Anila's Reviews > Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
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Nov 26, 12

bookshelves: reviewed, save-me-from-the-tropes, yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawn
Read in November, 2012

Well.
It's been a while since I've read YA, I think. Longer than I'd realized.

If I'd picked up this book a year ago or so, I think I would have found it to be a diamond in the rough. It's not a bad book, for YA these days. It's not toxic, at least, which is becoming a rare commodity, and Leigh Bardugo knows how to put words together smoothly; her writing is very readable.
It also isn't... outstanding. In any particular way.
The worldbuilding is interesting, but still derivative; as with much modern fantasy which isn't an outright Tolkien ripoff, it has yet to take the step from 'pseudo-Earth with recognizable pseudo-Earth-nations' to 'true second world with unique cultures and political relationships'. Ravka is heavily Russian inspired (though as Tatiana points out in her review, it didn't have nearly enough research), and while neither of its neighbors (Shu Han and Fjerda) are developed enough to suggest which cultures they're based upon, I'd be shocked if Shu Han turned out to be anything but China. Fjerda is a bit tricker, but I'm guessing Germany.
(side note: Ravka is not just based on Russia but on what feels strongly like Russia just before its revolution and the fall of the Tsars. I was honestly surprised when the priest character didn't turn out to be named Rasputin, though I suppose there's another filling that role...)

The magic system is interesting and sounds cool, but again, just hasn't taken that next step. It's halfway between the elemental magics of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Hiromu Arakawa's concept of alchemy, and while both of those are excellent, Grisha magic doesn't have either the strong underpinnings in scientific principle of alchemy or the power and cultural relevance of bending. Like the book as a whole it's not boring, just... not exhilarating.

But honestly, I'd be fine with the book if those were its only flaws. If all I had a problem with were fast-and-loose worldbuilding and unoriginal magic systems, I'd give it four stars. The reason it gets three is the characters.

Let's start with Mal, because he was the biggest stumbling block for me. Actually, I disliked him from his first scene. He's supposedly our heroine's best friend, but honestly their first conversation displays barely an attempt at friendship on his part. He pays her (justified) nervousness about entering the Fold little heed - not even trying to comfort her, but saying things like "What's with you lately?". And of course, when his buddies (and then a pretty Grisha girl) show up, he gallivants off without a second thought for Alina.
Charming. A real gentleman. Just what you want in your main love interest.
His shining moment, though, was near the end of Chapter 15:
(view spoiler)
That scene made him come off as a pretty horrendous Nice Guy (tm) and basically rendered me incapable of giving a shit about him for the rest of the book. Which means that part of the climax fell through in turn:
(view spoiler)
And that's not even touching on the 'romance' itself. 'The moment our lips met, I knew with pure and piercing certainty that I would have waited for him forever.' Oh come on. I know the onslaught of YA romance has pretty much run through most of the good ways to describe kissing your Fated True Love, but that sentence was painfully saccharine and cliche.

Alina herself I'm kind of neutral on; she's actually less bland than some YA heroines I've come across, but she doesn't particularly stand out, especially after certain plot twists. (view spoiler)

The Darling was actually really interesting until (again) certain plot twists. (view spoiler)

There was one character that I really, wholly liked, though: Genya. From her very first appearance (which is also the scene where Alina first shows a bit of spine) she livens the book up considerably. Her dialogue, backstory, and personality are all interesting, and she provides an unusual perspective on a fairly usual setup (main character gets swept away to land of luxury because she's somehow special). Her relationship with Alina was honestly my favorite part of the book, from their first conversation onwards - they had some great pithy exchanges and some good moments of mutual support. It was unclear, however, what Genya's role in the finale was supposed to be - how much she was supposed to know and whose side she was on.

Unfortunately pretty much every other female character around Alina and Genya's age got the full-on catty 'girl hate' treatment. Two other Summoners who accompany Alina to classes and want to draw her into their group? They give her headaches and are relentlessly portrayed as shallow. Zoya, the beautiful Grisha who Alina first saw at the Fold? But of course, she's jealous of our heroine for attracting the Darkling's attention! I mean, at least Alina is afforded one good female friendship, but is it really too much to ask that the rest of the girls around her not act like they came out of a Disney Channel high-school movie?

And then there's plotting problems. (view spoiler)

there are two things which I'm still curious about. One came about midway through the book, during one of Alina's lessons with Baghra: "Your power serves you because that is its purpose, because it cannot help but serve you." If this was foreshadowing for the main plot twist, it's a terrible waste, because this line is actually really interesting - what if there's something going on with the origins of Grisha power that's a lot more dark and sinister?
The second thing is that if Alina actually has to deal with the darker consequences of her actions near the end, she could become really interesting.

Honestly, though, the rest of the book left me underwhelmed enough that I'm not interested in reading a sequel to find out the answers to those questions.
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