I can’t believe I reread Shadow and Bone for a third time, but hey, here’s a book review for it. I read this over two weeks, and I made so many annotations in the book with my thoughts, so hopefully I have a thorough understanding of it now?
SHADOW AND BONE — ★★★★
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.
First, a little explanation on why I gave the book 4 stars, raising it from a 3-star that I gave last time (last year). Look: I don’t love the characters and I don’t love the plot, but I did adore the worldbuilding. Leigh Bardugo is absolutely amazing at creating magical worlds, filled with intrigue and potential. I’m still firmly on the “Alina should have turned evil and conquered the world with the darkling” train, but I understand that this book is for younger readers and good is supposed to conquer evil. But the pOTENTIAL- Honestly, this book just really sucked me into the world (once more), so I can’t give a mere 3 stars for that. You win again, Leigh Bardugo! Now, onto the more detailed reviews:
If you’ve seen my Instagram posts, you’d know how I openly talk about how much I love the Darkling and hate Mal, but I think this reread just made me indifferent to both. I’m not even on team Alina (more on that later)… Y’know what, I’m on team Genya. Genya is queen, I stan her. Also team Zoya because Zoya deserves more rights as the badass Grisha we all know and love.
As I said before, I didn’t vibe much with any of the characters (save for Genya and Zoya, both of whom weren’t developed as much as I’d have liked) by the end of the book. The Darkling was going sO WELL until the end, which I’m still salty at. I think he is a very good villain for this story, but I hope Leigh expands on his backstory in the later books because doing evil for the sake of doing evil isn’t very interesting.
But for Alina, on the other hand. I found her decision-making process to be unnecessarily long for the little choices, and too short for the longer ones. First conversation after seeing Mal at the winter fête? her brain was rapidly firing off the wrong responses. But answering Mal’s yes or no question later? She took so long to reply that he already fell asleep. And of course, at the crucial moments with the stag, she takes her merry time. AND THEN ON THE SANDSKIFF… I’m trying not to spoil anything here, but I must appreciate Alina at that moment.
Now, onto Mal. I still hold my opinion that he was horrible when they were in the First Army together. All those years of being an orphan with Alina as his best friend, and then he doesn’t even think to talk to her for months until she’s suddenly taken away because she has powers. You missed your chance darling!! But then tracking the deer for her was sweet, I have to admit. Deserting the army for Alina? Adorable. Mal was so much better at the end of the book, and he definitely accepted that Alina is a strong independent woman with powers. After they got reacquainted, they were a super healthy relationship, I have to give them that. BUT MISS MA’AM YOU CANNOT JUST PROMISE HER THE THING AND NOT FULFIL IT OK!! That is literally the stake of the cOUNTRY and perhaps the wORLD at risk, yet you are just too much of a 🐱 to do it. Stop with your delayed realisations of love and gET OUT YOUR BOW OK!! Ugh I’m still salty.
I liked how Leigh introduced many side characters, and their primary motivations. I can’t wait to read more about them! Zoya is one of my favourites, because she has the same level of mystery and intrigue as the Darkling, and let’s be honest: If Alina can’t turn dark, I’d love to see Zoya turn dark. Even though I know that’s super unlikely to happen, since vILLaiNs aRe bAd and all that, but that’s just a thought…
Technically, this plot is good. There are minimal plot holes (that I saw), and it is cohesive. The beginning matched the ending too! I really liked how it began and ended with Alina and Mal being called ghosts. However, I was disappointed because it’s not the type that I wanted to see. I understand that it has to be a good triumphs over evil because it’s targeted to the younger YA and it was the trend in 2012 when the book was published, but gosh I just wanted some quality morally grey protagonists! The Darkling had such potential as an eventual protagonist, especially in chapter 14 when he was still the primary love interest, but all that went down the drain because Alina has to be good I guess.
Basically, my point is that I’d love to see a spinoff/AU where Alina turns dark and decides that she likes destruction and wants to make her enemies hurt. And then she and the Darkling can go around and wreck havoc and be the coolest people ever. That’s the Sankta Alina I want okay!
I’m really worried that my opinion on this may be wrong, because I don’t know a lot about Russian culture and clothing and words, but I really loved the subtle nods to Russia in Leigh’s worldbuilding. I enjoyed seeing occasional foreign terms, and I was able to interpret the meaning through the context. Off the top of my head, I don’t remember if there was any info dumps, but it made a really good impression on me, and there was a lot of good imagery of the little & grand palace as Alina walked through. But also, I still don’t know what a kefta looks like, because it’s somewhere between a cape and a robe? In my mind I picture the feather-trimmed “husband-killing robes” (as tiktok calls it) in various colours, because wouldn’t that look so badass?
I enjoyed this book so much more upon my third reread, and there were some scenes that I can’t wait to see in the adaption! In my mind, Jessie Mei Li is my PERFECT Sun-Summoner, and I’m so excited to see an Asian main character. This is going to be epic!
This was a reread with @grishabookclub (hosted by yours truly) on Instagram! Come join us if you want to (re)read all of the Grishaverse in preparation for the Rule of Wolves release, and the TV show drop! I host IG Lives every other Saturday on the account to discuss the events of the book, and I’d love to see you there!