Book Review : Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy #1) By Leigh Bardugo
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo tells the story of Alina Starkov, who 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.
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.
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.
A Sneak Peek Into “Shadow and Bone”
I WOKE WITH A START. I could feel the rush of air on my skin, and I opened my eyes to see what looked like dark clouds of smoke. I was on my back, on the deck of the skiff. It took me only a moment to realize that the clouds were getting thinner, giving way to dark wisps and, between them, a bright autumn sun. I closed my eyes again, feeling relief wash over me. We’re on our way out of the Fold, I thought. Somehow, we made it through. Or had we? Memories of the volcra attack flooded back to me in a frightening rush. Where was Mal?
I tried to sit up and a bolt of pain shot through my shoulders. I ignored it and pushed myself up. I found myself looking down a rifle barrel.
“Get that thing away from me,” I snapped, batting it aside.
The soldier swung the rifle back around, jabbing it threateningly at me. “Stay where you are,” he commanded.
I stared at him, stunned. “What’s wrong with you?”
“She’s awake!” he shouted over his shoulder. He was joined by two more armed soldiers, the captain of the skiff, and a Corporalnik. With a thrum of panic, I saw that the cuffs of her red kefta were embroidered in black. What did a Heartrender want with me?
I looked around. A Squaller still stood by the mast, arms raised, driving us forward on a strong wind, a single soldier by his side. The deck was slick with blood in places. My stomach turned as I remembered the horror of the battle. A Corporalki Healer was tending to the wounded. Where was Mal?
There were soldiers and Grisha standing by the railings, bloodied, singed, and considerably fewer in number than when we had set out. They were all watching me warily. With growing fear, I realized that the soldiers and the Corporalnik were actually guarding me. Like a prisoner.
After a moment, she said softly, “We all feel it, you know.”
“The pull. Toward the Darkling. But he’s not like us, Alina.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. Even to my own ears, my voice sounded unnaturally high.
“His kind of power, the way he looks. You’d have to be mad or blind not to notice it.”
I said, “Mal Oretsev. He’s a tracker. He was injured during the attack. Where is he?” No one said anything. “Please,” I begged. “Where is he?”
There was a jolt as the skiff came aground. The captain gestured at me with his rifle. “Up.”
I thought about simply refusing to get up until they told me what had happened to Mal, but a glance at the Heartrender made me reconsider. I got to my feet, wincing at the pain in my shoulder, then I stumbled as the skiff started to move again, pulled forward by the drydock workers on land. Instinctively, I reached out to steady myself, but the soldier I touched shrank back from me as if burned. I managed to find my footing, but my thoughts were reeling.
The skiff halted again.
“Move,” the captain commanded.
The Corporalnik reached out a hand to stop him. “This is a waste of time. We should proceed immediately to—”
“Take your hand off me, bloodletter,” the captain snapped and shook his arm free.
For a moment, the Corporalnik stared at him, her eyes dangerous, then she smiled coldly and bowed. “Da, kapitan.”
I felt the hair on my arms rise.
“I hope you don’t expect fairness from me, Alina. It isn’t one of my specialties.”
The captain disappeared inside the tent. We waited. I glanced nervously at the Corporalnik, who had apparently forgotten her feud with the captain and was scrutinizing me once again. She was young, maybe even younger than I was, but that hadn’t stopped her from confronting a superior officer. Why would it? She could kill the captain where he stood without ever raising a weapon. I rubbed my arms, trying to shake the chill that had settled over me.
The tent flap opened, and I was horrified to see the captain emerge followed by a stern Colonel Raevsky. What could I possibly have done that would require the involvement of a senior officer?
The colonel peered at me, his weathered face grim. “What are you?”
“Assistant Cartographer Alina Starkov. Royal Corps of Surveyors—”
He cut me off. “What are you?”
I blinked. “I … I’m a mapmaker, sir.”
Raevsky scowled. He pulled one of the soldiers aside and muttered something to him that sent the soldier sprinting back toward the drydocks. “Let’s go,” he said tersely.
I felt the jab of a rifle barrel in my back and marched forward. I had a very bad feeling about where I was being taken. It can’t be, I thought desperately. It makes no sense. But as the huge black tent loomed larger and larger before us, there could be no doubt about where we were headed.
The entrance to the Grisha tent was guarded by more Corporalki Heartrenders and charcoal-clad oprichniki, the elite soldiers who made up the Darkling’s personal guard. The oprichniki weren’t Grisha, but they were just as frightening.
High above, four flags fluttered in the breeze: blue, red, purple, and above them all, black. Just last night, Mal and his friends had been laughing about trying to get into this tent, wondering what they might find inside. And now it seemed I would be the one to find out. Where is Mal? The thought kept returning to me, the only clear thought I seemed to be able to form.
After what seemed an eternity, the Corporalnik returned and nodded at the captain, who led me into the Grisha tent.
The soldiers marched me down a long carpeted aisle at the end of which I could see a black pavilion on a raised dais. A ripple of curiosity spread through the tent as we passed. Grisha men and women stopped their conversations to gape at me; a few even rose to get a better look.
By the time we reached the dais, the room was all but silent, and I felt sure that everyone must hear my heart hammering in my chest. In front of the black pavilion, a few richly attired ministers wearing the King’s double eagle and a group of Corporalki clustered around a long table spread with maps. At the head of the table was an ornately carved, high-backed chair of blackest ebony, and upon it lounged a figure in a black kefta, his chin resting on one pale hand. Only one Grisha wore black, was permitted to wear black. Colonel Raevsky stood beside him, speaking in tones far too low for me to hear.
I stared, torn between fear and fascination. He’s too young, I thought. This Darkling had been commanding the Grisha since before I was born, but the man seated above me on the dais didn’t look much older than I did. He had a sharp, beautiful face, a shock of thick black hair, and clear gray eyes that glimmered like quartz. I knew that the more powerful Grisha were said to live long lives, and Darklings were the most powerful of them all. But I felt the wrongness of it and I remembered Eva’s words: He’s not natural. None of them are.
“Bring them,” he said. I turned to see more soldiers leading a battered and bewildered group of people into the tent and up the aisle. Among them, I spotted the soldier who had been beside me when the volcra attacked and the Senior Cartographer, his usually tidy coat torn and dirty, his face frightened. My distress grew as I realized that they were the survivors from my sandskiff and that they had been brought before the Darkling as witnesses. What had happened out there on the Fold? What did they think I had done?
“I’ve spent my life searching for a way to make things right.
You’re the first glimmer of hope I’ve had in a long time.”
My breath caught as I recognized the trackers in the group. I saw Mikhael first, his shaggy red hair bobbing above the crowd on his thick neck, and leaning on him, bandages peeking out from his bloodied shirt, was a very pale, very tired-looking Mal. My legs went weak and I pressed a hand to my mouth to stifle a sob.
Mal was alive. I wanted to push through the crowd and throw my arms around him, but it was all I could do to stay standing as relief flooded through me. Whatever happened here, we would be all right. We had survived the Fold, and we would survive this madness, too.
I looked back at the dais and my elation withered. The Darkling was looking directly at me. He was still listening to Colonel Raevsky, his posture just as relaxed as it had been before, but his gaze was focused, intent. He turned his attention back to the colonel and I realized that I had been holding my breath.
When the bedraggled group of survivors reached the base of the dais, Colonel Raevsky ordered, “Kapitan, report.”
The captain stood at attention and answered in an expressionless voice: “Approximately thirty minutes into the crossing, we were set upon by a large flock of volcra. We were pinned down and sustaining heavy casualties. I was fighting on the starboard side of the skiff. At that point, I saw …” The soldier hesitated, and when he spoke again, his voice sounded less sure. “I don’t know exactly what I saw. A blaze of light. Bright as noon, brighter. Like staring into the sun.”
The crowd erupted into murmurs. The survivors from the skiff were nodding, and I found myself nodding along with them. I had seen the blaze of light, too.
The soldier snapped back to attention and continued, “The volcra scattered and the light disappeared. I ordered us back to drydock immediately.”
“And the girl?” asked the Darkling.
With a cold stab of fear, I realized he was talking about me.
“Alina isn’t … She couldn’t …” Mal shook his head. “We’re from the same … village.” I noticed that tiny pause, the orphan’s pause. “If she could do anything like that, I would know.”
The Darkling looked at Mal for a long moment and then glanced back at me. “We all have our secrets,” he said.
“I didn’t see the girl, moi soverenyi.”
The Darkling raised an eyebrow, turning to the other survivors. “Who actually saw what happened?” His voice was cool, distant, almost disinterested.
The survivors broke into muttered discussion with one another. Then slowly, timidly, the Senior Cartographer stepped forward. I felt a keen twinge of pity for him. I’d never seen him so disheveled. His sparse brown hair was standing at all angles on his head; his fingers plucked nervously at his ruined coat.
“Tell us what you saw,” said Raevsky.
The Cartographer licked his lips. “We … we were under attack,” he said tremulously. “There was fighting all around. Such noise. So much blood … . One of the boys, Alexei, was taken. It was terrible, terrible.” His hands fluttered like two startled birds.
The old man cleared his throat. “They were everywhere. I saw one go after her—”
“Who?” asked Raevsky.
“Alina … Alina Starkov, one of my assistants.”
“I’m not Grisha,” I blurted.
“The evidence suggests otherwise,” he said with little concern.
“What makes you so certain?”
“Look at me!”
“Go on,” Raevsky pressed.
“I saw one go after her and the tracker,” the Cartographer said, gesturing to Mal.
The crowd hushed and the Cartographer licked his lips again. “The tracker went down. She was beside him. That thing, the volcra, was coming at them. I saw it on top of her and then … she lit up.”
3 Words to Sum Up This Novel
Mind-Blowing, Exhilarating, Different
Ah, it has been so long since I last read The Shadow and Bone trilogy. Actually, it’s be quite some time since I last read anything that miss Leigh Bardugo wrote. This re-read is solely due to the fact that she’s making a spinoff duo-logy for Nikolai Lantsov, who I remembered having loved and adored dearly when I met him in The Shadow and Bone trilogy, but have now forgotten as to why.
I must admit, as a reader, as years go by, you change––of course. This means that you taste in books will change with time, and the books that you adored more than diamonds when you were a teenager, could turn into books that you can’t stand 5 years down the road. Which is why, I rarely ever do re-reads. Books that I loved when I was a teenager, should stay in my loving memory because I’m pretty sure if I decided to pick them up for a re-read again, I’d chuck most of them to the wall out of anger and frustration.
However, the feelings that I felt on the re-read this time around with Shadow and Bone, was surprisingly almost identical, if not only a tad bit more objective than when I read this book first 3-4 years ago. To that, I can only praise Leigh Bardugo, her world-building, and writing skill for keeping me a continuous fan even after all these years.
Come now, are you seriously question the queen’s story writing skill?
Boy, you tryna look for a fight?
In all seriousness though, for a story that started off trope-y what with all the love triangles, sexy villain, and plain looking female protagonist, Leigh managed to pull the rug right off under our feet halfway through and turn this story totally upside down and taking it down a darker path. Not that you’re going to hear me complaining.
Not to mention, these days, when I’m reading YA novels, it’s so obvious to me when it comes to the “steamy scenes” where the author struggles to keep it PG with mainly just groping and kissing, while opting out the sex. And most of the time, those scenes will always start and end so awkwardly. But that’s never the case with Leigh’s books. I mean, you know me and my smutty reads, the dirtier the better. And for a series that’s classified as YA, Leigh Bardugo definitely managed to make me fan myself in heat from her steamier scenes.
You know, there are just those books that as soon as you plunge yourself into the story, the world that the author built immediately pulls you in, making you feel like it’s a long lost friend that you’ve been missing all this time. That’s how I feel when reading Shadow and Bone, and about Ravka, where the story of Alina Starkov unfolds.
From the lavish capital Os Alta where the Darkling and his Grishas spend their days drinking kvas and eating gold covered donuts, to the small markets where commoners haggle and buy their daily necessities. I don’t know what it is about the Grishaverse, but there is just something about it that makes me feel at home every time I read about it.
THE SUN SUMMONER
Hmm. I think it has to do with this being my second read, therefore my ability to be more objective is unhindered by emotions tied to certain characters. But nevertheless, at first read, I felt like Alina was a plain, weak and whiny character.
I never really liked her, never really rooted for her because of just how wishy-washy she can be at times with her emotions and opinions of people. But this time around, I find that I can understand where she’s coming from a little better. I mean, the girl got a mouth to her, I gotta give her that. But other than that, she reacted just like anyone would have given the situation. Thrust anyone who has always been the outcast all their lives into a position of such power that even garnered them the attention of the most important and powerful man in the country, I’m sure most of us would have freaked out and tried to cling to whatever normalcy––even if it’s childhood crush who acts like shit most of time time––to be had as well.
I was no one, a refugee from an unnamed village, a scrawny, clumsy girl hurtling alone through the gathering dark. But when the Darkling had closed his fingers around my wrist, I’d felt different, like something more.
Sure, there are some things that she could have done differently. Maybe be a little more brave, a little more callous and heartless…but then again, her actions and decisions are what made her who she was, no matter if we, as readers, like it or not.
Let’s just be straight up honest here, Mal doesn’t even hold a candle to the sheer power and allure that is the Darkling.
He is mostly unbearable with his pre-pubescent hormones and actions, but again, your girl have finally reached the plane of objectivity after years and years of reading. I remember hating Mal with all my teenage hormones, and don’t get me wrong, I still don’t like him all that much, but really, you gotta give him credit.
When his love opponent is an all powerful, second-in-command Grisha who’ve basically lived for thousands of years, Mal isn’t faring too bad for himself.
Evil. Villainous. Vile. Twisted. Fucked-up.
Seriously, we can just look up the synonym to evil and the Darkling would probably check all the boxes.
But then why, mother fucking W H Y, am I still attracted to him even after knowing that’s he’s up to no good? And probably will never ever ever want to redeem himself, given the chances.
“I already feel like I don’t belong here. I think it might be easier if I weren’t … singled out.”
“Are you so anxious to be like everyone else?”
I mean honestly, your girl might just be broken in the brain––or in the vajayjay, if you get what I’m sayin’––but I will never not go crazy for problematic fictional villain characters with emotional and mental trauma. Anytime you spot one, just give me a call, I’ll be ready to pounce anytime.
You know that one gif where the girl throw a book at the guy telling him to read the book?
Yeah…that’s basically what I’m trying to convey throughout this review. If you haven’t had the chance to give this series a go, girl get on it! What are you waiting for? You’re missing out on so many drool-worthy moments!
Jokes aside though, there is a reason why Leigh’s books have been as touted as they are. Whenever someone is looking for some recommendations on YA novels, 9 times out of 10 you’ll definitely see someone recommends her books. Be it this series, or her other equally famous duo-logy: Six of Crows.
Heck, her stories are so good that they are making it into a Netflix series. See? I’m no lying when I tell you Leigh Bardugo’s book is the shit. So if this is your first time ever hearing about her, definitely give her books a try when you have the time. Take my word for it, you definitely will not regret it.
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