First installment in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, Shadow and Bone introduces an alternate tsarist Russia, called Ravka, where people are called to serve their country either by displaying some affinity with magic (those are called Grisha) or by enrolling in the military.
Because not only does darkness threaten to envelope their world while creatures crawl out of it to snatch a bite, Ravka is at war with other countries, too. Magic and monsters. Makes for a good incipit, don’t you think?
Personally, I wasn’t sucked into this beautiful and seemingly terrifying world right away: it took me two slow chapters to get really into it, but the world building after that was just so amazing that I didn’t want to put it down.
But I had to!
You know, busy schedule, bedtime (like a 4-year-old child’s) and crap like that.
Thing is, I dreamed about it, and that’s when you know a book is really fine material. It took hold of me and wouldn’t let go of me (like those volcra that inhabit the Fold).
So I felt compelled to get up a bit earlier and squeeze in a chapter – and then another, and another – to get me through the day.
And here’s what I thought of it.
Most fascinating thing?
The bad guy.
Oh, the appeal of villains, so addicting.
How is it that a girl (that girl being me) is always attracted to the bad boy aiming to destroy the world as it is known and seize the power?
It might be the fact that they are always depicted so attractively. I
t might be that said girl has a twisted mind that finds affinity with the bad guy.
It might be that bad isn’t born but develops and I really want to uncover the mystery that lies behind the deception.
I like my men ambitious and determined yet conflicted (though you can only guess there’s any kind of internal conflict in these guys) and somehow frightened to be rejected – in other words, I like my men (in literature) to be disturbed.
There’s just that je ne sais quoi to a man that is whacked in the head: so so sexy!
If you hadn’t caught up already, I am talking about the Darkling, my favourite character as yet in the Grisha Trilogy.
Ah, the Darkling, a dark (duh!) and mysterious character, a lying, deceiving, very ancient guy who has caught my literary love interest – which doesn’t happen that often in YA.
Secretive and kind of shady in some instances, in others he shows (or does he just pretend?) a vulnerable humane side despite the evil deeds he’s rumored to be culpable of.
Whatever you may think, I am in book-love with him!
He’s the villain you will all love to hate.
Jeez, do I have a predilection for dark haired, clear eyed antagonists that would sooner whip you than let any betrayal go unpunished (not that there’s any whipping going on in the book, it’s all in my head!
Notice how every second word is “dark”?
This is what I extrapolated to be the main theme of Grisha: the eternal war between light and dark, good and bad. It’s your typical Yin and Yang situation – you know, the Shintoist principle that requires balance of two opposite halves of the same whole.
There’s no darkness without light, no light without darkness, no good without bad and vice versa.
The Shadow Fold symbolizes all that’s evil and the volcra are the potential evil become concrete in humans – an evil that something is forced to surface against our will.
Alina could be seen as the goodness that could enlighten the darkness after all.
Because no one is beyond redemption.
I don’t want to get philosophical here, but if you are looking for a deeper meaning, here you go.
You know why else people are so attracted to the dark side?
Those cookies rumors…
Not just any cookies, eh!, the good kind, which melts into your mouth and floods our taste buds with the divinity that are double chocolate chips, brown sugar, and cream butter.
We make them with bio eggs.
You have never tasted anything as good as our cookies.
Come to the dark side, we have always a tray or two on hand!
How can I further communicate how much I enjoyed Shadow and Bone?
Not only did I give up on much needed Zs, I read this book twice in a row!
It rarely happens that I get back for second servings as soon as I’ve reached the final word, but I did this time.
I finished it and I started it again, it was that compelling.
Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent trilogy, described it as “unlike everything I have ever read”.
I tend to agree wholeheartedly.
I have read a pile or two of YA and Fantasy, and I can tell you that there are a lot of books of these genres very similar to one another.
Ideas seem limited, especially if the books get out in the same period, when a certain element is trending.
If you remember, there was the era of vampires, the era of dragons; now Dystopian novels are in, fairytale re-tellings in which the villain finds redemption are the new black of literature, and so on.
It is very difficult to find something original.
With Grisha, Leigh Bardugo has created a world that is unique, especially since she took elements of Russian culture and modified them to her benefit.
When she wrote about the Grisha in the Little Palace I had the sensation of walking through the corridors of the Winter Palace or the Moscow Kremlin (not that I’ve ever been there, but I have the habit of Googling everything that I am interested in; so, virtually speaking, I have been in lots of places).
Much appreciated feeling.
The world might be unique, and the story beautifully presented, but of course there are some recurring elements you certainly have already encountered.
1) a girl with low self-esteem who thinks herself plain but turns out to be destined to save the world;
2) a guy the girl has been in love with since forever but who has relegated her to the friend-zone… until another guy shows up.
3) the “Speech”, kindly delivered by aforementioned guy who’s dying of jealousy (or simply dying): “I’ve missed you every hour… I’ve risked my life for you. I’ve walked half the length of Ravka for you, and I’d do it again and again and again just to be with you, just to starve with you and freeze with you and hear you complain about hard cheese every day. So don’t tell me we don’t belong together,” he said fiercely. He was very close now, and my heart was suddenly hammering in my chest. “I’m sorry it took me so long to see you Alina. But I see you now.”
Notice how the Speech is never of rejection, never features “let’s just stay friends”, but is always about L.O.V.E. Would we really want it any other way? Weeeell, sometimes I ache for some heartbreak. Sometimes I want the heroine to go mad and run away with her archenemy, have cute kitten babies and let the whole world go to hell. What do you know, it might make for a good book.Mal’s is a beautiful speech. Sweet, but I can’t help but think that Mal’s an asshole. You don’t say that to a girl! It’s almost as if you would say, “you weren’t interesting enough before, but then you weren’t there, now another guy’s interested in you, you have superpowers (he actually never says that, he isn’t that shallow, I am just trying to make him look bad because I am upset with him for reasons I cannot put my fingers on), we might die and we are both here: wanna be my girl?”;
4) a bad guy (hot hot hot hot hot) that constitutes the third party in:5) the love triangle (though here it’s rather a love-triangle that isn’t a love-triangle)6) self-immolation of the main character whose powers may be the destruction of her world if wielded by wrong hands (they might talk about it, but it never happens – there aren’t just any more Harry Potters out there!).
I loved all of it, nonetheless.
Original is good, but it’s even better when it comes mixed with something we already know and love.
It works, so let’s keep doing it!
There’s so much I enjoyed about this first installment!
Firstly, there’s a map.
I have a weak spot for books with maps.
Put a map on the inside and you already got my attention. Visuals help everyone’s imagination.
And they are awesome.
I petition more maps!
Truth be told, in the beginning I wanted to give Shadow and Bone 4-stars, but I gave an additional one just for the map.
It’s really a beautiful map.
I like gruesome and gritty.
Don’t think of me as a sociopath, don’t think of me as any kind of -path, but I like the blood flowing abundantly – I am the kind of girl that watches horror movies and laughs (after having peed herself). I would be exaggerating if I told you that there’s carnage in here (it somehow is, though), it’s YA after all, not a Stephen King novel, but there’s just the right amount that makes Shadow and Bone even more interesting. Because these Grisha, practitioners of the Small Science, have powers. Some of them can manipulate air, others can summon fire, some can change (ever so slightly) their appearance. And then there’s the Darkling, who can summon darkness (duh!) and, hold it!, cut people in half. If that isn’t cool, what is? Slice ’em and dice ’em, pal! Comes awfully in handy, don’t you think? You pissed me off – cut cut cut. You didn’t want to go on a date with me – cut cut cut. You, I just don’t like – cut cut cut. Plus, there are these human-flesh eating monsters called volcra that terrorize the ‘hood. They fly in the dark of the Shadow Fold and from time to time grab a snack from the passing flats – they gotta eat! Like, how can you not be interested (since there’s a very interesting and tragic back story to them you will only discover if you read Shadow and Bones because I sure ain’t gonna tell ya! *blows raspberry*).
Did I already mention the Darkling? No? Well, let’s just say, I would have chosen him over Mal. Even though he lied and deceived, and wanted to exploit Alina for her sunbeam-power to “rule the world”, aaaand is a murderer. Guys, the heart wants what it wants!
“The problem with wanting,” he whispered, his mouth trailing along my jaw until it hovered over my lips, “is that it makes us weak.”
But weakness can be so good! Like when you give into that big, juicy chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and chocolate filling, screw your dieting purposes. Okay, you feel bad afterwards. But the cake was just divine. Sometimes you have to be bad to truly be good *snort*. Yeah, I am trying to justify myself here.But then, why walk in the light when the only thing waiting for you is Mal? I don’t want scrapes of Mal’s love. I don’t want Mal. He’s…boring. Yeah, he sacrifices everything for Alina – yada yada yada! I didn’t care for him in the beginning, I still don’t particularly care for him at the end of the novel. Give me mysterious and shady Darkling any time of the day! I AM TEAM DARKLING! Just give him the world, he can’t possibly screw it up any worse.Yep, I am fangirling.Shadow and Bone is relatively fast paced – within two chapters we discover that Alina has light-shooting powers (and there being a wall of shadows that surround Ravka, she’s going to be a savior). The chapters aren’t lengthy at all, although I thought that there were too many of them dedicated to Alina’s training – and she really took her sweet time coming into her power, being stubborn and insisting in her pretense to be nothing more than a common girl, not having a shred of confidence in herself, which was such a drag because her abilities reflected her attitude. In those moments I wanted to slap her on the neck. A weak character in the beginning, she went however through a great character development, loosing her whiny, and with every page turn I wanted to hurt her less and less. Character growth *thumbs up*. By the end of the novel, you don’t even recognize her as the Alina we first met. That’s when I loved her attitude: “oh, so my options are 1 and 2? I think I will go with 3, screw you very much!”. You go, girl! Tell that dark, sexy man how it is!
So, now I am asking myself: what happens next? Who’s loyal to Alina?There isn’t much known about the Darkling and even less that he is willing to tell, so what I want to know is: how much more is there to his story? You wanna know more, too? Read the book. I highly recommend it. If you are into YA, seriously, buy it, run to your local library, whatever, just read it. It is great.
Shadow of Bone Synopsis:
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.
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Shadow and Bone Excerpt:
Standing on the edge of a crowded road, I looked down onto the rolling fields and abandoned farms of the Tula Valley and got my first glimpse of the Shadow Fold. My regiment was two weeks’ march from the military encampment at Poliznaya and the autumn sun was warm overhead, but I shivered in my coat as I eyed the haze that lay like a dirty smudge on the horizon.
A heavy shoulder slammed into me from behind. I stumbled and nearly pitched face-first into the muddy road.
“Hey!” shouted the soldier. “Watch yourself!”
“Why don’t you watch your fat feet?” I snapped, and took some satisfaction from the surprise that came over his broad face. People, particularly big men carrying big rifles, don’t expect lip from a scrawny thing like me. They always look a bit dazed when they get it.
The soldier got over the novelty quickly and gave me a dirty look as he adjusted the pack on his back, then disappeared into the caravan of horses, men, carts, and wagons streaming over the crest of the hill and into the valley below.
I quickened my steps, trying to peer over the crowd. I’d lost sight of the yellow flag of the surveyors’ cart hours ago, and I knew I was far behind.
As I walked, I took in the green and gold smells of the autumn wood, the soft breeze at my back. We were on the Vy, the wide road that had once led all the way from Os Alta to the wealthy port cities on Ravka’s western coast. But that was before the Shadow Fold.
Somewhere in the crowd, someone was singing. Singing? What idiot is singing on his way into the Fold? I glanced again at that smudge on the horizon and had to suppress a shudder. I’d seen the Shadow Fold on many maps, a black slash that had severed Ravka from its only coastline and left it landlocked. Sometimes it was shown as a stain, sometimes as a bleak and shapeless cloud. And then there were the maps that just showed the Shadow Fold as a long, narrow lake and labeled it by its other name, “the Unsea,” a name intended to put soldiers and merchants at their ease and encourage crossings.
I snorted. That might fool some fat merchant, but it was little comfort to me.
I tore my attention from the sinister haze hovering in the distance and looked down onto the ruined farms of the Tula. The valley had once been home to some of Ravka’s richest estates. One day it was a place where farmers tended crops and sheep grazed in green fields. The next, a dark slash had appeared on the landscape, a swath of nearly impenetrable darkness that grew with every passing year and crawled with horrors. Where the farmers had gone, their herds, their crops, their homes and families, no one knew.
Stop it, I told myself firmly. You’re only making things worse. People have been crossing the Fold for years . . . usually with massive casualties, but all the same. I took a deep breath to steady myself.
“No fainting in the middle of the road,” said a voice close to my ear as a heavy arm landed across my shoulders and gave me a squeeze. I looked up to see Mal’s familiar face, a smile in his bright blue eyes as he fell into step beside me. “C’mon,” he said. “One foot in front of the other. You know how it’s done.”
“You’re interfering with my plan.”
“Yes. Faint, get trampled, grievous injuries all around.”
Meet Leigh Bardugo:
Leigh Bardugo was born in Jerusalem, raised in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. She indulges her fondness for glamour, ghouls, and costuming in her other life as a makeup artist in Hollywood, and she can occasionally be heard singing with her band, Captain Automatic. Shadow and Bone is her first novel. Leigh Bardugo was born in Jerusalem, raised in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. She indulges her fondness for glamour, ghouls, and costuming in her other life as a makeup artist in Hollywood, and she can occasionally be heard singing with her band, Captain Automatic. She is the author of the Grisha trilogy: Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising.
Leigh Bardugo’s Web Tracks: