Tatiana's Reviews > Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
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Apr 09, 12

bookshelves: 2012, fantasy, ya, ala-ya-2013
Recommended to Tatiana by: 5 star reviews
Recommended for: fans of Divergent and Grave Mercy
Read from April 06 to 08, 2012

As seen on The Readventurer

2.5 stars

It is alright, if you are into fantasy lite. I, on the other hand, am a little weary of this lightish, breezy and superficial entertainment. Give me something juicier, something more thoughtful, something more sophisticated.

Shadow and Bone is a decent book. Bardugo's writing style is easy and engaging. The plot is developed enough to masquerade the fact that the biggest chunk of it is the usual boarding school fare with makeovers, mean girl drama, petty rivalries, balls and a bit of steamy(ish) romance with the hottest guy on the block. Bardugo even succeeds at creating an "exotic" backdrop for her story - an early 20th century Russia-inspired fantasy land of Rivka. Even with my issues concerning the accuracy of everything borrowed from Russian culture, I will still say that the author manages to create a very distinct atmosphere in her novel. And speaking of this atmosphere, Russian "flavor" if you will, Shadow and Bone is a rare book whose covers (both US and UK) reflect the novel's mood well, even though I find UK's tagline to be a bit misleading and melodramatic. This novel is not as romancey as the line "A dark heart. A pure soul. A love that will last forever" would imply.



With that said, the reason I did not enjoy this book the way I had hoped I would is that it is just so uncomplicated and straight-forward. I have no usual complaints about Bardugo's characters and the plot. But they are familiar and well used and not very rich. These characters are simple, void of complex emotions and motivations. Same goes for the plot and conflicts. There is no complexity to them either. The conflicts are of good/evil variety. The plot is easily predictable. Twists? What twists?

I do not think Shadow and Bone is a good fit for many adult readers, unless they are in a search for going-through-the-motions sort of story with a standard "kick-ass" protagonist (I am thinking Tris from Divergent or Ismae from Grave Mercy), and they do not expect to be challenged intellectually or emotionally.

Now, to the part of my review that will reflect exclusively my personal problems with this book, which will not bother 99.9% of its potential readers.

Shadow and Bone is, as I mentioned earlier, a Russia-inspired fantasy. I took pains to check out Leigh Bardugo's website, to see how exactly she addressed this inspiration. Here are her words: "Ravka and its language were heavily inspired by Russia, but with a few deliberate exceptions, the words and place names in Shadow & Bone are my own invention. My goal was to keep things simple and to make sure that Ravkan words still had resonance for readers. In short, I took a lot of liberties and I hope the purists won’t beat me about the head and shoulders."

Sure, I do not want to be a language nazi or anything. I can skim over Russian-sounding made-up words, even though they linguistically do not make much sense. Not every writer can be like Catherynne M. Valente, who embraced Russianness so fully in her Deathless, that I had to do some research to find out if she was Russian herself (she is not). But is it too much to ask of an author to at least google the actual Russian words she does use in her work? I swear, it would only take 10 minutes to research the glaring mistakes I found.

For instance, if you want to give your characters Russian names, it is not that hard to find out that men and women in Russia have different variations of the same last name? Let's take the book's main character, Alina Starkov. Starkov is a masculine version of the last name. Correctly, it should be Alina Starkova. In the same way, there is another character, whose name is Ilya Morozova. The problem with this name is that Ilya is actually a male name, while the last name has a female form. In the book, Ilya Morozova is a "she." If you google "Russian last names," this information comes up in the second or third link from the top. How much time would it take to do this research?

Then there is a matter of "kvas," a beverage everyone seems to get drunk on in Shadow and Bone. In reality, you can not actually get drunk consuming it. This is a non-alcoholic beverage (well, almost, it occasionally has alcohol content up to 1%) which is given to children as well as adults, like, let's say, soda. Wiki this word, I am not lying. You want to write about alcohol, use "pivo" or "braga" or "samogon," if researching that is too hard, use "vodka."

And, I swear, the last example (of many on my list). The name of this trilogy - The Grisha (in the book, the Grisha are magic wielding army). Grisha is actually a short form of the male name Grigori. Come on now, no better ideas, no better words to call your magicians other than this random personal name? Or "otkazat'sya," which in Bardugo's interpretation means "The Abandoned." In reality "otkazat'sya" is a verb which translates into "to refuse." That is why I am saying that even the words made up by the author make no sense, linguistically.

To be sure, all these things will not bother anyone except select few, but I do not think it is too wrong to expect the author who builds her whole magical universe using Russian culture, to respect this culture enough to do a cursory google search, to give her work some appearance of credibility and care? This sloppy use of a foreign (my) culture affected my enjoyment of the novel.

Shadow and Bone is not an isolated example of a lazy handling of Russian language and culture, and very often I feel very much compelled to offer authors, who choose to base their stories on Russia, my help, to at least check the spelling of the words. But then I see that they do not care to do the most basic of researches, so why should I care?

To wrap this up, I do not recommend against reading Shadow and Bone. It is a light and engaging enough entertainment. In fact, after reading a few Goodreads reviews, it looks like many people found it to be utterly enchanting. I am glad they do. I, however, will not be back for more.
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Reading Progress

04/06/2012 page 39
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 93) (93 new)


Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews) I hope you like this one. I loved the Russian vibe I got from it.


Catie I really want to love this one but I'm nervous. If you love it, I'm IN.


Tatiana I hope I like it too, although I just started and already she is not writing Russian names and words correctly...


message 4: by Tatiana (last edited Apr 06, 2012 08:46AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tatiana Catie wrote: "I really want to love this one but I'm nervous. If you love it, I'm IN."

So far everyone has been very complimentary of this book. We'll see...


Catie Tatiana wrote: "I hope I like it too, although I just started and already she is not writing Russian names and words correctly..."

Hmmmm.


Steph Sinclair I'll just sit back and wait for this review. I loved this book. It was a lot of fun. :)


message 7: by Lucy (new)

Lucy Agh so jealous.


Steph Sinclair Uh, oh. D:


Tatiana Sorry, Steph, it's not a 5 for me. But I promise, there will be no ranting.


Steph Sinclair Tatiana wrote: "Sorry, Steph, it's not a 5 for me. But I promise, there will be no ranting."

I look forward to your insightful review, Tatiana.


Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews) I do too. I loved it but can't wait for the review.


Kara-karina I'm actually not expecting any correct Russian after the horror of The Mephisto Covenant :))) As long as it's even marginally better, I'm reading it!


message 13: by Alicia (new) - added it

Alicia Great review. While these are not things that would have bothered me had I not read this review (ignorance is bliss, you know), it would bother me a lot if it were my culture that was not properly researched.


message 14: by Steph (last edited Apr 09, 2012 09:26AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Steph Sinclair This is a really great review. I can see why you had issues. As Alicia said, had it been my culture, I know it would bother me too.


message 15: by Michelle (new) - added it

Michelle I really liked the 'personal' part of your review. I wouldn't have picked up on any of the details, but I completely agree with you about research. There are other cultures/religions/languages with which I am more familiar, and I hate it when authors use them haphazardly. I think authors sometimes forget that, while to them it is just flavor for their story, to others it is their life. Authors should treat other cultures with the same respect they would want shown to their own.


message 16: by Marg (new) - added it

Marg K. I hate when authors skimp on research and then hide behind the excuse of "artistic license" when in reality it's lazy writing. In particular, I find linguistic, historical, scientific, religious, and cultural inconsistencies and/or fallacies incredibly distracting & bothersome to the point that I can't thoroughly immerse myself in the story and fully enjoy my reading experience.

And I swear that I'm beginning to believe that YA authors think they can get away with shoddy research & erroneous info because they are under the impression that their targeted younger audience won't notice and/or care.


Tatiana If I know that author neglects one vital part of her story-telling (fact-checking, etc.), it makes me question his/her commitment and respect for the whole writing process.


message 18: by Megan (new)

Megan As a nurse, it bothers me a great deal when medical stuff is wrong in books, especially considering the wealth of basic medical information that is readily available on the web. I remember in one of the Women of the Otherworld books, Paige was giving CPR to practically everybody. I wanted to send Kelly Armstrong a note stating that CPR is only neccessary in the event of a cardiac or respiratory arrest, and even then it is very rarely successful. Stupid Paige :P

Anyhow, great review. And I loved the Russian language rant :)


Emily May Excellent review, this is coming off my TBR. I just cannot be bothered reading books if the author didn't bother to do the research. I'm glad you said this, though, because I'm afraid I'm also ignorant of the Russian language and wouldn't have noticed the mistakes.


Lisa O. To be sure, all these things will not bother anyone except select few, but I do not think it is too wrong to expect the author who builds her whole magical universe using Russian culture, to respect this culture enough to do a cursory google search, to give her work some appearance of credibility and care? This sloppy use of a foreign (my) culture affected my enjoyment of the novel.

I guess I am one of the selected few. The point you're making here irks me to no end and I've written as much frequently.
As far as my culture is concerned, it often looks like the author asked the guys from the Jersey Shore to help out with Italian words.
And it's not about being purists, it's about taking the time to do some freaking - basic - research.


Tatiana Seriously, Lisa, I don't expect authors to learn a foreign language or travel for year to a foreign country for research, but 10 minutes on the Internet is too much work?


Tatiana Emily wrote: "Excellent review, this is coming off my TBR. I just cannot be bothered reading books if the author didn't bother to do the research. I'm glad you said this, though, because I'm afraid I'm also igno..."

I don't think you would have loved it anyway, Emily. When I wrote this I was thinking of yours of Legend. I had the same feeling about this novel.


Tatiana Megan wrote: "As a nurse, it bothers me a great deal when medical stuff is wrong in books, especially considering the wealth of basic medical information that is readily available on the web. I remember in one o..."

Poor Paige gets no break from you, Megan:)


message 24: by Kara-karina (last edited Apr 09, 2012 12:45PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kara-karina Marg wrote: "I hate when authors skimp on research and then hide behind the excuse of "artistic license" when in reality it's lazy writing. In particular, I find linguistic, historical, scientific, religious, a..."

You just read my thoughts, Marg! :)) In fact, after Tatiana's review, I'm skipping the whole book, because the inability to do that 10 mins research to spell the names correctly or not use kvas as alcoholic beverage pissed me off completely. I'm tired of dancing bears on Kremlin Square (metaphorically speaking). Tatiana, thank you for the reference to Deathless, I added it to my TBR pile!


Tatiana Kara-karina, as a fellow Russian, I am sure you will be fairly annoyed by this as well. Dancing bears and fur hats.

Deathless is so much better, although I partially listened to it on audio and there were many, many pronunciation mistakes. But the book itself is practically flawless, IMO (and weird).


message 26: by Michelle (new) - added it

Michelle Tatiana wrote: "... although I partially listened to it on audio and there were many, many pronunciation mistakes"

Really? Yet again, it doesn't take that much time to research the correct pronunciation. (You can put words into translate.google and it will say them for you!) It seems like if they were going to go through the trouble of making an audio-book, they would have said the words correctly.


oliviasbooks Oh, good. Tatiana. I liked the book but thought it wasn't that great or impressive. Everybody else seemed to love-love it, which made me fear it was me - again - and not the book.
I am bothered by the language or country thing often enough, too. Winter's Child: A Retelling of "The Snow Queen" displayed such a wild mix of German, pseudo-German and something Danish or Norwegian, that I got really angry. Using Leo or googling names and expressions for family members would have been so easy.


message 28: by B0nnie (new)

B0nnie use "vodka." lol, you're very drole


Nataliya I was reluctant to pick up this book based on the word "Grisha" alone (one of my good childhood friends was named Grisha, after all). I am glad your review spared me the painful eye-rolling and yelling out, "C'mon, just use Google!"
By the way, I am typing this as I'm drinking a glass of kvas. Nope, I'm NOT getting drunk on it, no way.


message 30: by Tatiana (last edited Apr 09, 2012 08:23PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tatiana Nataliya wrote: "I was reluctant to pick up this book based on the word "Grisha" alone (one of my good childhood friends was named Grisha, after all). I am glad your review spared me the painful eye-rolling and yel..."

Nataliya, in this book kvas is so strong, it is kept in flasks and burns when it goes down. As if!:)


Nataliya Tatiana wrote: "Nataliya, in this book kvas is so strong. it is kept in flasks and burns when it goes down. As if!:) "

I guess you can see some stereotype-based logic here. With the view of Russians as perpetually vodka-drinking debauchers, it would not seem surprising that they'd give this extremely strong alcoholic beverage to kids, right? Having had kvas since age three or so, I'm afraid to imagine what my liver must look like now ;)


Tatiana Sure, and make those kids play balalaika too while drinking kvas:)


Nataliya Tatiana wrote: "Sure, and make those kids play balalaika too while drinking kvas:)"

While dancing with a bear, of course :)


message 34: by Maggie (new)

Maggie "Purist." That's so patronizing to me. As if knowing a few basic facts about another culture is such an effort.


message 35: by Buka (new)

Buka Oh, cultural ignorance... You just can't take a book seriously when things like girls named Ilya or something can make you guffaw in the middle of some poignant and solemn scene. And alcoholic kvas - that must be a new record. This is even more ridiculous than eating borsch in every bar of St. Petersburg or that book where the main character had Russian upbringing and was always swearing in Russian but half of these words was used incorrectly (which is particulary funny when it comes to cussing) and almost all of them were actually too obscene for print.


message 36: by Lisa (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lisa Great review, Tatiana. Thank you for pointing out all of those cultural inconsistencies. I hate when authors don't do their research. I wouldn't have caught any of the ones you've pointed out since I'm not familiar with Russian culture, however, I'm always quick to jump on authors for inaccuracies about subjects I know about. I'll probably still check this one out but your review will definitely color my opinion. I just think it's disrespectful for an author not to do adequate research.


Steph Su I wish I had seen your review before I requested the book on NetGalley, Tatiana. Seriously, authors, I know it's more work for you to do research into the culture or world that your story is based off of, but if you don't commit 110% to your book, how can you expect readers to commit even 50%? Sloppy sloppy sloppy... Must be ever more wary of hyped YA in the future...


Tatiana I wish hype paid off at least 25% of the time, but I am afraid even this wish is too optimistic...


message 39: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason Thanks for your comparison to Grave Mercy and Divergent. I actually thought both of them had very flat characterization, writing, and plotting. And your description of the plot is definitely different from the official synopsis.


Julianna Helms Oh yes, I agree with your review 100%! Unfortunately the hype did not even slightly match my reading experience, and I completely understand what you mean about the whole misuse of Russian culture thing, because it's kinda like that with Eon for me and Chinese. Except, of course, that I loved Eon so much that I was willing to overlook it.

Awesome review! :)


Tatiana I loved Eon too. Didn't know that Chinese info wasn't up to par;(


Julianna Helms Tatiana wrote: "I loved Eon too. Didn't know that Chinese info wasn't up to par;("

Yeah, that was what got me so confused at first, but it was only the language and few very minor customs that weren't necessarily accurate. The court hierarchy and such was actually not to far off! :)


Steph Su Funnily enough, the misuse of Chinese/Asian culture in THIS book was what made me stop reading it. What!!


Lamia I read your review before starting the book and needless to say, every time Alina's name came up in the book, I semi-angrily thought "Starkova!".
I also agree with you on the simplicity of the plot. It all just fell a bit flat for me.


message 45: by Christina (new) - added it

Christina Hey, Tatiana. I mentioned your review on my blog and how it had saddened me, and the author DMed me this interview she did a month ago about the world building / language choices(http://claire-legrand.com/2012/04/16/...)... in case you're interested in reading it.


Tatiana Thanks. It was an interesting interview. It's sad though that after doing so much research the author got so many things wrong...


message 47: by Giselle (last edited May 29, 2012 04:26PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Giselle Wow this was interesting. And maybe I shouldn't have read this since I'm starting this book and these mistakes will now pop out whereas I would have been ignorant of them before :D But I agree that a little research goes a long way. Especially when the book has a unique setting such as Russia. I doubt I could love it if it was my culture, but I'm gonna give it a go and see. By the interview Christina linked it seems like she made some of these mistakes on purpose (or so she claims). Maybe it was to make it her world!? Dunno, but hey, we all got drunk on Rootbeer as kids, right? :D Great review T!


Tatiana Giselle, I believe some of her choices were deliberate, but some... well, she just messed up:)

However, tons of people loved it, I hope you will too.


Filia Libri Gosh, thanks so much! You know, while reading Shadow & Bone there was this feeling of "wrongness" I experienced several times, especially in scenes where the "Russian influence" showed very heavily but I couldn't really pinpoint why I felt that way... Well, guess your language rant answered my question ^^
It's not like I know that much about Russian language and culture myself but I'm fascinated by it, I love reading Russian Fantasy and grew up with some close friends of my grandparents trying to teach me some basiscs and apparently that was enough for me to establish some kind of feeling for that language which made me aware that something about the author's use of it was wrong without having the knowledge neccessair to see the exact mistakes >.<
I hate it when authors do that. There are sooo many books by US authors were they try to include a German charakter and get it all wrong because they can't be bothered with research and that's even without those great cultural differences that is there between US and Russia...
Um, would you mind me quoting a short paragraph of your review for mine? (With a link to the review on your blog of course) It's just that you put into words what I couldn't possibly explain correctly due to my insufficient knowledge of Russia.


message 50: by Tatiana (last edited Jun 17, 2012 09:20AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tatiana No, I wouldn't mind.

Glad you found something useful in my rant:)


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