July 12, 2012

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Published: 2012, Henry Holt and Co.
Series: The Grisha, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Personal ebook

“I’ve been waiting for you a long time, Alina,” he said. “You and I are going to change the world.”

After reading some of the initial reviews and praise for Shadow and Bone, I suspected that it would be the type of book I'd adore. And how this book exceeded all of my expectations. Shadow and Bone is everything and anything I've ever wanted in a fantasy.

The majority of Alina Starkov's life has supported her belief that she's nothing special. She spent her childhood in an orphanage in the wealthy Duke Keramzov's household. She works as a cartographer’s assistant for the Second Army of Ravka but doesn't consider herself to be particularly talented. And she's in love with her best friend Mal but too insecure to admit it.

The nation of Ravka has seen better days. Generations ago it was torn apart by a power-hungry Grisha who created the Unsea, a dark barren wasteland riddled with undying creatures, across the middle of Ravka. Now passage between the two sides of Ravka is dangerous and frequently deadly. Half of Ravka has been denied access to the true sea and the rest of the world since then, and battles with its bordering countries have become constant.

Alina's life changes drastically when both the mapmaker and tracker regiments she and Mal are part of must cross the Unsea to report to Ravka's western side. On this journey, everyone learns that there is more to Alina than meets the eye. While she may be the first true hope that Ravka has had in hundreds of years, the process of embracing all aspects of herself and her potential is not an easy one for Alina.

From the beginning, I loved the premise and detailed worldbuilding of this book. I really enjoyed learning about Ravka, and I appreciated it even more when I read that Leigh Bardugo decided to go with a Russian-influenced world because a pseudo-Europe is the typical setting for the majority of high fantasies. Sometimes conventions just need to be broken to breathe new life into genres and stories, as Shadow and Bone so refreshingly shows. I do not know much about Russian history and culture before the early 1900s, so I loved all the little details that Bardugo added to further help situate her story in Russian culture. Her use of names, specific words, food and drink, and even clothing all helped me better imagine the Russian influence upon the world of Ravka. And I loved the addition of a map! I'm a visual person, so seeing a map definitely helps me become more fully immersed in the world.

Alina is such a wonderful protagonist; there aren't enough words to describe my love for her. She's exactly how I hope my female protagonists will be, and I can easily imagine making the exact same decisions and having her feelings if I were in her place. Her life has turned upside-down and she struggles to resituate herself and her beliefs in a world that continues to change before her eyes. Everything that Alina's put her trust in is no longer with her, so she is forced to really rely on herself. As she struggles with new influences and old ones, Alina matures into a stronger, more confident person. Her evolution is by no means complete by the end of the first book, but I look forward to seeing more of her growth throughout the trilogy.

Besides Alina, however, I loved all the other major characters. Mal really is such a good best friend and I can completely understand why Alina has been in love with him for the past few years. Genya is surprisingly complex for a secondary character, and I loved peeling back the layers of Genya's character over the course of the story. And the Darkling! He's definitely my favorite character after Alina. He's so powerful, enigmatic, seductive, and one of the most unique characters I've ever read. All of Bardugo's characters are so real, and, despite this being a high fantasy, I don't think that good and evil are stereotypically defined as right and wrong. Good is clearly better, but Bardugo hints that no one is so easily definable.

The Grisha are definitely one of the most fascinating aspects of this book. It is terrifying to think of how easily Grisha walk the line between good and evil. Just consider the division of the Corporalki, the highest order of Grisha after the Darkling: within this group there are the Heartrenders, who are responsible for death, and the healers who save people. There is also an order for Etherealki, who manipulate the elements, and Materialki, who manipulate matter. I love how complex the Grisha lore is. I also liked the conflict that Bardugo introduces between the place of Grisha traditions/magic within Ravka against the need for innovation and modernity.

While Shadow and Bone is at its most basic level about Alina's internal and external journeys to self-discovery, Bardugo adds so many layers and complexity to the story. There are so many plot twists throughout the story and I really never saw any of them coming. This was not always because everything is so shocking or unexpected (though there are some great twists), but also due to the fact that I simply enjoyed reading the book at my own pace. It is so refreshing to read something for YA audiences that is masterfully crafted. I savored in that knowledge and allowed the story to reveal things to me at its own pace. And I am beyond happy that Bardugo gave us a resolution in this book. It helps make my wait for the next book a little easier, and makes me more confident in Bardugo's skills as a writer.

How much did I love this book? So much that even though I bought the Kindle version, I'm definitely also going to purchase a physical copy. And, coming from me (the money stickler who prefers to get her books from the library), this is huge indeed. This is by far my favorite book of the year, and it's going to have to be one very impressive book to even come close to matching this book's place. Shadow and Bone combines all of the elements that I love in a fantasy, from strong worldbuilding to great characterization to an inventive storyline. I cannot praise this enough!
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. WOW this sounds like very intense world-building. I am going to try and get this from my library.

    I think it shows a great book when you decide to buy a copy AFTER you are done :-) I do that, toO!

    1. It is! It's so very well done.

      haha yes, I agree! Buying a book after you've read it basically guarantees rereads. And if I like a book enough to reread, then that's usually a very good thing.

      Thanks for commenting and I hope you're able to start reading Shadow and Bone very soon! :)

  2. I loved this book too, Amanda. I've been re-reading reviews trying to get reacquainted with the story before reading the sequel in a couple of months. I'm actually thinking of trying out the audio version because I would love to hear some of that beautiful Russian inspired language spoken out loud.

    I don't know if your Kindle version had the map, but if not than you should definitely invest in the hard copy of the book because it is GORGEOUS.

    Great review:)

    1. I should start doing that soon. Very excited for Siege and Storm! Ooh, and that's a really good idea! I've been meaning to start audiobooks. Maybe refreshing novels before continuations is a way to start doing that!

      And I have purchased a hard copy. So now I have both print and kindle versions of this story haha. It was worth it though.

      Thanks, Heather!

  3. Ooohh!! This sounds awesome! :D I keep seeing great reviews about this book, but I've been hesitant to read it because of the Russian theme. I don't want to get lost in the names and Russian words. However, this doesn't sound like it would be a problem! I'm glad you loved it!


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