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.
As a lot of people may know, next month the new Netflix series ‘Shadow and Bone’ is coming out, and though I love Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology (which will also feature in the show), I had not read the original trilogy set in the Grishaverse, so I decided to do so before watching the series, so I can endlessly frustrate my family by saying, “Actually, in the book…” while we watch. Anyone else? This review will include both the first and second book, and some of my expectations and thoughts for the third, Ruin and Rising, which I will get hold of sometime next week.
Shadow and Bone was a quick read, and I really enjoyed it. Sure, there were some overused tropes to begin with, but I really enjoy Bardugo’s easy style of writing, and the way all her characters have very distinct personalities and feel quite real. Alina is the typical YA female protagonist, mousy and plain and unremarkable until she discovers she is the saviour, and somehow every man she comes into contact with seems to fall for her – which is a little old, but she is still an interesting point of view character. As an orphan and then a soldier, constantly moving around, she does not feel a sense of belonging anywhere, and it’s interesting to watch her discover a place she might fit into the world, and whether that feeling might last. Mal is also the typical YA love interest, close friends with the main character, incredibly handsome, could have any girl he wanted, and ignores the main character who is in love with him until they are separated and he realises how much she means to him. *phew* that was a long sentence! The Darkling is also the typical brooding, powerful man that sweeps the main character off of her feet, taking her away from the simple life with her simple love interest.
Which leads us, of course, to the dreaded love triangle (or love arrow, since there is nothing between Alina’s two suitors), but in this case I didn’t mind it too much, because it gets resolved fairly quickly and the narrative focuses on other things. Although, having said that, I have also read the second book, Siege and Storm, and was delighted (and by delighted I mean incredibly annoyed) to find that there is another man vying for Alina’s attention, introducing a second love triangle/arrow! Though I haven’t read the third book yet, I have a feeling this conflict will drag out a little longer and will probably result in some tragedy.
I did really enjoy the twists in the story, and the way Bardugo brought in the politics, not only of Ravka, but of its surrounding nations, Fjerda and Shu Han. I also liked reading about the tensions within Ravka, between the Second Army of Grisha, who have powers to manipulate the world around them, and the First Army of regular soldiers. It’s interesting to enter a world that is already ravaged by war, rather than one on the brink of it, and though we don’t see a lot of battle, it’s felt on almost every page.
My one complaint is that this series lacks the diversity found in the later books Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, and found in a lot of YA today, but it is quite unique in being set in a Russian/Eastern European inspired world, rather than the typical medieval Europe that still pervades fantasy. I did enjoy that element, and the way the languages of each nation fit into that as well. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how the story concludes in Ruin and Rising and how Netflix has adapted it for the screen.