Book Review: The “Shadow and Bone” trilogy, by Leigh Bardugo

A thrilling YA fantasy that will be sure to captivate you!

Plot

Shadow and Bone is a trilogy of fantasy novels written by Leigh Bardugo, bestselling author of the Six of Crows duology and King of Scars trilogy. An action-packed fiction novel, Shadow and Bone follows the adventures of Alina Starkov, orphan and mapmaker in the First Army— the battalions of the otkazat’sya, those without powers of any sort. The Second Army is composed of the Grisha, the ones who can call down the elements or slow a man’s heart and generally earn the highest ranks in Ravka, their warsome country. The same country is plagued by the Shadow Fold, a swath of darkness and sand filled with unimaginable monsters that cuts their country in two so that travelers are forced to take sand skiffs to travel across. It was created by the previous Shadow Summoner— an incredibly rare Grisha that controls shadow, so rare that it’s a miracle (or some say a curse) that the current General of the Second Army, the Darkling, possesses the same power. Rarer yet are Sun Summoners, but Alina will prove to be just that as she calls on light in the middle of the Fold to save her childhood friend, Mal Oretsev, and gets swept up in the elaborate world of Darklings and Grisha and Saints. She’ll make friends and enemies alike in the halls of the Grisha’s Little Palace and learn that people are not always what they appear to be in the stunning tour de force that is the Shadow and Bone trilogy. Filled with adventurous princes, loyal friends, hidden villains, and complex schemes, it lives up to some of the best contemporary YA books and makes for a story that is wonderful and amusing to no end.

 

Characters

Alina Starkov

The main character to the Shadow and Bone trilogy, Alina is an orphan from Keramzin, where she was raised with Mal. She’s a minute, pale girl with mousy brown hair and quite sickly until she starts using her powers, at which point even she can see the turn in her appearance and health. Loyal and brave, yet stubborn and cynical, she’s the mythical Sun Summoner yet flawed in a way that makes her decidedly human and relatable to the readers. Her sarcastic attitude gives her a reputation for being a pessimist, but in reality she’s determined to pull Ravka out of the Fold’s shadow (pun intended) and does her best to help everyone around her. However, she tends to be dependent on those around her to give her an answer and has a push-and-pull, complicated relationship with Mal as they try to figure out their feelings. Overall witty and steadfast, she makes for an interesting, complex main character that keeps developing all throughout the trilogy.

 

Malyen Oretsev

Sarcastic and sometimes moody but also extremely loyal to Alina, Mal is one of the main characters of the trilogy. He’s a gifted tracker, able to find anything. He’s known Alina since they were kids because they were both orphans in the macabre Ravkan orphanage of Keramzin. The two of them will have a complex relationship throughout the three books, where they will understand the feelings harbored between the two of them. Mal’s tall and well-built, with blue eyes and brown hair. He’s flexible and easily adapted to any environment he finds himself in, a fact that Alina comments multiple times with jealousy. He’s confident and witty when he wants to be, but he can find himself to be quite at loss when it comes to Nikolai, as he doesn’t completely trust him or his way of charming everything and everyone in his path. Despite it all, he’s loyal and brave and won’t hesitate to help Alina when the time comes.

 

Nikolai Lantsov

Cunning, witty, and dauntless are all perfect words to describe Prince Nikolai Lantsov, the adventurous second son of the Ravkan King. Tall, blond, with hazel eyes and sharply handsome features, he always has a quick-witted remark ready to lift the tension and turn the conversation to his favor. His role as a prince means he’s quite the people pleaser, always passing through a plethora of masks to show what people want to see, be it the regal prince, the obedient son, or the dashing charmer. Despite that, he’s deeply loyal to Ravka and will do whatever it takes to keep his country safe from harm. He has a gift for inventing and creating and is an excellent leader with his optimistic outlook and natural charisma, which helps him win Alina over and later on ensures that they stay loyal to each other’s causes. Overlooked by his family for his dubious parentage, all throughout the series we see Nikolai strive to prove his worth to the country he loves in a truly stunning character arc that makes for one of our personal favorites.

 

The Darkling

The Shadow Summoner at the head of the Second Army, the Darkling is incredibly mysterious and as such doubly alluring to Alina, acting as a secondary love interest in the first books. Morally dubious at times yet impossibly charismatic, he’s the center of the Grisha’s attentions and unbelievably powerful. His appearance matches his name— tall and handsome, with pale skin, ink black hair, and slate gray eyes that betray nothing. Throughout the course of the books, his cold and calculating demeanor will shift to reveal the truth behind his mask and the centuries of history that ultimately lead to his rise. Revolutionary and surprisingly altruistic towards Grisha, yet overly ambitious at times, the Darkling is a stunning enigma of a character that will be sure to captivate you.

 

Genya Safin

Truly underrated in the Shadow and Bone books, Genya Safin, servant at the Grand Palace, is undoubtedly one of the bravest and most fierce characters to ever exist. Forced to succumb to the King’s every will because of her beauty, she grows into a fearless fighter with nothing to apologize for. She’s described as having flame-red hair and amber eyes, with porcelain-like skin and a shapely figure, and falls under a completely new Grisha category, a Tailor: halfway between a blood-controlling Heartrender and a metal-welding Durast. This enables her to alter physical appearance, as she does to keep the Queen looking young. Loyal to the Darkling and silently in love with David Kostyk, she is Alina’s first friend at the Little Palace and always devoted to the Second Army’s cause— to make a safe haven for the Grisha in Ravka and in the rest of the world. Incredibly well-written, she is one of the best characters in the series.

 

Tolya Yul-Bataar and Tamar Kir-Bataar

Tolya and Tamar are twin siblings, born in Shu Han, and employed under legendary privateer Sturmhond’s fleet as bodyguards. They are formidable Heartrender soldiers and live at the Little Palace in Ravka with the other soldiers of the Second Army. Tamar has short dark hair, bronze skin and golden eyes, and a strong and fearless personality which sometimes leads her to be reckless. She is very religious and loyal to Alina and Nikolai, but not to Ravka. She will develop a romantic relationship with the Squaller Nadia Zhabin, while Tolya appears to be completely indifferent to romantic relationships. Both she and her brother wear a sunburst tattoo to demonstrate their loyalty to the Sun Summoner. Tolya is quite similar to his sister physically, but he’s taller and has longer hair; he is stoic and has a more rigid moral core than his sister, but he’s just as loyal and courageous. He is also passionate about Shu and Ravkan epic poetry and he’s also, like Tamar, very religious. Both Tolya and Tamar are very loved characters and in particular Tamar is one of the most loved characters by the fans of the series because of her strong personality.

 

Baghra

Temperamental and cold, the elderly Baghra is a somewhat ambiguous character that doesn’t show her emotions. She trains the Grisha at the Little Palace and has a reputation for being a strict and unyielding hag. She has charcoal eyes and black hair, with extremely pale skin. She’s a character that may look apathetic and unlikable at first, but that has one of the most interesting backstories and motives of Shadow & Bone. While she seems standoffish to Alina at first, after various back-breaking lessons with the old Grisha the Sun Summoner starts to realize just how important Baghra’s teachings are and how much she’s progressed since she started. Baghra truly cares for the Grisha she teaches and shares both Zoya and the Darkling’s ambition and dream: to create a save haven for everyone like them. Mysterious and somewhat impassable, she turns out to be one of the most complex and intriguing characters in the trilogy.

 

Zoya Nazyalensky

Decisive, stubborn, and sometimes vindictive, Zoya Nazyalensky is both feared and respected all throughout Ravka because of her sheer power and ambition. She’s a Squaller, or a Grisha who can manipulate wind, and a commander of the Second Army under the Darkling, who she initially idolizes. Outrageously gorgeous, she has long, wavy black hair, with almond-colored skin, striking sapphire blue eyes, and a curvy figure. Zoya isn’t much of a team player and often relies on herself to solve problems, coming across as cold and arrogant. However, she’s close to Genya and later on Nikolai, and truly is as courageous and loyal as they come. Even though her friendship with Alina is off with a rough start, they ultimately share the same goal and Zoya’s determination means that they’ll do anything to destroy the Fold. Bold and independent, she has a wonderful arc throughout the series and is one of the most interesting characters to read.

 

David Kostyk

A Durast, or a Grisha who works with metal, David is interested in little apart from his work because of his quiet, studious and introverted personality. Nowadays he would very probably be described as “nerd” because he’s a shy intellectual not interested in what most people are interested in; despite that, he’s in love with Genya Safin. He has short brown hair, tan skin, is thin and wears glasses. Even though at first almost invisible, as the story and his relationship with Genya both progress he becomes a very likable and well-rounded character. One wonderful thing is that he doesn’t lose his introversion, something that seems to happen quite often in the modern media. Instead, he grows into it and ends up spending countless afternoons pouring over the newest projects in the silent or otherwise company of Nikolai Lantsov and Nadia Zhabin, a Squaller. His passion for engineering and all things metal is almost contagious and its wonderful to see how Genya and David both go out of their comfort zone for each other to form a loving and balanced relationship.

 

Opinion & Recommendations

We enjoyed this trilogy because it was very engaging, particularly thanks to its characters, always varied and interesting; the plot, fast-paced and filled with twists and suspense; and the awesome worldbuilding of the universe in which the story is set, the Grishaverse. Also, Leigh Bardugo’s style makes for wonderfully fluent and entertaining books, while still having very effective descriptions and dialogues. 

In general, we’d recommend the Shadow and Bone trilogy to all those who look for a fantasy read with a well-built universe (detailed in anything from language to religion), a gripping story that overflows surprises from start to finish, and a plethora of unforgettable characters, each weird and wonderful in their own right.

To anyone who’s read the series and enjoyed it, here are a few of our recommendations:

  • The rest of the Grishaverse series(Six of Crows, King of Scars)
  • To Kill a Kingdom, Alexandra Christo (series)
  • Daughter of the Pirate King, Tricia Levenseller
  • The Cruel Prince, Holly Black (series)
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah J. Maas (series)
  • The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater
  • His Dark Materials (series), Philip Pullman

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