Shadow and Bone

Leigh Bardugo
Shadow and Bone Cover

Shadow and Bone


Once in a while, a great book like Shadow and Bone will come along and remind me of why I read YA -- and why overlooking this category of fiction would be a big mistake. It's another one of those titles which had hung around on my to-read list for much too long, and now I wish I'd listened to the glowing reviews and picked it up sooner. It has everything I look for in a YA novel: a likeable protagonist, a sweet and believable romance that's not insta-love, and a pace for storytelling that's just perfect.

At the beginning of the book, we are introduced to a girl and a boy, two orphans who became friends with each other when a kind nobleman took them in. Years later, both Alina and Mal have ended up in the army and are preparing to cross the Fold, a wasteland of darkness where savage creatures called Volcra lurk, ready to swoop down on any unsuspecting travelers. Well, of course they get attacked by Volcra during the crossing. Without understanding how, Alina manages to save the life of her best friend Mal by unleashing a brilliant flash of light as bright as the sun, driving away the creatures.

Anyway, this book doesn't waste time getting to the meat of the story. It turns out Alina is one of the Grisha, and a special one at that. Grisha are what you would call the sorcerers of this world, except I would say that their magic is more like a science -- acts of magic are actually the Grisha manipulating and altering matter at its most basic level. It's an interesting system, and I also find it fascinating that the Grisha have their own social structure, politics and culture. When it is discovered that Alina is the Sun Summoner with the power to control light, she is whisked away to learn the ways of the Grisha, and I had the pleasure of learning all about their society through her eyes.

The world of Shadow and Bone has a sort-of Russian flavor, and yes, the way of the Grisha court has some of your usual YA trappings. Normally, I'd be calling for more world building and further expansion into the book's ideas, but I'm actually quite amazed and how much it was able to convey. Especially when you consider how this was a relatively short novel and a really quick read. The story finds its momentum early on and it just keeps going like that all the way to the end, and I don't think I would have traded that for anything. Everything you need to know is there, and I liked how we don't get any unnecessary detail or lengthy exposition weighing things down.

But it's the characters that made this book such a joy to read. Alina's a tough girl, and even though she can get a tad too sentimental at times, she's proven herself to be quite capable. Her romance with Mal actually feels natural, and I liked the fact that it was the result of a long-term friendship that grew deeper over time. It makes their relationship more genuine, and I could better understand their intense feelings for each other. Since finding a YA romance that I actually like is quite rare for me, it makes a big impression whenever it does happen.

It also helps that this book was exactly what I needed at time. If you're ever in the mood for a quick YA fantasy with a decent romance and a bit of adventure and intrigue thrown in, this will do the trick nicely. I found it very enjoyable!