Diving into the Grishaverse: A book review on Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone was adapted into a Netflix series earlier this year and I was hooked! When I completed season 1, I was so eager to get my own copy of the Shadow and Bone Trilogy and luckily, I was fortunate enough to find all three in Borders at Ibn Batuta Mall, Dubai, UAE.

The first book in the Shadow and Bone Trilogy

Synopsis

So, what is Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo all about?

In the book, some people can manipulate the small science and they are known as Grisha. Initially, Grisha powers may seem magical but it isn’t. This is because they cannot create something from out of nothing. When a Grisha uses their power, they pull matter from the energy around them and manipulate it. However, Grisha cannot just manipulate any form of energy. They can only control energy that they are compatible with. According to the book, ‘like calls to like’ and each Grisha has their own affinity which can range from healing wounds to controlling fire.

The main character of Shadow and Bone is Alina Starkov. Alina Starkov is an orphaned girl, a mapmaker, and a member of the First Army in the fictional country of Ravka. She believes that she is just another ordinary girl but she finds herself thrust into the spotlight once it is discovered that she is a Grisha. Most importantly, she is not just any Grisha, she is the Sun Summoner who is believed to have the power to potentially vanquish The Fold.

Map of Ravka obtained from http://www.leighbardugo.com

The Shadow Fold, The Unsea or otherwise known as The Fold, is a long strip of impenetrable darkness that houses the Volcra- bloodthirsty creatures with an appetite for human flesh. The Fold is located in the Tula Valley and it separates the eastern and western sides of Ravka. Ravkans are forced to cross The Fold frequently because it is the only way for them to get critical supplies such as sugar, weapons, and all other materials that are being traded at the port of Western Ravka. However, these crossings are life-threatening and it is through one of these crossings that Alina suddenly discovers her ability to summon sunlight as she tries to protect her childhood friend, Malyen ‘Mal’ Oretsev.

Alina’s newly discovered ability to summon sunlight changes her life. Being the only Grisha who can summon sunlight, she finds herself as the target of admiration, envy, and assassinations. To protect her and have her trained, the Darkling sends her to the Little Palace in Os Alta where she learns how to control her powers and how to fight. However, even though her life has drastically improved, Alina has trouble fitting in and she finds herself homesick and yearning for Mal. During her stay at the Little Palace, she manages to form a friendship with Genya. Genya is a Tailor, a Grisha who can change or enhance people’s appearance. Unlike other Grisha who have to serve in the Second Army, Genya lives in the royal palace and serves the queen. Because of this, she is treated as an outcast by other Grisha since they view her work of enhancing the queen’s physical appearance as unimportant. During Alina’s stay in Os Alta, she develops a kinship with Genya because she feels that Genya is also an outcast, just like her.

As the story progresses, Alina becomes more confident and she slowly moves on from Mal as she notices that he is not responding to her letters. She even starts to develop feelings for the Darkling. Yet not everything is as it seems and by the end of the book, Alina runs away from the Little Palace. While she hides from people who are looking for her, she re-encounters Mal who reveals to her that he has been tracking her ever since he learned that she had escaped. He also shares to her that he never received her letters because he was sent on a mission to look for Morozova’s stag which required him to go deep into enemy territory to track the stag. The stag is an ancient and magical creature that is highly elusive. It plays an important role in the novel because it is a powerful being that can be used to amplify a Grisha’s power. When Mal learned that the Darkling had issued an order to hunt the stag so that it can be used to amplify the powers of the Sun Summoner, he volunteered to hunt it.

In realizing that they couldn’t run from the Darkling forever, both Alina and Mal agree to hunt down the stag so that they can use its powers to amplify Alina’s. Giving her a chance to beat the darkling. However, even though they manage to find the stag, they were unable to kill the creature because Alina felt a bond towards it which led her to spare the stag’s life. In a sudden turn of events, they are captured by the Darkling who kills the stag instead. With Alina in his grasp, the Darkling orders one of his Fabrikators to meld the stag’s antlers into Alina and once the antlers were fused into her collar, the Darkling gains control of her powers. However, Alina manages to break free from his control and reclaim her powers. The book ends with both Alina and Mal successfully escaping from the Darkling.

Reaction

When I read the novel, I really liked the character development that Alina Starkov went through. At first, she came off as rather insecure and socially awkward. In the first few chapters, she was very conscious of her looks. You find her wishing to be as beautiful as the Grisha women and lamenting about her stick-thin figure that didn’t have any curves. She was also quite insecure to the extent that she disliked girls who flirted with Mal. However, her character slowly changes when she enters the Little Palace. Though there are times when she was still conscious about her appearance, she begins to grow once she learns to accept that she is a powerful Grisha and that she could no longer pine or remain dependent on Mal who wasn’t responding to her letters.

Alina also stopped being so self-centered once she began to embrace who she truly was. At the start of the book, she was only focused on herself. She wasn’t selfish by any means but her concerns revolved around her appearances, her skills, and concerns on whether she truly belonged or not. Yet this all changed at the end of the book when she begged Mal to kill her if ever the Darkling captures them. From being a self-absorbed individual, filled with insecurities, she managed to transform into a strong woman who is willing to sacrifice herself for Ravka.

Another aspect that I noticed in the novel is that it is heavily inspired by Russian culture and history. When Alina entered the capital, Os Alta, the difference between the lifestyle of the rich and the poor was highly noticeable. For instance, sugar was a rationed supply, yet the people living with the Little Palace and the royal family can freely use sugar in their daily meals. To make matters worse, the Ravkan royal family were disconnected from the plight of their subjects who lived in poverty while they lived a life of luxury. As a result, the royal family is poorly regarded by the Ravkans, and life within the palace becomes a political game. The dissatisfaction that the Ravkans have with their king and the lack of awareness that the royal family had with their subjects reminded me of what happened to the Romanov royal family who were eventually overthrown by a coup d’etat. This political tension also adds more intrigue to the story because it provided more challenges that the characters had to overcome on top of destroying the Fold.

One other factor that I liked about reading the novel is that it helped me to better understand the Grishaverse and the characters within that world. Though I enjoyed watching the Netflix series, I had so many questions buzzing in my mind after I completed season one and these questions were only answered once I read the book. By reading the book, you can have a better understanding of how a Grisha’s power works. You also learn about the different categories of Grisha: Corporalki (The Order of the Living and the Dead), Etherealki (The Order of Summoners), and Materialki (The Order of Fabrikators). These categories are then divided into sub-categories depending on the Grisha’s specialty. Corporalkis are divided into Healers and Heartrenders. Etherealkis consist of Squallers, Inferni, and Tidemakers. Lastly, Materialkis are split into Durasts and Alkemi. The book also touches on how Grisha’s are trained and this was rather interesting to read about because the Netflix series did not delve into this.

The book also gives depth to the characters. The one thing that I observed about the Netflix series was that the focus was mainly on Alina, Mal, and the Darkling along with Kaz and his crew. However, by reading the book, you get to learn about minor characters who were not given much spotlight such as Zoya, Baghra, and Genya.

The bonus content that made me shift my loyalty from Darklina to Malina

Furthermore, the book also has additional bonus content that will help you understand the relationship that Alina and Mal shared. Honestly, before reading the book, I was a fan of Darklina (the Darkling and Alina pairing) because they just had amazing chemistry. However, my loyalties shifted to Malina (Mal and Alina pairing) after I read the note that Mal wrote but never sent to her while he was in Fjerda and this was cemented when I learned about the sacrifices he made just to be with Alina.

Overall, Shadow and Bone is a great book. If you haven’t seen the Netflix series, I strongly suggest that you read the book first before watching the series. This is because the series did an amazing job in following the main events in Shadow and Bone but it also diverges from the novel in some aspects such as introducing Kaz and his crew who are characters that only appear in Six of Crows. These kinds of changes mildly affected my reading experience because I was hoping that I would read more about them and it was rather disappointing when I learned that they are not part of Shadow and Bone.

I truly enjoyed reading the book and I would highly recommend it. I can honestly say that I am hooked and I cannot wait to get started with Seige and Storm!


Quotable Quotes:


“You don’t care who suffers as long as you win”
“Fine, make me your villain.”
Conversation between the Darkling and Alina

“Fight me as long as you’re able. You will find I have far more practice with eternity” The Darkling

“Why do you waste all of your strength fighting your true nature?” – Baghra

“What is she to you anyway?”
“Here’s my answer captain. She’s the thing that made this all okay-the threadbare coats and the old boots and the guns that jams when you most need them to fire, the loneliness of knowing that you don’t matter, that you will never matter, the fact tha

“Just… be careful.”
I stared at her, baffled. “Of what?”
“Of powerful men.”
– Conversation between Genya and Alina

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