My Rating: Outstanding Adventure (5/5)
When the last installment to Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy came out, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. When I stopped to think about it, I realized I had almost no memory of what happened in the previous two books. A trip to the books store later, my problem was solved, hence my re-reading of Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm. I’ll be posting my review of Siege and Storm on Wednesday, and my review of the conclusion to the trilogy on Friday.
I had originally read an advance copy of Shadow and Bone back in 2012. I had liked the book and was invested in the series. Reading the book a second time round, there’s so much more to appreciate. I don’t know why I didn’t fall in love with the wonderful setting and lush writing style right off the bat (perhaps because I knew there was a long wait ahead until the final book in the trilogy). There is something so beautiful about the writing in Shadow and Bone, something that harkens back to old folk tales that made this a pleasure to read.
Shadow and Bone is about a young woman, Alina Starkvov, she’s not stunningly pretty, nor enormously talented, and she’s in love with her best friend, Mal – who has no idea. Ah, unrequited love. It sucks to be young. During her required enlistment in the military service, Alina’s regiment is order to cross the Fold, a shadowy barrier filled with strange creatures, in order to gather supplies on the other side. When her skiff is attacked and Mal’s life is in danger, Alina’s latent powers come into existence. Alina is now able, and has no other choice, to join the Grisha, leaving Mal behind.
The Grisha practice the Small Science. It’s not magic per se, but those who are Grisha have specialties that allow them to manipulate certain objects or matters. In Alina’s case, she’s a Sun Summoner, the supposed savior of Ravka; the one that can destroy the Fold and end the wars plaguing the people. Because of her rare ability, Alina comes to the attention of the Darkling immediately and is ushered into a life that is so foreign to her but also filled with luxury that she could only imagine.
Now the Darkling is an interesting dude. He’s got a pretty prime spot in the hierarchy of things, and has the ear of the king. He’s not all powerful, but he’s got a lot of influence, and is essentially the leader of the Grisha. And with the Darking, we now enter into the dreaded love triangle. Sigh.
I’ll be upfront, I loath love triangles in any kind of book that has a romantic plot. They just get on my nerves and the back and forth decisions bring on a facial tick. However, I think it works in Shadow and Bone. This triangle serves a purpose; it makes Alina question who she is and what she really wants. Arguable, this should be true for all love triangles, but I often find it used without originality and as a means to make the guy or gal the object of all desirability. This is not the case in Shadow and Bone. Alina is a flawed heroine. She’s not really likable to those around her, she’s snarky and sarcastic, and it’s a means for her to hide how alone she feels, especially now that Mal is pulling away from her as they’re no longer two orphans alone in the world. When the Darkling enters the picture, I think Alina is at a vulnerable point and I understand how she was swayed by the special attention that the Darkling gives to her. And while I don’t think Alina reaches the point in book one, I’m yearning for her to realize her own merits as her own person outside of a relationship.
As for Mal, he has always been Alina’s best friend. She suppressed her Grisha abilities so that she could remain with him at the orphanage when they were children. She has given up a lot for Mal, and at the start of the book it hasn’t paid off. Mal is slowly pulling away from her. Unlike Alina, Mal fits in easily. He has lot’s of friends and the girls chase him. Only when she becomes a Grisha does Alina become a separate person from Mal; she finds her place. Of course, this sense of security and belonging doesn’t last, and Alina is left questioning her new found sense of self.
The journey of self-discovery is what I love most about Shadow and Bone. The way Alina often feels, is something that I think it so common to a lot of people. Considering how Shadow and Bone ends, it’s going to be very interesting to see how Alina reconciles returning to Mal’s shadow. Will Alina truly be able to give up her powers and position as a Grisha to be with Mal? Should she? And will Alina return to Ravka to put a stop to the Darkling’s hunger for power? Onto to Siege and Storm to find out…
If you liked the Russian style setting, The Gathering Storm would be a good choice to read next. There’s more magic and I felt that it can be geared towards a young audience, but I loved the setting and I think the heroine is going through a similar self-discovery process to Alina.
Court life and kick ass assassins? Give Throne of Glass a try. When Alina transitions to life in the Palace, it is very reminiscent of Throne of Glass; it also has a bit of a love triangle if you’re a fan of those (though it gets some resolution in book 2).
Lastly, for those who like the concept of fate and the idea that a character is tied to something much larger than they would wish, check out The Stone and the Maiden. Both the hero and heroine are pushed into situations that they did not choose (just like Alina and Mal); however, in embracing this fate, they just might come out triumphant.