Soldier. Summoner. Saint.
Alina Starkov is a soldier. When her regiment is attacked whilst crossing the Shadow Fold – a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters – 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.
But as 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 I mentioned in my Amsterdam Book Haul, this one was actually recommended to me by a friend. She is a massive fan of the entire Grishaverse (don’t worry, I didn’t know what this was either) and was super excited when I told her that I had actually gone out and bought the book. So it’s safe to say that my expectations for this novel were pretty high, despite it being labelled as YA fantasy. Because even though I’m 29 years old now, I’m not above reading YA fiction. Some of it is still pretty good, even when you’re nearing your thirties. I mean… Who can resist a good coming-of-age story, am I right? Obviously, Shadow and Bone is a bit more than that as it is set in a sort of alternate Russia where magic is a thing and there’s a war raging, but the underlying theme is that of a young girl discovering herself.
First and foremost, I want to say that I did fall in love with the setting of this book. The premise is promising, and the world-building is definitely intriguing. It’s interesting to see how Bardugo kind of incorporates Russian elements into the story and I like the magic system she came up with. I’m honestly a fan of the Grisha and how their magic works – they’re not too overpowered (apart from maybe the Darkling), and the way they access their ability makes sense. It also seems like there’s a very rich history to this universe and I want to know more.
It’s unfortunate that the focus is not on that, though, but instead on Alina’s pining. Which immediately brings me to why I didn’t like this book as much as I’d expected and why it only received a 2.5 rating (rounded up to 3 on Goodreads). I know this is exactly the reason why most adults wouldn’t necessarily enjoy reading a YA novel, but the level of “does he love me or does he not” is a little bit too high for my liking. I honestly think the book could have done without the sort of love triangle and all of Alina’s insecurities regarding her romantic situation. I’m not saying that she shouldn’t have any insecurities at all, because – believe me – I’d be a useless puddle of anxiety if I was thrust into the same kind of situation, but I feel like there’s more important stuff going on than trying to find out if the guy you like likes you back or not. You know, with your new-found magical powers and the war going on in the background and all. And it’s not even like I don’t enjoy reading a romance novel every now and then (I bloody love them), I just feel like the infatuation didn’t really have a place in this story and, at times, it became the star of the show – which is a bit much for a fantasy novel.
One redeeming factor is the major revelation near the end (don’t worry – I won’t spoil anything). I feel like I say this in almost all of my book reviews, but I definitely did not see that one coming. A more observant reader might’ve already sensed something was up, but I was too caught up in complaining about the prominent love story or being intrigued by the fictional universe to notice. The plot twist does make the story a lot more interesting and it was enough to almost make me forgive Bardugo for the abundance of teenage pining – almost.
All in all, I 100% will read the rest of this trilogy, and I will more than likely also read Bardugo’s other Grishaverse books, but… This might not have been the best starting point, even though it’s the first novel she wrote. It just doesn’t paint enough of a picture of what is going on in this universe, as the focus is a little bit too much on Alina’s love life. I’ve heard from my friend and read online that the next books are a lot better, though – they apparently have a darker tone to them, which sounds promising.
Have you read anything by Leigh Bardugo yet? Let me know in the comments.
I hope you enjoyed reading and I’ll see you again next week with a new blog post!
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