Review: Shadow and Bone

I’ve been wanting to start reading the Grisha trilogy for months–but I was always in the middle of another series or had something else higher on my list. February 2017 was the month I finally decided that it didn’t matter what else I was in the middle of–and so I read Leigh Bardugo’s first book in the Grisha trilogy, Shadow and Bone.

shadowandboneAbout the book: Alina Starkov is an ordinary mapmaker–or so she believes. Her best friend, Mal, is Ravka’s best tracker, and she’s secretly in love with him. When they are attacked by a flock of hungry volcra while trying to cross the Shadow Fold and Mal’s life is threatened, a bright warm light fills the Shadow Fold and scares back the volcra. Only one of the magical Grisha could have manifested a power like that, but the other people crossing the Fold say the light came from Alina. She tries to tell them all there’s been a mistake, but the Darkling, head of all the Grisha, tests her himself. Not only does the Darkling remove Alina from her life and job and friends, but it seems he’s had plans for her powers since the moment they’re confirmed. With a little training, Alina might be the one who can finally destroy the Shadow Fold and make Ravka a safe country to cross again–or she could cause further destruction. Unsure of whether she’ll ever see Mal again, unsure of the Darkling’s intentions, and unsure of her own capabilities, Alina is thrust into a whole new world she’s only ever glimpsed from the outside, and she’ll have to choose her alliances carefully if she wants to survive.

“I had no idea what the future held or what waited for me at the end of this grueling journey and yet, somehow, I wasn’t miserable. I’d been lonely my whole life, but I’d never been truly alone before, and it wasn’t nearly as scary as I’d imagined.”

It took me exactly two chapters to become addicted to this story. I knew I would love this book, but in the first two chapters the reader is hit with a lot of names and new terms, a lot of place descriptions and rules for how this magical world functions. It’s not presented as confusingly as it may seem from that description, but it is a lot to take in. Once the basics are laid out, though, things start to happen very quickly. It’s a magical, adventurous, sometimes romantic tale of self-discovery.

The best part, for me, was the characters. There were times I wanted to roll my eyes at Alina because all she’s lacking is self-confidence and without anything happening but her realization of ‘oh yeah, wait, I can actually do this,’ suddenly she becomes very powerful. This is a lesson she has to learn more than once, and there really is no obstacle but herself, which was frustrating to read. Otherwise, I loved the characters. I knew the Darkling had to be evil (although it would be highly intriguing for the evil-sounding name to belong to the good guy for once), but there was a time when the narration made it easy to see his good sides; every villain needs a little hero in them, and vice versa, to become a really strong character. They make so much more of an impact when the character has seen both sides of morality and ends up picking one over the other.

“The first time I’d entered the Fold, I’d feared the darkness and my own death. Now, darkness was nothing to me, and I knew that soon death would seem like a gift. I’d always known I would have to return to the Unsea, but as I looked back, I realized that part of me had anticipated it. I had welcomed the chance to prove myself and–I cringed when I thought of it–to please the Darkling. I had dreamed of this moment, standing by his side. I had to believe in the destiny he’d laid out for me, that the orphan no one wanted would change the world and be adored for it.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I knew I would love this book, and I was still not prepared for how much I loved this book. One of the biggest attractions for me, however, was the feel of the setup in this one. Usually the first book in a fantasy series/trilogy has less plot, more world-building, so I wasn’t surprised to see that here; but really the whole book felt like it was just creating this great potential for the next parts. Shadow and Bone shows the pieces of the puzzle (although there must be more new elements still to come, as well), but now that I’ve seen the parts individually, I want to see the whole picture, the final outcome, in whatever happens next. The elements–character, world, magic functions–drew me in in this first book, but I’m highly anticipating diving into the sequel of this trilogy next month because I suspect they’re going to mix together to brew up some great plot points moving forward. At least, they better. This book brought in the storm clouds, but I’m hoping the storm will actually hit in the next volume–which it must, considering the title is Siege and Storm. I can’t wait to dive in to the sequel next month.

Further recommendations:

  1. Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Mist and Fury has a lot of similar elements and emotions as Shadow and Bone. It’s also set in a magical world with powerful characters, some who use their positions for good and some for evil. ACOMAF is the second book in Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series, but I didn’t like the first book as much. It felt more predictable and far-fetched, although it was still a fun read. The greatness lies in the second book, and if you’re a Grisha fan who hasn’t read the ACOTAR books yet, I highly recommend pushing through the first book to experience all the magic of the second. The third comes out in May, so… tick tock!
  2. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you won’t be at all surprised to see this next recommendation–Pierce Brown’s Red Rising. Brown’s trilogy was one of my absolute favorite reads of 2016, and I recommend it at every possible chance. Although it’s more dystopian than magical, it shares a lot of similarities with Shadow and Bone–complex characters, killer plot twists, tense fights, and a brand new world. This one takes place on Mars, and while the main character is made rather than born a powerful creature, he’s strong and fallible and irresistible.

What’s next: I’m currently reading my Book of the Month Club pick for February, Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes. Supposedly it’s a thriller with a super twist ending, which I’m really excited for because I love unpredictable endings. So far I’ve just been getting acquainted with the characters, who all seem pretty interesting and thriller-esque. I can’t wait to see where this one’s going.

What books are you ending this short month of reading with?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: You can now read my review on the next book in this series, Siege and Storm!

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