See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.
Tonight may be Alina Starkov’s last, for tomorrow her battalion travel across the Shadow Fold – a mass of darkness, swarming with man-eating monsters. Few are expected to survive. Alina worries for her safety, but more so for the safety of her friend Mal, whom she has been in love with since they grew up together as children. Her worst fears are realised when Mal is attacked on the Fold and she dives in to save him, casting a blind light with powers she had no idea she possessed. Alina is the fabled Sun Summoner – the only hope of destroying the Shadow Fold.
Taken from her life as a lowly First Army mapmaker Alina is now a Grisha, living in the Little Palace, learning to control her new found power. She is watched closely by the strongest of the Grisha, a man only known as The Darkling, who can create and control darkness, a man who is both her opposite and her partner. He believes that together they can change Ravka, and maybe even the world. But what he believes is best for the fate of their country may not be what the other Grisha and the Royal Family had in mind. Together they need to hunt down a mystical creature known as the Morozova’s Stag, and use its antlers to increase Alina’s power to destroy – or control – the Shadow Fold.
Shadow and Bone was a surprising book. It starts as a fun, but familiar story: the orphaned child who discovers they actually have a rare and sort after power and are the only key to saving the world, the unrequited love for the best friend who is charming but oblivious to these feelings, the boarding school style setting, and the powerful mysterious mentor. It’s not until half way through that it brakes away from these familiar fantasy troupes, with a great twist that changes the whole book in a brilliant unexpected way.
One of the best part of Shadow and Bone is the characters. Despite the familiar setup, in this fantasy no-one is black and white, and many characters are used to portray different ideas. The Darkling shows that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and that what one person believes to be “for the good of the nation” others believe to be an act of aggression or an abuse of power. Mal shows that even the nicest people can be oblivious to the feelings of their loved ones, and how much pain that can cause them. Genya, a secondary but great character, shows that beauty, and the attention it can get you, can be just as much of a curse as a blessing. The main character, Alina, goes from being a naive, shy girl to someone who embraces her abilities, though still has doubts, in a realist manner and pace. With the growth of her power, Alina is finding herself tempted by the idea of gaining more and is beginning to relate to The Darkling – thoughts that scare her and isolate her from Mal, but also make The Darkling more relatable and human.
Other great parts of this book were: the Russian inspired setting and imagery, the beautiful scenes with the Morozova’s Stag, and the sweet romance between Alina and Mal. Shadow and Bone was a pleasant surprise, a great and unpredictable journey that is only just beginning of this splendid trilogy.