Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite—the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?
Shadow and Bone started and ended with a bang. And I mean that in the good sense. If the middle hadn’t felt like such a chore to read, it would have earned a much higher rating from me.
The book starts off with some excellent and original world-building, which some reviewers have criticised for borrowing too heavily from the Russian culture and making too many annoying mistakes. But since I don’t speak Russian, it didn’t bother me. I could enjoy the names, the new terminology and really build the world of Ravka in my mind.
Alina is introduced as a freaking badass; the kind of girl who shrugs off a gun in her face because that’s how confident she is.
“I tried to sit up and a bolt of pain shot through my shoulders. I ignored it and pushed myself up. I find myself looking down a rifle barrel.
“Get that thing away from me,” I snapped, batting it aside.”
But far too soon, the awesome unravels into a complete mess. Alina is discovered to be special (woop) and is taken to train as a super-special-awesome Grisha. Suddenly the whole story hits some very familiar territory:
Young orphan girl, pegged as the new super-power, is taken to an establishment to learn magic; a place where practitioners wear different colour robes according to the specific discipline they study. Of course, her mentor wears black robes and she ends up having a thing for him.
Does that not sound like The Black Magician Trilogy to you?
Now I’m not always picky about plot similarities in books. If an author does something different with an old concept, and does it well, then it’s all gravy. To be fair to Bardugo, she does other things with the story that are very different to Canavan’s works, but those parts only consist of about a third of the actual story. For the main part I had exactly the same problem as I had with The Black Magician Trilogy: it was dull.
Alina really began to irk me with her inconsistency. She starts off as the girl who doesn’t take any shit, the girl who will stand up to a soldier pointing a gun at her face. But as soon as she’s taken to the palace she completely changes. She becomes riddled with self-doubt, allowing others to walk all over her, trying her best to blend in and keep a low profile. She doubts her abilities as a Grisha because she’s not pretty enough to be one.
It’s one thing to create a character with self-esteem issues in order to make them more relatable to a YA audience and have them grow into a self-assured and confident protagonist, sending the right kind of message to impressionable minds. I may not respond to that kind of thing myself – I have always been more influenced by characters who are self-assured and awesome from the get go, but who grow in different ways – but if a character arc involves a coming-of-age-esque self-image turn around, I’m going to be okay with that.
But having a character who constantly doubts her own power simply because she isn’t pretty? What has that got to do with anything? This doesn’t sound like that badass chick from the first few chapters! When did she doubt herself before? When did she place importance on beauty before? Why do her self-esteem issues just disappear as soon as she gets a couple of magical makeovers? Is this the kind of message you want to send, Leigh Bardugo?
Suffice to say, even when Alina stepped her game up and actually kicked some ass at the end of the book, she never grew on me. Mal was a lot more interesting, and the Darkling was just excellent. He has the I’m-evil-but-not-really-or-am-I kind of vibe. I like that I haven’t figured him out yet. I like that Leigh Bardugo took advantage of the teenage girl + 100-year-old love interest YA trend and completely flipped it on its head. I want to know more about the Darkling; he may be the descision-maker in my sequel-or-not-to-sequel dance. And I kind of need a deal-breaker on that because at the moment my head’s just going:
In short, I like the world Leigh Bardugo has created and the finale of book one seems to have opened the series up for a more interesting plot and a lot more developement. Hopefully the sequel contains more of the world, more magic, a less annoying Alina and lot more of the Darkling. There really is only one way to find out though, so I guess I will be picking up Siege and Storm…