It’s been a while since I last wrote a book review. I’ve been a bit ill lately and so got waylaid somewhat. But after not being able to read a book for quite a while, I think I might be back on track, and what better way to start than with a new author to me such as Bardugo. As I say, I haven’t read any of Bardugo’s new stuff yet and I’m aware she’s just brought out a new novel called ‘The Language of Thorns’. All amazing things to look out for. But for this review, I’ll be talking about the first novel of her Grisha trilogy: Shadow and Bone.
It was released in 2012, so one of her earliest novels, and if I’m honest…you can tell. The plot surrounds young orphan Alina Starkov who has been enlisted in Ravkas army as a map cartographer. Bland and useless, she has always envied the beautiful Grisha, magical wielding soldiers of Ravka, able to manipulate different elements. But this all changes on a trip she undertakes with the army across the unsea, a dark evil place separating Ravka’s land. It’s here, when under attack by flying monsters named the Volcra, she discovers she too is a Grisha, able to wield sunlight of all things. This is a gift long thought dead, and the only magical element able to destroy the dreaded unsea. She is quickly taken from her oldest friend Mal and enlisted in the Grisha army where she begins to train and expand her gift under the watching eye of ‘The Darkling’, second only in power to the King. The Darkling is the leader of the Grisha, specially gifted with darkness, some might say the opposite of Alinas gift. All seems well at first as he tricks her into believing she is there to help them destroy the unsea, but Alina later learns all is not well and he in fact intends to use her gifts for much darker purposes.
The general idea is fantastic, a whole new world to delve into. And I like the idea of snooty Grishas looking down on their non-magical counterparts, much like the rich and the poor in our current world. But unfortunately, the novel lacks depth of surroundings. Even the characters seem a little un-characterized, all blending into one in many respects. Bardugo has however built her world relatively well considering it’s one of her earliest attempts at writing. I’ve often noticed that world building is a talent that often starts to really shine after a few attempts. But Bardugo has built quite a cool back story and current day setting for the reader to delve into which is quite hard to complete in the first novel of a series. I have no doubts that the characterization will go much further in the second one (Siege and Storm), as the Darkling further shows his true colours. By the end of the novel, Alina is starting to become a much stronger character. At first she seems quite whimsical and unable to carry her role as lead character. But nearer the end of the novel, she’s starting to show signs of a complicated character with real human emotion and difficulties. Something I look forward to reading more of in the novel to come.
Overall, a good read. Not the best read I’ve ever read in the YA fantasy genre, but definitely not the worst. I am looking forward to reading the second and third, so that’s something.