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.