Among the Fantasy sub-genres, High Fantasy is my most favourite. Ironically, it is also a genre that I fear because it is so rare to find an HF book that would suck you to the point that you interchange reality with fantasy. To date, there are only 3 HF authors who could do that to me: JK Rowling, Melina Marchetta and Marissa Meyer. When I picked up Shadow and Bone, I seriously thought that Leigh Bardugo would join their ranks. Sadly, that wouldn’t be the case.
I swear I really tried my damnedest to enjoy this book. But it was like teaching your heart to love someone when it’s already beating for another one. It’s like offering friendship to a long time suitor. It’s like learning to love milk when your taste buds only yearn for chocolate. I can reference a lot of “it’s like” just to convey my feelings for this book. But I bet you wouldn’t want that so let’s proceed…
Shadow and Bone tells the story of Alina Starkov, a plain and insecure mapmaker for the First Army of the Kingdom of Ravka. Due to a horrifying event, Alina’s life suddenly changed when she was discovered to be a powerful Grisha. And that’s where the real story started.
My initial reaction to Shadow and Bone was that it was interesting but as soon as I understood what Grishas are, I immediately asked myself, “Is this some kind of a Graceling remix?” And that question does not bode well because I am not a fan of Graceling. Gracelings are endowed with skills while Grishas are gifted with magic. But still, they’re almost the same breed. Anyway, I didn’t really quite understand as to why Grishas existed except that they were born that way. And when they start exhibiting powers, they will automatically belong to the powerful Grisha. The term may refer to an individual or to the whole group of Grisha. The Grisha is headed by the Darkling, the second most powerful being in the kingdom of Ravka.
I can count in one hand the number of reasons why I enjoyed this book and gave it a 3.5 star rating. Let me start with the characters. If you think I love Alina then think again. Alina is one of the whiniest female heroines I’ve met. Every time I read her thoughts, I am always reminded of a shrill irritating voice. >,< I am so tired of dealing with stereotype heroines… weak, plain, no curves, simple, naïve, low self confidence, and most importantly, has a disorder that can be summarized as “always comparing themselves to the beautiful bitchy girls who are eyeing the love of their lives.” Yes, I understand why she has an inferiority complex. Apparently, her childhood experiences weren’t that great. The elders especially Ana Kuya of the orphanage that took her in hated her looks. But hell, she lives in a world ridden with misery and war and she spends half of her waking moment thinking about how ugly she is. If that’s not self-centered, I don’t know what is. The only likeable thing about Alina is how she developed her powers. It wasn’t rushed which me to see her struggles and how she conquered the challenge.
If I am given the opportunity to rewrite this story, I would demote Alina to a secondary character and just focus on Mal and the Darkling. Mal may have come late in the game but that doesn’t stop me from liking him. He’s brimming with life and confidence. And he’s so easy unlike Alina who’s dragging me to the world of negativity. With Mal’s personality, I think he deserves someone better, someone happier, and someone more carefree. Anyway, enough of Mal and let’s move on to the Darkling. Did I mention that he’s an enigma? Did I mention that my heart is carrying a billboard that says, "I give you my heart."
He’s such a layered character that I am always trying to guess what his next move would be. His conviction… his passion makes me want to support his ambition of world domination. Bwahahahaha. When Genya said that all Grishas felt a pull towards the Darkling, I immediately accepted it without an ounce of doubt. I was drawn to the Darkling like a moth to fire. I am excited to see how his character will play out in the next two books.
The rest of the other characters, except for Genya and Baghra, are negligible. I hardly remember them especially if they’re being classified as Corporalki, Etherealki and whatsoever “ki.” If truth be told, the terms really disturb me.
The plot of this book was not what I expected. The twists were mediocre that I wasn’t surprised when they occurred. With Shadow and Bone, I anticipated that I would get lost in a network of carefully woven sub plots. But I wasn’t. I don’t know if my standards are high but with High Fantasy stories, I usually expect a lot more. Thankfully, the gripping action scenes compensated for that in a way. I was also glad that Shadow and Bone didn’t rely on the romance spiced up by a love triangle for the plot to move forward.
Another saving grace of this book is the world building. Leigh constructed it in a way that is not just beautiful but realistic. Ravka is certainly a place I wouldn’t hesitate to step into and be lost.
As a debut author, Leigh Bardugo did an excellent job with Shadow and Bone. I think writing high fantasy is a hit or a miss because it’s not just about creating an awesome story but it’s about bringing a new community to life complete with culture, politics and a whole plethora of sub plots. And while at it, the author must ensure that everything is rightfully mixed without confusing the readers. And Leigh managed to do all of these things despite the weak spots I’ve mentioned in the early paragraphs.
I am truly hoping that book 2 would get better and that it would explain some of the things that weren’t clear to me as enumerated below: