Review Detail4.8 27
I did have a few issues with Shadow and Bone, which I expected.
It’s very obvious that the world this novel takes place in was inspired by Russia, which is actually quite awesome. However, when you consider the wealth of detail and tradition that comes with a Russian setting, I felt that Leigh Bardugo didn’t invest as much into her setting as she should have. Superficially, I could see that this took place in some sort of pseudo-Russia, but I found the richness of a truly well developed alternate Russia to be lacking from the text.
The basic framework for Shadow and Bone’s plot is also somewhat lackluster. Plain Jane discovers she’s destined to save the world. Been there, done that times a jillion. Throw in a love triangle and we’re set for a boring and too-typical YA novel.
Those are my complaints, and, when all is said I done, I personally find them to be rather minor ones. I was actually pleasantly surprised by Shadow and Bone, and though I shudder at the thoughts of getting caught up in the waiting game for yet another series completion, I totally plan on continuing with this.
Aside from my complaints about the blandness of Bardugo’s “Russia”, I was hugely impressed with the Grisha themselves. I wouldn’t say their powers are super unique, but the way this author wrote them was fascinating and not at all info-dumpy. It was a very interesting cultural set-up, and I almost wish it had been expanded on a little bit more.
As for the characters, I thought they fit very well into pre-established character types. Alina was the typical YA “kickass” heroine who had a problem with her appearance: brown eyes/brown hair. The villain was pretty standard, too: he’s evil because he wants unlimited power and will stop at nothing to get it. (Wouldn’t it be interesting if someone wrote a YA novel from the villain’s perspective and gave him/her a realistic motive?) Love interest Mal was a nice boy-next-door type; second love interest Darkling was a broody dude with a past. Courtiers are petty and fashion-obsessed. You know, the usual.
But. But it is the way all this was written that sealed the deal for me. I found myself not minding the flat character types because Leigh Bardugo gave them personality. I allowed myself to wave off the vague world building because the author’s way of presenting things was extremely compelling. Even the shallow romance was acceptable, because I could see what Bardugo meant to accomplish, so that even if I don’t think she did it as well as she could have, I was able to visualize the reality she truly intended.
Lots of times, fantasy only pretends to be gripping and action-packed. Yeah, there’s a lot of fighting, but it gets buried beneath philosophical discussions and passages of purple prose. Not so here. Shadow and Bone is narrated in a crisp, effective manner that engages the reader from start to finish. Add in a very compelling twist on an overused premise, and I’ve found myself to be highly impressed with Leigh Bardugo’s debut.