone. I did feel that some of the difficulties they faced on this journey were unnecessary though. Each of them should have been for a specific character-building or story arc purpose however a couple of instances felt like they were just included to give them something to do and to distract them from the slow-burn realisation of their feelings towards each other.

Characters

I found Alina, our protagonist, to be very relatable. She really struggles with wanting to fit in despite being literally born to stand out. She desperately wants to cling on to anything familiar and can’t handle how much her life is changing. She feels crushed by the pressure of failure and letting others down, which is mostly her own exacerbated impression of what her role in Ravka’s future could be. Mal flits between irritating me and being the character I enjoy most on the page. He’s a moody sod and an utter gem. Part of me thinks he is unfair to Alina, part of me understands because she is not exactly the model character in her behaviour either. I love that they’re both so messy and both trying so hard. Bardugo writes them both beautifully and I love that she has created two characters that I can absolutely root for.

I really enjoyed The Darkling as a character. He is so complex and layered. I loved to love him and I loved to hate him too. He has far more potential than we saw in this book so I am really excited to see where he goes in the rest of the series.

I also have to give a special mention to Baghra. What a babe. She has so much more depth to her that just the grumpy old woman she is on the surface. Her wisdom runs deep and I have to say she really surprised me. I hope we see more of her as the series progresses.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this book and thought it was a great start to a series. The ending left me desperate to read the sequel straight away which leaves me thankful that I waited so long to start this series. There’s nothing better than a book binge if you have the patience to wait years for a series to end before you start.

Let me know what you thought of this book/series below! Keep an eye out for my review of Siege and Storm soon.

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.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.