Title: Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Rating: 5/5 Stars
I feel as if there are very few instances in life when a book or movie that has been hyped up to a large extent still manages to deliver. I have been an avid fantasy fan ever since I was young and there was a time period in my life when I would steadfastly refuse to read anything that wasn’t fantasy. Thus, I had very high hopes and expectations for Shadow and Bone and I was attempting to prepare myself for a downfall or some type of eventual disappointment. I am glad to admit however, that it never came. Shadow and Bone is one of those novels that you don’t realize you’re even reading and before you know it, you’re well past half-way through the book. It is a dark, rich, and provocative adventure and I am already excited to pre-order its sequel.
The premises of Shadow and Bone is seemingly unoriginal – Alina and Mal are orphans who have grown up to be best friends. While Mal is a remarkable tracker and fits in perfectly with the members of the First Army, Alina has never quite felt as if she has belonged. She is thin, scrawny, unattractive, and hopelessly in love with her gorgeous best friend. Yet, when she inadvertently discovers a hidden power within her, she is whisked away to learn to hone her skills with the Darkling, the most powerful Grisha, or possessor of magic, in the realm. However, Alina quickly realizes that all is not as it seems and she must struggle to accept her destiny, own up to her power, and find the strength within her to do what is right.
Leigh Bardugo, much like J.K. Rowling, is a masterful storyteller. Her pacing is impeccable, her characters are vivid, her world comes alive through the pages, and she clearly must be some type of secret agent because she took me completely by surprise. I pride myself on being well-versed within the fantasy realm, but just when I thought I knew the direction this book was going in, there appeared to be a fork in the road and Bardugo went down a path I never suspected. Furthermore, I admire her immensely for being able to craftily weave in so many intricate details of her realm and manage to world-build in a way that never made the plot seem boring or the pace of the novel slacken. Not only was I able to enjoy her amazing story, but I was also able to glean a tremendous amount of information about the world she created – a feat that, I can assure, not many debut fantasy writers are able to achieve.
Bardugo’s oh-so-wonderful skills aside, what really made her novel phenomenal were the characters. Alina is a complex heroine – one who wishes to fit in and move forward in life all while remembering and maintaining her past friendships. I found her growth as a character to not only be remarkable realistic, but also portrayed in a unique light. Bardugo never tries to brush off Alina’s mistakes or her short-comings as an individual, but instead she enables us to see Alina’s inner goodness and her purity despite her flaws. In addition, I enjoyed the themes that surrounded Alina of trust, beauty, friendship, and loyalty. Her relationships with the Grisha, the Darkling, her mentors, and Mal were all very multi-dimensional and only served to improve this story beyond its surface awesomeness.
Speaking of relationships, I found that Alina’s relationship with the Darkling took me completely by surprise. Just when I would begin to like (and lust) after the Darkling, something would happen to make me hate him immediately, but then, just when I was thinking he was some evil Lord Voldemort type, I would inadvertently find myself liking him a little bit again only to return back to hatred! Thus, I found the Darkling’s character to be far more well developed, complicated, and intriguing than Mal’s character.
Yet, I fell in love with Mal for different reasons. I often find that when authors introduce a best-friends-from-childhood romance they make the egregiously obvious error of assuming that the reader knows all about their friendship and hence it is alright for them to hook up randomly and out of nowhere. Thankfully, Bardugo steered clear of this recurring error and introduced Mal and Alina’s friendship to us in a manner that was sweet, touching, and completely believable. I loved the manner in which their relationship developed and I can’t wait to see more of them in the next novel.
If this review hasn’t already convinced you, Shadow and Bone is a novel you must read. It is teeming with action, an intricately woven plot, and characters so complex you won’t know what to think. I fell in love not only with the rich world Bardugo has created, but with her writing style and seamlessly flowing characters as well. Their personalities, difficulties, and endeavors are ones that will stick with you long past the last page and I will definitely be spending more than one sleepless night trying to figure out what will happen next. Leigh Bardugo is a talented, phenomenal, and unexpected debut author who I can’t wait to read more of. I’m not sure of a lot of things regarding the ending of this novel and it’s obvious cliffhanger-like epilogue, but I do know this: I will be one of the first people to pre-order Bardugo’s sequel when it releases. It’s just that good.