To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the trilogy – Click HERE
Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars
The world is going to know who Leigh Bardugo is as an author, I’m saying that with 100% confidence. She’s already pretty well known amongst avid readers like myself for her YA fantasy books and even her first adult fantasy novel that released back in October 2019, but ever since the announcement of a Grishaverse show coming to Netflix, arguably the most popular streaming service in the world, I was filled with euphoric glee at thinking yet another author I know and love will also become globally known.
I’d learned about Leigh Bardugo initially through her Six of Crows duology, a two-part spin-off from the original Shadow and Bone trilogy about six outcasts who must pull of the heist of the century in order to stop a deadly drug from causing ultimate chaos, and while they throw you right into the middle of the world she’d created without too much time to get too much footing or catch yourself, those books had still resonated so deeply with me based on her expertly crafted plot, her personable and relatable characters, and how well the author writes about mental illness and characters with disabilities. Each character has a richly drawn out tragic backstory that makes you feel like you really know them on a personal level. Romance also doesn’t overtake the main storyline, and has truly one of the most diverse casts of characters a reader will ever meet!
I then turned towards her first set of books and begun reading Shadow and Bone even before the Netflix announcement. Sometimes people like going backyards in terms of a writer’s work, and I’m learning I’m actually not one of those people…I tend to notice things like their craft not being as strong, and it distracts me from enjoying the story. I can’t help it, but it’s just the way I am, not going to apologize for it.
While I enjoyed this book, I did notice a lot more parts of this story that I didn’t like when compared to her later books. It was a strong story for sure, but I noticed there were a lot of clichés that you see in plenty more YA Fantasy titles, which was disappointing. I know for the market of traditional publishing, the companies like to try and have all these aspects included in titles in order to up it’s marketability, but I’ll go more into those clichés later in my review.
Starting with Six of Crows didn’t deter me from too much of her books, they stand by themselves pretty well, but there are references made towards these earlier books for sure that went over my head, and there wasn’t as much told about the Grisha (beings with special abilities) as I’d hoped. Shadow and Bone and it’s two sequels will help fill that void and help readers have a better overall understanding!
What It’s About:
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.
What I Liked:
- The Darkling! He is by far the best character in the whole trilogy so far! I love those moody, brooding, dark demeanor male characters that Leigh Bardugo seems to have in all her books like Kaz Brekker in Six of Crows and Daniel Arlington in Ninth House. The Darkling is the leader of the second army, aka the army of the Grisha. When he learns about Alina and her unique powers with the Unsea and fighting off those wickedly horrendous Volcra, he has her brought to him to be brought to the palace in order to train and help hone in on her craft. He has an air of mystery to him throughout, but once you get past a certain point of the novel, his whole character becomes even more interesting and suddenly I’ve got goosebumps on my skin whenever he appears on the page!
- The Russian Influence! Not a whole lot of Fantasy-genre literature in general seems to lean towards Russia as a backdrop or inspiration for their setting! I admit, my only connection to the land of Putin was the beautifully done animated Anastasia movie…so yes, it’s abysmal. The setting of Ravka has some heavy Russian influence which makes these books already stand out more than a lot of the other titles out there. For those looking for something that doesn’t look out of medieval-era Europe or grimmdark Game of Thrones, definitely consider these books!
- The Unpredictable Plot! I’m not going to lie, but there were some twists that I truly hadn’t seen coming! It was fun to know the author could surprise me and make the story feel so much more exciting because I didn’t know what to expect to happen next!
What I Didn’t Like:
- This Is WAY Too Tropey…It honestly felt like I was almost reading from a different author with all the usual YA clichés that this book was filled with! Six of Crows felt like such a more unique and original idea, so I was surprised at what I read in Shadow and Bone! Here we go with the list: We have the “chosen one” trope with Alina (the idea that the main character is the special someone who has extraordinary power to save the world in some way), and she’s also an orphan to add on top of it…Okay Harry Potter…We have it where she goes to an institute/school-like setting to practice her powers, even if it’s a palace…There’s Zoya, who’s the stunningly gorgeous token mean girl who instantly dislikes Alina because she’s a threat and steals her HBIC thunder amongst the other Grisha training…There’s the initial persona of the Darkling, who’s the dark and brooding bad boy who the “innocent and naive” heroine–Alina–can’t help but be attracted to…There’s the love triangle that kind of forms between Alina, Mal and the Darkling (Who will she end up with?!)…Like I said, these are all ideas and concepts we’ve seen before in PLENTY of other YA titles.
- He’s Just Not That Into You…I was unattracted to the idea of how Alina was in love with her childhood best-friend, Mal, who was completely clueless her feelings. Over the years, they’d drifted apart because he’d gotten hot, got new friends, and become popular as she’d stayed behind…At a certain point, you just ask her “Girl…what do you see in him?” Personally, I’m way more into the Darkling, but I’m also single, so there’s that…
Overall, this was a fun beginning to the OG trilogy that started it all for Leigh Bardugo and her Grishaverse! It gives a much more detailed look into the Grisha specifically when compared to Six of Crows, and should be read first for those that like chronological order, hell, even those that prefer publication order too!
While I was disappointed in the amount of clichés that appeared in this first of three books, my love and utter adoration for SoC won’t allow me to write these books off and I for sure plan to keep going on to see what happens next. Unfortunately, since I’d read SoC first, I’m aware of a HUGE spoiler to the Shadow and Bone trilogy, but I’m someone who can enjoy the journey even if I know what ends up happening at the destination.
Thanks for Reading!
— Nick Goodsell