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Book Review: ‘Shadow and Bone: A Grishaverse Novel’ by Leigh Bardugo

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Ravka is a country torn by war, and by something worse. The Shadow Fold, a place of darkness and monsters, was created centuries ago by the Black Heretic, an arrogant and dangerous mage. Alina is a cartographer in the first army, about to cross the Fold for the first time. When her ship is attacked by volcra she unknowingly releases a magical blast of light that dispels the darkness and kills the monsters. Alina has no idea what happened but it quickly becomes clear that her power might be exactly what is needed to destroy the Fold and save Ravka, if she can learn to control it. See Alina struggle to control her power and survive life at the palace while trying to save her country in the Grishaverse novel, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.

[ Warning: My review of Shadow and Bone contains some spoilers!]

The Shadow Fold, and a country destroyed by war and fear

In the country of Ravka there exists a class of warriors like no others, the Grisha. The Grisha are mages that use their powers to fight for Ravka in the second army (the first army being comprised of non-magical soldiers). Their leader is the Darkling, an extremely powerful Grisha with the power to control darkness. The Grisha hold an uneasy place in society. They are held up by the monarchy as the saviors of the country and are richly compensated for their work. Some peasants see them as saints sent to save Ravka. But they are also viewed as unnatural and therefore untrustworthy by many.

And Ravkans have good reason to fear the power the Grisha wield. The country is literally torn in two by a giant black cloud, known as the Shadow Fold, or the Fold for short. The Fold was created centuries ago by The Black Hieratic, a Darkling gone wrong.

There are monsters, known as volcra, within the Fold, and crossing it is extremely dangerous, even for ships heavily armed with Grisha and soldiers. Alina is a soldier in the first army (translation, regular person) and is making her first crossing of the Fold. Her lifelong best friend, Mal, is also with her.

But their ship is attacked during the crossing. Alina is terrified and disoriented by the volcra, gunfire, and magical attacks all around her. Suddenly she realizes that one of the volcra is attacking Mal. Without thinking she throws herself at him and everything goes white with a blinding light.

New hope shines out of darkness in Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone

Alina passes out and when she awakes she’s chained up and under guard. The guard won’t talk to her but she soon realizes they’re taking her to the Darkling. Alina is terrified. She doesn’t know what happened or how but she is certain it didn’t actually have anything to do with her.

When she meets the Darkling he is able to draw the power out of her again. Still convinced that it has nothing to do with her, Alina protests but no one listens to her and she is dragged from the tent to be whisked off to the palace.

Shadow and Bone Cover

You see, Alina’s powers are unique. There has never been another Grisha who could control light. The Darkling sees her as his perfect foil. He also believes she can bring about the end of the Fold. Light is the natural enemy of darkness, after all, the only thing that can banish such concentrated shadows. Her light might be the salvation of Ravka, if she can learn to control it, and herself.

A classic ugly duckling story within the Grishaverse

Shadow and Bone is a classic ugly duckling story. Alina is an orphan who has never really fit in anywhere. The only person she’s ever felt close to is her best friend Mal. But he seems to fit in everywhere and as they’ve aged he seems to be leaving her behind. When her power manifests she’s instantly elevated to the status of Grisha, with all the benefits that come with the title. But because she’s much older than other entry-level Grisha (children are tested for powers at 8), she’s not really accepted by the other Grisha either.

Alina is miserable at the Little Palace with the other Grisha. If she could only access her power she believes everything will change but for some reason, she can’t do it on her own. She continues to be an ugly duckling. Will she ever be a swan? 

I felt so bad for poor Alina. Who hasn’t felt out of place and miserable? And who hasn’t been sure that if just one certain thing fell in place, everything would be perfect? It’s a really easy fantasy to buy into, but it never works that way in real life. Things are just too complicated. What I really liked about Shadow and Bone is that it’s just as complicated as real life. Alina might think that everything will be fine if she can learn to control her powers but it’s just not that simple.

Poor Alina is in over her head. Palace life is just as messy and complicated as modern politics with the added danger of magical attacks and unexpected kingly whims. Nothing in her life has prepared her for the viper’s nest she finds herself in. Trusting the right people is crucial but trying to figure out who to trust is almost impossible. Everyone has ulterior motives. Everyone. Alina tries to stay true to her morals but she’s so twisted around by the games going on around her that it’s hard to know what’s right anymore. Still, at her core, she stays a kind person who just wants a friend. My heart really went out to her and I rooted for her all the way to the end and beyond into the next book.

Leigh Bardugo has created a new heroine who’s worth checking into

Alina is a great character. She’s not perfect and she knows this, which makes her really relatable. She doesn’t try to be funny but her reactions often are anyway. It kept some of the heavier ideas of classism, prejudice, and mental abuse from being overwhelming.

These themes are all woven into the story, but Bardugo does so in such a way that it doesn’t feel preachy or forced. It’s just part of the reality of Ravka. And that’s what helps get the point home without most readers even noticing it. I really enjoyed Alina’s journey. She still has a long way to go but with two more books to the trilogy, I’m sure she’ll be a true hero in the end.

Anyone who has ever felt out of place, anyone who has ever had to start over somewhere new, anyone who has felt in over their head, will really relate to Alina. And that’s pretty much everyone, right?

Shadow and Bone was an easy read. The story flowed very well and had plenty of twists and turns to keep any reader interested. Alina is a young character, but not so young that older readers will have a hard time connecting to her. Bardugo did a great job crafting her in a way that anyone can see themselves in her. I recommend Shadow and Bone to anyone out there looking for a new hero to root for.

My Rating: 9/10

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo is available here and most places books are sold . Have you read it? Are you excited for the upcoming season of Shadow and Bone on Netflix? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus discord. And if you haven’t already, check out our review of the second Grishaverse novel Siege and Storm.

Book Review: Siege and Storm – A Grishaverse Novel by Leigh Bardugo

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Book Review: Ruin and Rising: A Grishaverse Novel By Leigh Bardugo

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Luna Gauthier

I've always been a bookworm and fantasy is my favortie genre. I never imagined (okay, I imagined but I didn't think) that I could get those books sent to me for just my opinion. Now I am a very happy bookworm! @Lunagauthier19 on Twitter

Luna Gauthier has 223 posts and counting. See all posts by Luna Gauthier