Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo, was published in 2012 by Henry Holt. It is the first book in the Grisha Trilogy.
Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, she is sure of only one thing: her best friend, Mal—and her inconvenient crush on him. Until the day their army regiment enters the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. When their convoy is attacked ad Mal is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power not even she knew existed. Ripped from everything she knows, Alina is taken to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. With Alina’s extraordinary power in his arsenal, he believes they can finally destroy the Fold. Now Alina must find a way to master her untamed gift and somehow fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. As the threat to the kingdom mounts and her dangerous attraction to the Darkling grows, Alina will uncover a secret that could tear her heart—and her country—in two.
Shadow and Bone is, impressively, one of those fantasy books that I could barely put down. I say “impressively” because it’s actually not an incredible stand-out in the genre, relying a bit too much on overused fantasy and romance tropes. But the plot is interesting and compelling and Alina is a good protagonist.
I actually think the book is better without the romance, because while I’m positive the Darkling attraction is going to come back, as a whole the romance is generic, predictable and not overly important to the plot. It also doesn’t help that Mal is very poorly developed in this first book, and I didn’t care for or about him at all. I hesitate to toss around the words “interesting” or “boring,” but let’s face it—Mal is boring, and the Darkling is interesting. That’s why I’m positive the Darkling attraction/romance is going to come back (not just because the Darkling is an interesting character, but also because I have a feeling I know in what direction the second book will go). I do prefer the longer-standing, built-on-a-relationship romance of Alina and Mal than the purely attraction-based, lusty relationship of the Darkling and Alina, though.
Speaking of Alina and Mal, I was very confused as to their childhood and why they seemed so hesitant about telling people where they were from. I assume this is going to be a plot point later on? And why did they say they were from the same village when they’re not? Or are they? I’m hoping that this is just something to be further developed in later books and not just confusion on the part of the world or author.
Recommended Age Range: 16+
Warnings: One or two sensual scenes, violence.
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
It was hard for me to put Shadow and Bone down due to its interesting and compelling plot, world, and characters (most of them, anyway). The romance was the generic, predictable, love-triangle nonsense that’s a dime-a-dozen in YA, with an almost Beauty-and-the-Beast feel to it at first. I’m looking forward to the next one and I hope that a.) Mal and Alina’s confusing backstory is cleared up and b.) Mal gets development.
You can buy this here: Shadow and Bone