Review: ‘Shadow and Bone’ (Grisha #1) by Leigh Bardugo

I was assigned this book to give for this years’ World Book Night, which is why I picked it up. I hadn’t been a giver of a YA book before, so I wanted to read it to help me figure out where to give my WBN copies on the day. I’m so glad I was assigned this and not one of my higher choices – this was fourth on my preference list of five when I applied – because otherwise I may never have picked it up.

shadow and bone

It’s been a while since I read this kind of fantasy. The most recent things even close to that genre were The Bone Season and Station Eleven, but the world’s both of those take place within are in some way connected to our real world. The Hunger Games and Divergent are perhaps loosely similar (being YA fiction), but those again are dystopian futures of our world, rather than entirely original geographies, so perhaps the last real fantasy world I entered was Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle (Eragon etc). I’m surprised to realise how long it’s been since I read a proper fantasy novel – I’ve been looking through my bookshelves, thinking back through what I’ve read, sure that I must have read one more recently, but apparently it isn’t so.

I loved entering a new and different world again. Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy land is rich with detail; drawing on Russian folklore and legend, the land of Ravka is brilliantly created, without being overburdened in complicated detail.

The story follows Alina, orphan and mapmaker in the King’s Army whose unit is ordered to cross the Shadow Fold – a swathe of unnatural darkness, full of monstrous Volcra, that splits the kingdom and must be crossed to reach the true sea. In a life threatening moment, she discovers a power which changes everything about her world and pushes her into the kingdom’s magical elite, the Grisha.

Any book told in first person needs a strong protagonist and Alina for me was a fantastic central character – young, wary and figuring out where and who she wants to be. My only reservation is that a lot of the plot driving actions are made by other characters, rather than Alina herself affecting the plot directly – in the sequel, I am hoping for more agency on Alina’s part.

[spoilers this para]
To begin with, Alina has never been in a position of particular power over anyone else, and I was glad to see this begin to change by the end of the book. For much of the story she is subject to others’ intentions – the Darkling’s plans, Baghra’s advice, even once she leaves Os Alta, the reason she goes north is Mal. But the moment when she meets Morozova’s stag is so important to me – that finally this moment where she makes a choice for herself is so key to the narrative and to her finding control of her power.

[spoilers this para]
My other concern to begin with was that we were heading towards two of my least favourite tropes – one being the love triangle, and another being the very-old-very-powerful handsome man as the love interest, which is one of my reservations about The Bone SeasonThis being so, I was delighted when Bardugo took us in a different direction, and highlighted the Darkling’s behaviour towards Alina as the abusive and self-serving manipulation it was. I was also really happy that the romantic element of the story became so simple – in a series with so much else going on, a drawn out will-they-won’t-they wouldn’t have fit.

I really, really enjoyed this book, as a fantastic fantasy without being exhaustingly long and with brilliant characters. I’m really excited to read the rest of the trilogy.

 

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