Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo


Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Release date: June 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0805094598
Pages: 368
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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.

Alina Starkov 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 lifeβ€”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.

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.


35 stars

Shadow and Bone is the first book in the Grisha trilogy and it was a respectable beginning to the trilogy. It has a fascinating world and some interesting characters but I thought that the book needed a bit more development overall.

Let’s start with the world. I really loved the Russian-inspired setting of the Grisha world but I felt that we were just thrown into the world from the beginning, with very little explanation. There were lots of foreign terms being thrown at me and I had no idea what they meant. The book does contain a very nice looking map, but doesn’t include a glossary (at least my US hardcover edition doesn’t) to help me understand what all the terms meant. There were also a lot of terms in the book, so even when a small explanation or description was given, I had a bit of a hard time keeping track of what everything was until about halfway through the book.

Having said that, I didn’t find it difficult to picture the world. There was enough description for me to form a vivid image of the setting and the different places that the book travelled to. I could easily imagine the darkness and despair of the Fold and the glamour and luxury of the palace. I also really enjoyed the distinct classes of the Grisha and thought that it was an interesting concept, but I do wish that we had learnt more about how their powers manifest or how they choose which kind of Grisha to be.

I enjoyed the characters in the book but I thought that the main characters were not as interesting as the side characters. Alina, as a main character, was boring and I felt very indifferent about her. She’s the classic YA special snowflake who has the power to save the world from destruction, and feels all of society’s pressures upon her shoulders. But for me, she’s a special snowflake who isn’t very special at all. My problem with Alina is that she was kind of stagnant in her character development. She never really learns to use or develop her power, and she pretty much lets everybody else in the book influence her behaviour or make decisions for her. I just wanted her to own her role and not just wander about in self-doubt and indecision.

I liked her leading men a little bit more. I thought that the Darkling was a really interesting character and I loved the concept of him being a living amplifier of Grisha powers. He was dark, enigmatic and powerful, and I think I was drawn to him because he was so mysterious. But I also felt that his character was a little bit underdeveloped. There’s lots and lots of mention about how he is the most powerful Grisha in the world but I couldn’t really see what made the Darkling so special. From what I gathered, his only powers are summoning darkness and amplifying the other Grishas’ powers. I honestly have no idea why that makes him special, aside from the uniqueness of what he can summon.

Mal was a character that I disliked at the beginning of the book but ended up really liking by the end. Initially, he came across as an uncaring player but eventually turned out to be a gentle and caring friend. Even though it was a little bit frustrating that Alina was constantly pining over Mal, I really liked the two of them together. I also really liked the Darkling and Alina together, and thought it was interesting that their powers are polar opposites. At this point, I don’t really have a preferred ship. I loved Alina and the Darkling but I also enjoyed Alina and Mal together.

My biggest issue with Shadow and Bone was its plot and the development of its story arc. This is a slow-paced book (which I have nothing against) that contains bursts of action at the beginning and end, and long periods of inaction in between. We start off with the conflict in the Fold that reveals Alina’s Grisha powers and I loved the action and the excitement of this first section. However, there’s really nothing that happens for the next 200 pages until we reach the climax of the novel. The whole middle section was dedicated to world building and developing the romance, and I just needed some more action to fully engage me.

There were a couple of twists in the book but I found them to be mostly predictable. I was expecting the twist about the Darkling, simply because I’ve heard most people talk about the Darkling in a certain light. I definitely wasn’t surprised at all when his history was revealed. I also wasn’t surprised by what happened at the end of the book – I had subconsciously expected it to happen.

Overall, I thought Shadow and Bone was kind of average. I really enjoyed the world but I felt that we didn’t get to see everything that it had to offer. There’s definitely potential to develop the world further. The characters were a little bit lacklustre and boring, and the plot was predictable and didn’t offer me any sense of surprise or intensity. It was my no means a bad book and I think I can still recommend it to fantasy readers.


32 thoughts on “Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

  1. aentee @ read at midnight says:

    This book was incredibly clunky and I agree, Alina is not a very engaging protagonist. I gave no shit about her or Mal. However, I did give it a pass since it’s a debut novel. And seeing how far Leigh Bardugo has come in her writing in a couple of years is AMAZING. I am basically in love with her after Six of Crows and a short story I’ve read in Slasher Girls and Monster Boys!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      I thought that each book in the trilogy was better than the previous one. Shadow and Bone was definitely the weakest, but I thought Ruin and Rising was a pretty good and satisfying finale, if you’re keen to continue it πŸ™‚ I also find the Grishaverse to be really interesting. Cannot wait to read Six of Crows now!


  2. Reg (She Latitude) says:

    I’ve been wanting to read this one ever since Six of Crows came out (the covers are super pretty and steampunk-y) but I find “average” YA protagonists somewhat too common nowadays that I kind of think they’re irritating. 😦

    I’m happy to hear that the side characters are interesting, though! I’m wondering if the rest of the books of the trilogy would develop the world further and develop it well?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      Aw nooooo. Most people I know really dislike Mal but I actually really liked him. I don’t really see what the problem with him was πŸ™‚ But yeah I also really loved the world. I don’t know anything about Russia so I didn’t feel bad about all the inaccuracies and everything. I thought the Russian-inspired setting was pretty cool and different from other things I’ve read.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lydia Tewkesbury says:

    They definitely improve as your progress through the series. Especially once Prince Nikolai arrives. I cannot give enough love to that guy. He is my favourite part of the entire series.

    I totally know what you mean about all the terms. I had to google what the clothes looked like because I had absolutely no idea what a kefta was.

    I hope you keep going with the series. I imagine this has been mentioned to you (about a million times), but Six of Crows is awesome. It’s all worth it for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      I’ve actually finished the trilogy now! It definitely does improve with each book! I really liked Nikolai too but he didn’t get enough page time in the trilogy!!! I just want a whole book about him. Hopefully he gets some mention in Six of Crows! I’ll probably read that one next week πŸ™‚


  4. Ksenia says:

    I’m Russian and it pains me when my culture is pictured wrongly in a book. Unfortunately there are a lot of thing that were portrayed wrong in this book, so I don’t plat to read it. But I’m looking forward to read Six of Crows. Wonderful review, Jenna!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      Oh no! I don’t really know anything about Russian culture so I wasn’t bothered by any inaccuracies. But I did notice that the last names didn’t really follow the traditional Russian male/female naming? I spent the whole time wondering if Alina’s last name should be Starkova instead of Starkov?

      I’ve heard that Six of Crows is amazing so I’m excited to get to that one soon.


  5. A Stranger's Guide to Novels says:

    Great review!
    I did a review on this only a week ago I think and because the book is so small I didn’t really find it dull if you know what I mean, but I can see why you said that. I don’t know what’s wrong with my but I’m just loving all of the darker characters Bardugo writes. They are the most interesting I believe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      Yeah, I thought it was a pretty enjoyable book because it’s surprisingly quick to read despite it being a bit slow with nothing much happening. There wasn’t anything that struck me as being super negative. There were parts that were either really good or just average. HAHA, I really enjoyed the darker characters the most too!


  6. cwreads says:

    Hgnhhh now I’m super curious. Everyone was talking about it on Twitter and I WANT IN. D: This sounds like a fantasy I might like, despite the flaws. And it’s part of a trilogy, so it might get better right? (Maybe? Hopefully?) πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Aila @ One Way Or An Author says:

    Awesome review Jenna, you practically took the words out of my mouth. I recall reading Shadow and Bone years ago, and getting a very “meh” feeling from it. It definitely kept me interested, but I was always frustrated at Alina’s lack of depth and Mal. (He also made me quite angry during the other books. πŸ˜› ) But I also enjoyed the books as the trilogy went on, and Six of Crows is just BRILLIANT.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Tika says:

    I’m one of those readers that love clunky, complex books. Idk why, but I really enjoy info-dumping, so hopefully the plot and writing will work out for me. I have heard that the series gets better as you go, so hopefully this is true! I’m a little annoyed because I was told that I would have to read The Grisha Series before I can dive into Six Of Crows, which sucks for me because I don’t want to have to read alllll three books first ugh lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenna @ Reading with Jenna says:

      Oh that’s interesting. I haven’t heard anybody say that you need to read The Grisha trilogy first. I’ve only heard the opposite. Six of Crows is set a couple years after The Grisha trilogy and is set in a different part of the world. From what I’ve heard there are only a couple of mentions here and there about the events of The Grisha trilogy… so there are almost no spoilers.


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