Book Review: Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo

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*Spoiler free*

Summary of Shadow and Bone

When young soldier Alina Starkov and her regiment are attacked while crossing the Shadow Fold – an unnatural darkness filled with monsters that cuts across her country’s land – she discovers a unique, dormant power within her which saves her life. Alina is taken to train with others who possess magic, under the leadership and protection of a powerful figure known as the Darkling.

After a bad-natured start, Alina begins to enjoy her new life and environment. She starts to make friends and, despite her best attempt not to, finds herself drawn to the Darkling’s charms as he promises to help her.

However, though Alina believes she is being prepared to save her world from the Shadow Fold, it becomes apparent not everyone’s motives are as they first seemed. Reunited with her childhood friend, they must win the race for power if Alina is to save not only herself, but her entire world as well.

Main Characters

  • Alina Starkov. As the heroine, Alina is relatable in the way she struggles to fit in and feels plain and insecure at times. Not everything comes easily to her (which I think we can all relate to!) She was enjoyable to read, though could be a little too pessimistic and irritable at times – but then she grew up as an orphan in a war-ravaged place, so I can’t blame her for not naturally expecting sunshine and rainbows. I wish she’d been slightly more confident and proactive – she mainly reacted to and went along with everyone else’s actions, rather than took charge on her own, so she wasn’t a heroine you could really look up to – but I think that’s part of who she is: she feels like an ordinary girl caught up in these other people’s decisions and consequences. There’s a lot of promise for her to step up into a stronger, more of a leader-type character, so it will be interesting to see how she grows in the rest of the series.
  • Mal. Mal is Alina’s childhood friend, before they both became soldiers. He’s absent from most of the book, so there’s not many chances to get to know him, but I liked the parts of him I did get to see. Sometimes he could be a little too standoffish, but he also seemed like quite a realistic guy, and he wasn’t all brash and alpha, so I liked that. Man, he was too poetic in his letter though! Looking forward to getting to know him more in the sequel (should he survive the first book…)

Things I Liked About Shadow and Bone

Well, first off, I love a book with a map at the front. I always think I won’t, because it adds needless complication, but then I end up really enjoying the map. It was fun to be able to track characters’ movement across the land, and it provided a greater realism as to what was happening and where they were going.

The story got quite tense towards the end of the book as well, which was somewhat unexpected (so a nice surprise). I love the idea of having power over darkness and light – that made a fun dynamic to experience.

There’s an interesting sort of love triangle in this book as well. It’s not your stereotypical kind – I’m not even sure if you can call it a love triangle at all(?) – which is always refreshing, and rather intriguing. Definitely curious about seeing that develop as the series progresses.

Final Thoughts

Shadow and Bone starts strong and grows in tension towards the end, so makes for a somewhat thrilling ride. Though I felt like some of the characters lacked dimension around the middle, the overall arch of key relationships was enough to hook you, and the power dynamics were unusual and therefore interesting. There were some twists and turns in the plot that caught me off guard, which is always a bonus, and I couldn’t tell how it was going to end, so that always wins a point for me! If you’re a true, die-hard fantasy fan, I’m not sure the world building will satisfy you enough, but if you’re looking for a lighter kind of read, this has a story that should keep you turning the pages.

Recommended for

Fans of Sarah J. Maas. I’ve also heard (though I’ve yet to read anything by her) Holly Black fans might like this too.

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