Review: Shadow and Bone (Bardugo)



AUTHOR: Leigh Bardugo
SERIES: The Grisha Trilogy, book 1
PUBLISHER: Henry Holt & Co.
ISBN: 9780805094596
PAGES: 368
SOURCE: Publisher’s ARC
GENRE: dark fantasy

SUMMARY: Alina Starkov isn’t remarkable. She grew up in an old estate as one of many orphans adopted and mainly unnoticed by a wealthy Duke. As a young child, Alina met Mal, another orphan who became her only friend and, as they grow older, her secret crush. But Alina’s feelings for Mal are not her only secret. To avoid being forced to leave Mal’s side, Alina has for years “pushed down” a powerful magic inside her, knowing it would cause her to be taken away. But when Alina must use her power to save Mal’s life, she is separated from Mal and taken to the royal court to train as a Grisha, a group of people whose supernatural abilities assist the king.

REVIEW: What’s not to love? Shadow and Bone has everything I crave in a YA fantasy: magic, romance, extravagance, good versus evil, darkness and light, supernatural powers, incredibly unique world-building.

Diverse characters with varying motives will keep readers guessing about just who Alina can trust. Even though this is a good-versus-evil fantasy, Shadow and Bone never resorts to stock characters with either altruistic or nefarious motives. The “evil” characters seem to truly believe they are doing the right thing, complicating Alina’s sense of right and wrong and causing her to constantly question herself. I love love love that no character, including the protagonists, is perfectly good or evil; as in real life, every character houses some good and some evil inside. Bardugo leaves her characters to make their own decisions about what to do, what to believe, who to trust.

Even though the “I-secretly-love-my-best-friend” storyline has been played over and over, I really believed in both protagonists’ friendship and romance. Their tender moments didn’t make my toes curl as do some other books’ romances, but I rooted for them anyway. Some very sweet stuff there.

And now for the world-building–I saved the best for last! As I was reading, I kept thinking of the unique world-building in Roth’s Divergent and Young’s Blood Red Road. As with those two, I can think of no book that features a world like this one. The story takes place in war-torn Ravka, mainly within the extravagant royal court where the Grisha hone their supernatural abilities in order to serve the king. The Shadow Fold reminds me of “The Nothing” in The Never-Ending Story, a dark, barren area dividing Ravka in half. The Shadow Fold is incredibly dangerous and plagued with winged monsters called Volkra who feed on any who attempt to cross the sandy bleakness of The Unsea. Bardugo details every scene beautifully; I could easily picture the characters, the volkra, The Unsea, the snow, the clothing, the movement of magic. Yet despite the abundance of vivid detail, Bardugo’s descriptions never weigh-down the story or stop the action. Like The Darkling’s magic, the details simply “curl” and “unfurl” themselves into the action, allowing the reader to savor every second. Just WOW.

THE BOTTOM LINE: I have zero doubt that Shadow and Bone will appear on several “Best of 2012” lists by the end of this year. Beautifully written with complex characters and unique world-building, Shadow and Bone is a must-read for anyone who loves a fast-paced fantasy romance.

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: On order. While it is well-paced, I don’t think Shadow and Bone is for every reader. Give this one to more advanced readers who can be patient with a slow, suspenseful build-up where things are presented but not explained right away. I would not recommend Shadow and Bone to struggling or reluctant readers.

READALIKES: Divergent (Roth); Blood Red Road (Young)


  • Overall: 5/5
  • Creativity: 5/5
  • Characters: 5/5
  • Engrossing: 4/5
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Appeal to teens: 4/5
  • Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5


  • Language: very mild; one a** and one bi***
  • Sexuality: mild-moderate; some kissing, one intense kiss that involves thigh-groping, a few round-about references to “having some fun” with pretty girls
  • Violence: mild-moderate; a man is magically cut in half, two bloody confrontations with the volcra (winged monsters)
  • Drugs/Alcohol: mild; adults drink “kvas” (a Russian beer)

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