It’s nerve-wracking to attempt to give an explanation as to why this novel is so necessary to everyone and their constantly-growing bookshelves. Especially since every moment is pure pleasure, a knife that cut through the fatigue I had been feeling with little effort behind the invisible hand that confidently wielded it. Boredom could not touch me; my interest remained unshakeable no matter the interruptions, such as a grumbling belly, tired eyes, and an angry bladder. Everything outside of magic lessons with ancient masters of the small sciences, battling against violent birdlike cannibals, and the whereabouts of a certain oblivious best friend and the secrets and mysteries of another who waits in the wings paled into pitiful insignificance. Bardugo’s world seduces us into a trance that allows us to truly see what has been tamed to paper.
Alina Starkov could be an annoying heroine, one whom our affection resists, but, in spite of how frustrating she can be, she is entirely relatable and wonderful, an honest creation that strikes down our reluctance with her loneliness and sacrifices and the unrequited love that has dominated her life for years now. Her presence, in the beginning, is often taken for granted, especially by the one person she loves more than anything, a man who has been her best friend for nearly as long as she can remember, and when brightness exposes her it is siphoned from a future where the two could remain inseparable. It’s painful, reading as Alina is brutally stripped from the only home she’s ever known, the only person she’s ever truly loved in just about every which way a person can love. Fear doesn’t take away her personality, but as her circumstances continue to lose light, in which she is forced out of anonymity and made to be an idol to depend on, her journey to herself pulls her away from the memory of what was, and that is agonizing and exhilarating all at once.
Accompanying Alina as she grows into and adopts the skin of the person she was always meant to be is more than enough to immerse us into her story, since she is a character that is understandable and is a magnet for compassion. Magic lessons, court politics, and assassins shadowing her footsteps are enough to keep anyone busy and engaged. And with this newfound life comes the presence of an enigmatic, all-powerful magical being that urges her to take to this new life, and has us and Alina sorely tempted to let ourselves be whisked away into the now compelling dark.
We come to play right into Bardugo’s hands as we are firmly caught in her iron web and shocked at the revelation. The mysteries we’ve been attempting to understand make sense for only a moment, before the outcome is rudely snatched away and turned on its head so that we are confused and appalled once more, because it’s impossible to prepare for a surprise blow like the one dealt to us. The sense of injustice is fierce, as we were left in the dark for so long and were less than clever enough to detect the truth. Although there is room for much more given the turn of events, Shadow and Bone ends in one final flawless swipe and we don’t even realize the story is truly over because we are already absently reaching for what should be next. It isn’t until we come up empty-handed that we realize our predicament: we are without the next chapter and will be forced to endure its absence until Bardugo is ready.
Looking for books with a similar feel? Try checking out Howl's Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones and Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken.
Originally posted at Paranormal Indulgence, 5/21