Full disclosure: I am reading this series because I want to read Six of Crows and I CANNOT read a series (or even a spinoff series) out of order. I do not care if people tell me that they can be read as standalone novels. You are lying and should be ashamed of yourself. Shadow and Bone is the story of Alina Starkov who lives in a fantastical version of Russia. The country is guarded by the Greisha, masters of the small science (aka magic). They are pretty necessary because the country is split in two by something called the “Unsea” which as far as I can tell is a rip in the space time continuum. Black and with monsters. The Unsea has a mysterious and unnatural origin that you discover as the story unfolds.
The pseudo-Russian thing was kind of interesting as well. I was sort of imagining a Russian circa 1890. I have read a couple reviews where people were a little put out that there wasn’t more research done but it didn’t bother me because it is a fantasy novel. I think that I would have been much more inclined to critical if this had been a historical fiction novel. Also, for most of the novel Alina is in either the Little Palace where things are insanely opulent or with the Greishas where the ascetic is kind of fancified peasantry. Neither of these would have a real grasp on reality.
I liked the writing. The world building was very well done. I find that authors can get bogged down in the world building and forget about moving the story forward. I thought that the pacing of the story was good. Even the drudgery of learning to control her magic and the sort of “Greisha high school” thing which was my least favorite part of the book really didn’t feel as if it was being drawn out more than necessary.
The characters are where I ran into some problems. Unfortunately, I didn’t like Alina. There is this whole cool world of magic and she got hung up on girl drama, clothes, and why Mal doesn’t like her back. I know that she has potential and I am looking forward to seeing what is done with this character in the second book. Mal felt a little cardboard cutouty. I suspect that this has to do with the way that Alina sees him. Although they have grown up together and are best friends I don’t think that she really knows him. In many ways she sees him as a symbol. The Darkling is also quite a mystery. Alina has no clue how to deal with him or how to view him. Because this book is first person the reader also gets a confused view of the Darkling. Even at the end of the novel I wasn’t entirely clear about his motivations or where he truly stands.
I do really enjoy a good YA fantasy and will definitely be reading the next book. If for no other reason than because I really want to read Six of Crows and The Crooked Kingdom.
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.
Shadow and Bone is the first installment in Leigh Bardugo's Grisha Trilogy.