Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (The Grisha #1) – Book Review (spoilers)

shadowandboneThe Grisha trilogy is an extremely popular, New York Times bestselling YA trilogy. As such, it has been reviewed countless times – so I’ll keep this short. I picked up the first in the trilogy, Shadow and Bone, months and months ago but didn’t actually read it until after I wrote my last blog post. Of course, I finished it all in one go and ran out the next day to pick up the second and third in the series – Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising. Read on for my thoughts on Bardugo’s debut.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.


Orphan turned soldier-map-maker, Alina Starkov serves alongside her best friend Mal Oretsev. The novel starts with a flashback to their shared childhood, in an orphanage in Keramzin. Alina and Mal are travelling from their homeland, Ravka,  to West Ravka – separated from Ravka by the Shadow Fold. The Fold, also known as the Unsea, is a cloud of darkness inhabited by terrifying beasts. These beasts attack Alina, Mal, and those they are travelling with – and their reaction is what shapes the rest of the novel.

Filled to the brim with magic, betrayal, lies, darkness, light, and a bit of romance – Shadow and Bone has everything you’d expect from a young adult fantasy novel.

However, I felt that the narrative rushed ahead a little too quickly on occasion. There could have been more helpful explanations of the way magic works in Bardugo’s world – for example, how the amplifiers work. It didn’t fully demonstrate how the Darkling can control Alina by putting an amplifier on her from an animal he killed himself.

On top of this, I found the occasional reference to very human/Earth-related objects quite jarring. Talk of champagne ripped me out of the narrative – how could they have champagne without also having a France? On the other hand, I must admit that for this to be a striking feeling shows that the ability to suspend disbelief enough for it to have an effect is testament to how absorbing this novel actually is.

Alina was a likeable heroine, with flaws, but I’m starting to feel like this weak-girl-turned-strong trope, with a best friend who was always there who they just happened to fall in love with, is just so overdone. Of course, Bardugo has no more or less right to use this trope than any other contemporary novelist – and it may just be because I recently finished Snow Like Ashes which is rather similar in this respect. It is still frustrating, though. If you’re going to write YA, you need to do it well, and if you’re going to stick with the conventions, you’ve got to bring something new to them. And I mean, there are more important things at hand in these life threatening situations, right?

There have just (quite rightly) been some really successful novels, starring strong, young, female characters, over the past few years. I’m ready for something more meaningful than a what often feels like it’s just written this way because it sells – because young girls want to see themselves in novels when they escape through reading. I’m torn about this, because strong, smart, female characters are wonderful – but so many of them are written the same. We young women are more than just one-sided, we’re individuals. And we don’t all have beautiful best friends waiting to fall in love with us (not that we necessarily want that). Come on YA publishing world, bring us something new!

The writing was good, but nothing amazing. The thing is, I did get excited by Shadow and Bone while I was stuck in it. This book captured me, and for that it’s receiving three stars. I’m only half way through Siege and Storm so far, and have experienced much less urgency to get through it and find out what happens. I suppose my reaction to the second and third Grisha installments will have to wait for another review, another day.

My personal rating: 3/5. Amazon average: 4.4/5. Goodreads average: 4.09/5.

Buy from Amazon / Hive / Your Local Indie Book Store ♥

Pages: 358

Publishers: Henry Holt and Co. / Indigo

Publication Date: June 5th 2012

Follow the author on Twitter: @LBardugo


5 thoughts on “Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (The Grisha #1) – Book Review (spoilers)

  1. I wanted to like Shadow and Bone as much as everyone else seems to. But it just didn’t work for me, for similar reasons to yours. The weak girl theme is too familiar, and I didn’t have the patience to continue the series and watch her become strong. I want her to think for herself now!

    Helpful review, thank you!

    1. I know what you mean! I often find myself having to force myself to be honest with reviews because I really want to feel a connection to certain books like others do 😦 She got better in the sequels, but it took far too long for her to get there. Getting very tired of the YA weak girl/strong girl/best friend falls in love with her kind of tropes and conventions right now – which is a shame because it can really ruin books that have other great elements to them!

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