I didn’t expect to enjoy Shadow and Bone as much as I did. Now that I’ve had a day to process it, I can comfortably say it’s one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read. Leigh Bardugo marries lush, descriptive prose with dynamic character development, which meshes perfectly with her flawlessly-paced plot; there are just the right amount of twists and turns to keep readers on their toes without making it seem like they’ve gone through some kind of maze from hell.
In the kingdom of Ravka, Alina Sarkov—an orphaned military cartographer—must learn how to reckon with discovering that she is the one and only Sun Summoner; she is the country’s only hope to dispel the Unsea—a perpetually dark strip of land that divides the eastern part of the country from the more prosperous western side. But can she learn to call the power from within herself without aid? (Talk about the world’s worst savior!) As new information about the Unsea’s origin comes to light, Alina must determine where her allegiances lie.
Since I’m a relative newbie to fantasy, I half expected the story to take place in some medievalesque atmosphere, complete with dragons and wizards and your run-of-the-mill Game of Thrones situation. But Bardugo took an innovative approach to the landscape in Shadow and Bone. Ravka is inspired by Tsarist Russia, a landscape Bardugo describes as equally beautiful and brutal in its culture and history.
During Alina’s time, Ravka has been cut in half for centuries and constantly at battle with surrounding countries. The country’s elite hoard extravagant riches, while the country’s peasants live in destitution. Contrasting the country’s limited, concentrated wealth with the underlying danger and bleakness that the rest of the country must face sets the stage for this brilliantly crafted fantasy epic.
I would concede that Shadow and Bone follows a fairly standard young adult fantasy model, in which a protagonist (typically female) must sort out the troubles of a nation that has been struggling through years of turmoil. One of the facets of the YA fantasy formula is the love triangle, which, I feel, never really works out. Something like that exists in the novel, but it takes on an entirely different dimension because of the manipulative Darkling. Bardugo does such an amazing job of rendering the warring and confused emotions of Alina, the Darkling, and Mal that she sets a new standard for the depiction of romance in the genre. Such love triangles can never be reduced to simplistic terms. Authors often try to add depth and nuance where they do not exist, making Bardugo’s work challenging and refreshing.
Even if you aren’t a fantasy fan, Shadow and Bone is well worth the time. 416 pages fly by fast when you dive into Alina’s struggle. I cannot wait to immerse myself into Siege and Storm!