Book Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone (Shadow and Bone, #1)

I’m pretty sure I’m one of the last people to read this book, with how big this series has been over the last few years. It’s especially gotten bigger this year with the announcement of it being adapted into a TV series on Netflix, coming in April. In said April I will be forced to watch this TV show by my boyfriend who loves both this book series and the Six of Crows duology, which I read last year (or the year before…I can’t remember).

I actually attempted to read this series a couple years ago, but I ended up DNFing the first book about 50 pages in (you’ll see why when I get into my review), but I wanted to just push through and finish it.

I did film a spoiler video which goes into a lot more detailed thoughts I had about this book, but in this review I’ll try my best to sum up my thoughts in a few paragraphs without spoilers. Okay, let’s go!

Release: 2012

Page Count: 356

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: In a world where a darkness filled with monsters divides the powerful kingdom of Ravka in half and magical people called Grisha are led by the mysterious and powerful Darkling, Alina Starkov is nothing but an orphan. That is, until she manifests extreme powers which have not been seen in the world for centuries and those in power turn their eyes on her, including the powerful Darkling. Thrown into a world of power struggles she does not understand, Alina must navigate her magic and be trained with other elite Grisha while the world looks to her as a light in the darkness.

Non-Spoiler Review

The best part of this book is by far the world. I found myself fascinated with learning about the powers of the Grisha, as well as the history of the world, especially anything having to do with the Shadow Fold, the darkness with divides Ravka in half. Also, the action is done exceptionally well. While many of the scenes without action were at times dull (I’ll get to that in a minute), the quicker-paced scenes were perfectly engaging. Saying that, I really disliked Alina, so much so that it decreased me liking of this book immensely. She lacks any type of motivation, from beginning to end, and is always doing what everyone tells her to do. The Darkling reads like an angsty goth boy, and even with the twist I didn’t find him to be that compelling. Similarly, I didn’t find any of the enemies interesting either, and some vague bad guy like a massive darkness with monsters does not make for a compelling narrative. The background characters weren’t bad (some of them I even liked), but they were never developed beyond a certain point. And do not even get me started on all the teen angtsy tropes this book fell into! Overall, interesting world and plot but bad characters and tropes.

That kind of sums up my thoughts on this book, but now let’s break it down a little more without giving away any spoilers.

So the story starts off with Alina being trained as a mapmaker. She’s an orphan who was raised in a duke’s household with other orphans, including the talented tracker Mal, who Alina has been in love with for years. He, of course, is gorgeous and all the girls love him while Alina is plain with dirt brown hair (because that’s not a teen trope at all…). They are about to travel with a group through the Shadow Fold to get to the other side to work, but they end up being attacked by flying monsters called volcra who kill several on the boat. They are about to kill Mal when Alina jumps in front of him and light consumes her. She wakes up to find herself arrested and being taken to the Darkling. Turns out, she’s a Sun Summoner, a Grisha who can do exactly what the name suggests. The Darkling believes she is the key to destroying the Shadow Fold and sends her to be trained in his capital city (not his, there is a king, but it’s practically his for how much he seems to be running while the king does nothing). Most of the book is set in this capital city as Alina tries to grapple with her magic.

Through this entire book, Alina is an incredibly passive protagonist. She just does what people tell her to do or what she’s forced to do. There is only once in the book where she truly acts on her own decision (though no more details, because spoilers). Besides that, she does what everybody (and by everybody I mean about 75% the Darkling) tell her to do. Now I sometimes don’t hate passive protagonists, but they are honestly hard for me to root for unless they become more of an active protagonist by the end, and Alina didn’t. Saying that, I still have hopes that she will in the sequel (probably not, but hope never hurt anyone).

Most of the other characters fell into neat boxes. The Darkling is just angsty and selfish. Mal is supportive and caring. Zoya is a mean girl. Genya is a fragile girl who knows how to play court games for power (she was probably the most interesting character). I won’t go through all the characters, but those are the main ones and even they weren’t highly developed.

Instead of character development, most of the book was devoted to teen drama scenes. Whether it was the weird love triangle between Alina, the Darkling, and Mal, a makeover scene of Alina (because of course), or the pettiness of the Grisha girls, I was often taken out of the interesting world and plot to stop for some silly scene more suited in Twilight than in a compelling fantasy novel.

I think its hard to gush about the world without giving away spoilers, but I did really enjoy it. The idea of setting it in a fictionalized fantasy version of our world was interesting. For example, Ravka is Russia and most of the terms used are Russian (as are the names, like Alina Starkov, Malyen Oretsev, Zoya Nazyalensky, etc.). Equally, there is the country of Shu Han which is probably China (or Asia in general), Fjerda is the Nordic countries like Sweden and Norway, Kerch is England, and Novyi Zem (where Six of Crows is set) is America. It is also interesting as we learn more about the origin of the Shadow Fold (no spoilers). Basically, the world was great!

I could talk a lot further about this book, but I’ll leave it at that. If you want to hear more of my ranting, feel free to watch my 40 minute (yeah, I know…) rant review.

Overall, I am intrigued where the plot and world will go, but I really wish the teen angst and horrible characterization would be traded in for something better. I ended up giving this book 2 out of 5 stars, and mostly it’s that high because of the world. Also, I’ve already finished the second book, so look forward to that review coming Saturday (the third book will take me a couple weeks though).

Have you read this series? Are you interested in reading it or watching the TV series? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of musings,


7 thoughts on “Book Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

  1. I’ve only recently read this – definitely appreciated the world-building & fast-paced action over the limited character development, as you said; it’d be interesting getting your thoughts on how the Netflix series compares to it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read it and liked it but not enough to continue with the series, although I keep meaning to. I actually agree with your critique that “instead of character development, most of the book was devoted to teen drama scenes.” I guess that’s why I’m ambivalent to keep going with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah…I’m determined to finish the series, but the teen tropes definitely don’t go away in the second and third books, though the teen tropes are less than in the first book. If you end up finishing the series, I would love to hear your thoughts about it!


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