Just like the last book review I have posted, this is another one of the books I have heard about and decided to purchase because of bookstagram. Leigh Bardugo’s ‘Shadow and Bone’ and her entire Grishaverse seemed to be incredibly popular on bookstagram for the longest time and I have finally caved it, despite the fact I am really not the biggest fan of YA. Reading this book has reminded me why I do not really read YA books anymore. While there are a lot of great ideas and skilled world building, there were just too many young adult fiction tropes that I could not really enjoy reading it. At the end, I gave it two stars, but I do intend to watch the Netflix show based on Bardugo’s work as well as read the entire books in Grishaverse.
‘Bone and Shadow’ follows the story of Alina Starkov, as she and her regiment are preparing to cross the Fold, a mysterious darkness filled with monsters that has torn apart their once great kingdom. In an attack by these monsters, it is discovered that Alina actually has powers and belongs to the order of Grishas, who are elite members of society, because of their powers. She is whisked away to the capital and the court where she will practice controlling her powers under the guise of the Darkling, who is just…well mysterious. From them on, we follow Alina in court as she tries to navigate her classes, social standing and a love triangle that develops.
At first, Bardugo’s world building is interesting, as she throws the reader straight into the story and then explains the rules and the history of this place. At first, it was a bit challenging to remember all the different types of powers Grishas have and to understand the stakes in the narrative, I prefered this kind of world building to long expositions scenes. Bardugo’s writing style is easy to read, and I am sure that you will not need too much time to get through this book. At times, it is a bit too much of ‘tell, not show’, though, but I did not mind that as much.
However, my biggest issue with ‘Shadow and Bone’ is the abundance of young adult fiction tropes and predictability of the plot and the narrative. First, Alina is a typical ‘chosen one’. She is ‘pretty, but does not realize she is pretty’ girl, described as being quite plain in most ways. However, she is the one who is chosen to have this rare power and the reason is not explained. To be fair, it might be explained in other books, but I still have no idea WHY Alina was the one who got her powers. I understand she is supposed to some kind of underdog, but honestly, looking at the paint dry is more interesting than her. Also, was I supposed to be surprised by the revelation that the character named Darkling is actually kind of evil? Everything about that man just makes you not want to trust him, and this revelation just made me roll my eyes. I can understand the motivation for his actions, but his character is as deep as a frying pan. His entire presence is just him being mysterious and shady to the point of being incredibly annoying. Other characters include a lot of Gris has in the court I did not really care to remember as they had no influence over the story and Mal, Alina’s childhood friend who seems to be there to establish weird love triangle. Other than that, he is a good tracker, is recklessly brave and is in love with Alina. That is pretty much his entire character.
Of course, what would a typical YA novel be without a MacGuffin. Wikipedia defines it as an object, device, or event that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself. In this case, it is a necklace made of special magical deer that can enhance Alina’s powers but can also be used by Darkling to control her. The concept of these items that can enhance superpowers is not new or original, but was one of those that actually worked. The rules for its use were established well, the stakes were set and the potential ways of abusing its power were clear. With that being said, the way Alina got herself rid of Darkling’s influence seemed just lazy and not really well explained. But, to be completely honest, that could just be me being fed up with this book. At the end, the story did feel complete for the book, but it is also obvious that this is a part of a larger universe.
Finally, it is impossible for me to talk about ‘Bone and Shadow’ without mentioning the obvious setting and the atmosphere of it. It is highly inspired by Russian culture and history, visible in the names of the protagonists, places and some concepts in the story. I am not Russian, but I am Slavic and my culture is in many ways similar. It can be really frustrating to see Western authors use non-western cultures as a shortcut to explain that something is bad, so I did appreciate the effort to bring some positive representation of Slavic cultures. With that being said, it feels like spare the basic level of naming places, people and concepts in Russian and describing them, so they faintly resemble Russia, there is not much else done to make a reader who may not know too much about Russian culture explore it more. In fact, I have seen a comment on Goodreads essentially claiming that inclusion of Russian inspired elements was simply there to differentiate Grishaverse from other generic YA novels. Given how much this book relies on YA tropes, I am not sure it was entirely successful.
As I said earlier, I have scored this book two out of five stars for all the reasons listen above in this review. I have heard from a dear friend of mine that other books in this universe were so much better she wonders how is it possible they were all written by the same person, so I am willing to give some of them a chance.
Did you read anything from Grishaverse? What were your thoughts? As always, if I had missed something in my review, feel free to let me know.