A review of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
If I read this maybe five years ago, I probably would have fallen in love with it. Now that I’m older (wiser?), novels like Shadow and Bone have me worried that my long-standing love affair with YA is beginning to falter. Cue the sad violin music.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think it was a fun book. I finished it in the span of two days in maybe three sittings. Bardugo writes well. The premise was fun. But it seems like I’m losing the ability to turn my brain off and ignore the sorts of things that usually bother me about YA Lit. Let’s start with the characters.
The best way I can describe Alina, our heroine in the tale, is…”meh”. Not so aggravating that I can’t keep reading, but not exactly the heroine I root for. She has the typical *Special Snowflake* personality all female YA protagonists have nowadays. Then there’s best friend turned love interest Mal. Aside from past memories they share, it’s hard to see what makes Mal stand out so much from all the other trope-y beautiful, talented men that find Alina so amazing (this is a YA novel, after all). He’s kinda mopey and dopey, and not in a way that produces compassion or endearment.
The characterization of the Darkling, however, was probably the best thing about this book. There are many layers of complexity to him, not all of which are revealed. If I do pick up the next book in the series, it will largely be for his sexy self. I wish, though, that Bardugo could have given him a little more variety in his facial expressions. I couldn’t count the number of times he “hinted at a smile” or “the corner of his mouth slightly rose” or “a smile played at his lips”…maybe he’s self-conscious about needing dental work?
There’s also the world building–key to any fantasy novel, heavy or light. Overall, I enjoyed reading about the Grisha, their capabilities, and what they were fighting against–is there anything more frightening than the dark, and what it may contain? In fact, I wish we spent more time in that bleak blackness to really feel how creepy it really is. Still, the land of Ravka is far from a perfect fantasy setting. Why was everything so wannabe Russian? “Wannabe” being the key word because, as I’ve learned, the heavy-handed sprinkling of Russian language used isn’t even accurate. Don’t get me wrong–Russian language, dress, and customs are pretty interesting. But this doesn’t take place in Russia, so…?? I don’t know, I don’t think this bothers many readers, but to me it felt like lazy world building, and left a bad taste in my mouth every time I came across a poorly utilized Russian word, which was so damn often.
I can’t deny my frustration with the giant amount of YA tropes found in this book. I can already take guesses at where the rest of this trilogy goes, and I’m wary of being disappointed yet again at the ending of another. Time will tell if I end up reading Siege and Storm.