Review: Shadow and Bone

This is one of many that I bought ages ago with every intention of reading, only to let it sit on my shelf until someone else talked about how much they enjoyed it. Over the long weekend, I figured I’d give it a whirl.

Shadow and Bone 

By Leigh Bardugo

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co, Square Fish, 2013.



The basics

In the Russian-influenced fantasy world Ravka, there are people who can manipulate reality, called Grisha, and everyone else. Ravka has been at war with its neighboring countries Fjerda and Shu Han for decades, but worse is the terrible Unsea, a scar of shadow magic infested with monsters that essentially divides Ravka in half. Ravka has two armies in this war: the First Army, made up of normal humans, and the Second Army, made up of Grisha and led by the most powerful Grisha, known as the Darkling.

Alina, a cartographer in the First Army, thought she was among the least exceptional of everyone else–thin, clumsy, and none too pretty. Doesn’t help that her best (and only) friend Mal is exceptional in so many ways. Imagine her surprise when an attempt to travel through the Unsea awakens Alina’s dormant Grisha power. Imagine everyone’s surprise when the Darkling declares the scrawny cartographer is their way to win the war at last.

The craft 

I flew through this book, in part because of the engaging world, but also because of its refreshingly active narrative. Crisp descriptions and lively verbs keep even the long treks across Ravka interesting. Alina has a quick tongue and I often found myself laughing at her conversations with other characters. Characters like Genya, a talented servant caught in the drama of court, brought a dynamic I’m not used to seeing in young adult fantasies.

That being said, there were a lot of “tropey” parts of the story I’d hoped would be a little different. Once again, we have a school (the Little Palace) where special young people learn how to control their powers–not unlike Vampire Academy or Harry Potter. Once again, we have the inexperienced yet unexpectedly powerful teenage girl who arrives on the scene to save the world just in time. Part of that, I know, is the genre, but I was hoping for something I hadn’t seen before.

Overall, however, I enjoyed the read. It helped jog some ideas for my own story, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

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