“Shadow and Bone” needs more shadow, less bone

shadow and bone cover
Shadow and Bone (2012)

I’ve been celebrating a rare lack of assignments (and a not-so-rare blatant disregard for assigned readings) by dusting off some Christmas presents from my bookshelf. A potentially clairvoyant friend of mine gifted me with Shadow and Bone (2012) by Leigh Bardugo, which has been on my TBR list for quite some time. I was extremely excited about this book because it sounded so unique and magical. Now that I’ve read it, however, I honestly don’t know what to think, and here’s why:

Pro: It’s set in some kind of alternate Russia (here, Ravka), which is pretty cool, and certainly different from pretty much anything else I’ve read.

Pro: The heroine, Alina Starkov, is a feisty, no-nonsense, ass-kicker-with-a-heart-of-gold type who is genuinely likeable. She’s supposed to be pale and plain and tomboyish, but Bardugo does a great job of showing us that Alina is so much more than that. And she’s hopelessly in love with someone she thinks she can’t ever have.

Pro: The mystery and mysticism are very well written, and the concept of “the Unsea” (a mystical stretch of shadowland full of creatures that eat people) is very creepy.

Con: It feels to me like Bardugo put all her character development into Alina and left none for the hero, Malyen Oretsev (Mal). Alina’s been in love with him for years, and he’s so frustratingly oblivious. I guess that’s true to life, but his lacklustre characterization takes some of the shine out of this book for me.

Con: With my unhealthy love for Shatter Me, I can hardly cast stones about love triangles any more. However, this ubiquitous plot device makes its way into Shadow and Bone in the form of the gorgeous and mystical Darkling. His part in this series is important enough that I don’t think it was necessary to have a romantic link between him and Alina.

Actually, you know what? Con: Frankly, Alina is so awesome on her own that I dislike how Bardugo put her in a triangle at all. Alina is strong of will and strong of body, not to mention the kick-ass powers she discovers. I wish she had been allowed to stand on her own.

Con: Bearing in mind that they are two completely different things, the bleak and mystical tone of this book felt to me a lot like Sabriel (1995) by Garth Nix. I didn’t like that book very much…

leigh bardugoI kind of want to read book two, Siege and Storm (2013), but only because I’m hoping that, with the ground work laid out in Shadow and Bone, the next one is better. I think what Leigh Bardugo has created here is interesting and has a lot of potential, but I have to give this particular book a good solid “meh”. Born in Jerusalem and transplanted to Los Angeles, Bardugo also works as a Hollywood makeup artist. She has a website, she’s on Twitter, and book three of this series, Ruin and Rising is set to be published in June. 

6 comments

  1. I’ve been waiting for this review! I’m disappointed that you thought it was just “meh.” It’s been on my list for quite some time as well… do you think you’ll continue the series or will you set it aside? And now you’re reading Cuckoo’s Calling… I feel like we’re book soul mates haha.

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    • It’s funny that you say that, because I was thinking the same thing when I was browsing your site and your Goodreads (: I was also disappointed that I didn’t like Shadow and Bone more, but it’s very much fantasy, and I’ve always had a bit of a hard time getting behind that. I think I will check out the next two, though. I’m interested enough to find out what happens.

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      • So I borrowed this from the library yesterday and blew through it last night. I’m going back this afternoon to grab the second one. I’m actually really enjoying it. Did you find that a lot of the elements reminded you very much of other stories. For instance, I feel like Alina and Mal’s relationship is very similar to Katniss/Gale. When she’s trying to summon her power, it reminds me of Harry learning to call his Patronus.

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      • I’m glad you liked it! You’ll have to let me know how the next book goes, because I do want to check it out. The thing it reminded me the most of is “Sabriel” by Garth Nix, but I can see the Katniss/Gale thing and the patronus thing too. I think what just bothered me with “Shadow and Bone” is that I would have been happier if there were no love triangle and it was just all about Alina. She is too cool and too independent to moon over one boy and get swept away by a second.

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      • I haven’t heard of “Sabriel.” Would you recommend it? The second book is a little bit of a struggle, as to be expected with the middle child of a trilogy. I haven’t finished yet, so the jury is still out.

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      • From the other stuff I see you’ve read and liked, I think it’s likely you’d enjoy “Sabriel”. It’s more in the fantasy genre, but I seem to remember the world she lives in is pretty desolate. Garth Nix wrote a really strong character in her, and she also has an uber-important mission to fulfill to basically save her world. There were more books (Lirael and Abhorsen) but I think they focused more on Sabriel’s daughter and other characters I didn’t really care about as much.

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