Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone has a gorgeous cover. The onion domes suggest Russia. The font suggests historical fiction, while the red lines in the font point more specifically toward a war story. The title and color scheme suggest dark and spooky. The swooping lines suggest romance, either lurrrve or heroism. And the whole package suggests classic fairy tale.*
And that’s sort of what it is.
Read the last Bookshelves of Doom on 'No Safety in Numbers.'
Before the story even starts, there’s a map and a list of intriguingly named soldier types like “Tidemakers,” “Alkemi” and “Heartrenders.” Among those factors and the cover, I was predisposed to like this book before I even started reading it. And, overall, I did... with a few reservations.
The prologue introduces an inseparable pair of orphans, Alina and Mal. And then one day, three Grisha come to test them—as all children are tested—for aptitude in the Small Sciences: power over fire, wind or water, or a talent for healing, pain or creation.
The main story begins years later, and it’s clear that both Alina and Mal failed the test—they’re both in the King’s army, he as a tracker, she as a cartographer. Though they still care for each other, they’ve grown apart—Mal is more robust and social, Alina is as weak and dull as she’s always known herself to be. Life is what it is. But then, in a moment of terror and pain, it is revealed that Alina does have power—and it’s (surprise!) the most rare, most desired power of all—the power of the sun.
Suddenly, she’s whisked away from Mal and everything she’s ever known, off to the capital city, a place of riches and luxury, study and learning...and of cattiness and strict social hierarchy. She thinks of Mal every day—writes to him often, though he never writes back—but is also drawn to the Darkling, the man whose power is the opposite of her own, and who wields more power than the king.
Sounds fun, right? It is.
However, there are oddities. For one thing, while it has the outer trappings of historical fiction and epic fantasy, it doesn’t read like that. If you switched out the physical details, the dialogue and Alina’s internal musings wouldn’t be out of place in a novel set in a contemporary high school. Secondly, there’s a twist that comes out of nowhere. And I mean NOWHERE. No foreshadowing whatsoever. Which is a problem, as it makes the sudden change feel like a hop over to a parallel universe, rather than like a surprising—yet organic—shift in the storyline.
Regardless, I read Shadow and Bone in one sitting. I could not put it down, and even though it has a distinct end point,** I’m dying to know what the sequel will bring.
*I do find Veronica Roth’s front-cover blurb, “Unlike everything I’ve ever read,” somewhat hilarious, as I found shades—minor aspects, not major plot points—of piles of other stories in Shadow and Bone. Which ones? Off the top of my head: The Blue Sword, The Wizard of Oz (the movie), The Princess Bride, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games...I’m sure there were others.
**The end point was one of the “minor aspects” that I mentioned in the first footnote, though it’s a bit spoiler-y. If you’re curious, ask me about it in the comments.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.