Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

“Just … be careful.” I stared at her, baffled. “Of what?” “Of powerful men.”

BOOK REVIEW MARIAHREADIT

Mariah Rose

2021-08-07 5 min read

I need you to understand that I walked into this fandom in the weeks preceding the release of King of Scars. I had heard of the infamous Kaz Brekker, and Six of Crows, and ‘No Mourners, No Funerals’ for years - people seemed to love those books as much as they hated The Grisha Trilogy.

Now, I am a completionist. I was that kid who could not go to the next level on Super Mario unless I got all the coins in the current one. I took my starter all the way to Lv. 100 before I bothered leveling up any of my other Pokémon. If I start hating a series halfway through I will still finish reading the damn thing because only quitters quit, and I will write a One Star scathing review that will serve as the water on the slide I plan to use for my descent into hell. My point is: I couldn’t very well read The Six of Crows duology without reading The Grisha Trilogy.

And maybe it was great that I walked into it with gutter level expectations. I expected to be bored out of my mind with the world building. I thought the main character was gonna be this whiny, shallow thing incapable of empathy. I thought the hero was going to be overshadowed but this charismatic and misunderstood villain. Let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised.

Now that I’ve ensured that no one is actually going to read this I can really lay it all out on the line:

A country called Ravka (think Russia 1850s) has been constantly on the cusp of war for years. Surrounded by enemy countries, led by a feckless King, and to top it off this thing called the Shadow Fold appeared centuries ago. This stretch of darkness that is infested with blood thirsty creatures called Volcra has cut off Ravka’s access to ports and has made them even more vulnerable to their enemies.

Alina Starkov is an orphaned girl, the only survivor in a village razed to the ground by war. She’s placed in an orphanage where her days are cold and damp and bleak, until a new kid arrives. Malyen ‘Mal’ Oretsev is Alina’s first and only friend and their days at the orphanage are less grey when they are together.

Like all children in Ravka, Alina and Mal were tested to see if they are Grisha. Grisha are basically benders (Any Avatar fans around?), people who practice the Small Science aka who can manipulate matter.

“I didn’t mean that,” I said hurriedly. “I just … I didn’t know what to expect.”
“Other than the worst?”
“It’s an old habit.”

The First Army is where regular soldiers serve, and it is in one of its regiments that our story starts, where at 18 years old, both Alina and Mal have enlisted. Alina as a mapmaker, and Mal as a tracker – having always had the gift for it.

They are attempting to cross the Shadow Fold when things get interesting. I won’t spoil anything from there, but there are a few things that need to be said.

I understand that people are entitled to their own opinions, and here are mine:

Alina

Picture this: a scrawny, malnourished, insomniatic 18-year-old orphan who has been helplessly in love with her best (and only) friend since they were kids. Not only is she an orphan but the *whole town* where she was born is no more, she doesn’t even have neighbors that maybe, kinda used to know her.

Because of the aforementioned ailments, Alina is unhappy with her appearance (oh, wow, a teenager with insecurities, by all means, call her whiny and vain) and she has seemingly no marketable skills (shit, an 18-year-old who doesn’t know what to do with their life?! CALL THE POLICE.)

If only people were as hard on millennials as they are on Alina…

Mal, the object of Alina’s affections, is a handsome and gifted tracker and the cause of much frustration because she isn’t the only girl who’s noticed how great Mal is… unfortunately for her, Mal seems to notice every girl but Alina.

“Thanks for being my best friend and making my life bearable. Oh, and sorry I fell in love with you for a while there."

There are three big groups of Grisha:

Corporalki – The Order of The Living and The Dead.
They wear red keftas (basically a cross between a robe and a military jacket) and are divided between Healers and Heartrenders (who do the opposite of healing).

Etherealki – The Order of The Summoners
They wear blue keftas, and are sorted into Squallers (air benders), Tidemakers (water benders) and Inferni (fire berders).

Materialki – The Order of The Fabrikators.
Wearers of purple. Sorted between Alkemi (think explosives and poisons) and Durasts (think glass, steel etc).

However, there is a Grisha that stands above everyone else, the Darkling. He is a Grisha with unique powers that leads the Second Army, under the King of Ravka.

The Darkling

He is literally called The. Darkling. Are you honestly telling me you couldn’t smell the trouble coming from a mile away??? All is well and good when a character is charismatic and charming, but bad acts are not made less bad because the perpetrator is hot and fun.
He is a predator. In every sense of the word.

I really enjoyed this book, I was physically unable to put it down towards the end, and that tells you all you need to know.

“Just … be careful.” I stared at her, baffled.
“Of what?”
“Of powerful men.”

I get it. It’s 2019, we want to read about empowered women, who are strong and skillful, who are quick witted and take charge, but just look around you – not all real women are like that. Is it not the point of reading to encounter all sorts of characters? Even those that are meek and powerless and that maybe remind you too much of how powerless you once were?

For every strong woman there was once an uncertain girl. You don’t meet Alina after she’s gone through her trials and found her path, instead you get to walk that path with her.