Young Adult Fantasy
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.
The worldbuilding in this book was hands down its strongest component (in my opinion). Often YA fantasy worlds follow similar structures, but this one felt refreshingly original and surprising — especially the concept of The Fold. Moreover, Bardugo made the introduction of various elements of the world seem almost imperceptible throughout the course of the story.
Ah, Alina. I found her quite annoying for a good chunk of the book, especially when she was incessantly pining after Mal for what seemed like no reason at the beginning. However, she unexpectedly started growing on me after she arrived at the Little Palace. Oftentimes I feel that the protagonists of such fantasy novels become unrelatable because they stop commenting on the things that I feel I would be noticing if I was suddenly thrown into this entirely new world — Bardugo did an excellent job writing Alina’s internal monologue in a way that didn’t detract from the gravity of the plot but also involved her getting used to all the “minor” adjustments that went along with such a major life transition.
Something that I actually think the TV show did better was providing Mal’s perspective interspersed throughout the story. There wasn’t very much about him at the beginning of the book, and although he explained what his arc had been while Alina had been away when he finally reappeared, I don’t think this was enough to quite develop the intimacy required between him and the reader for us to feel too strongly about him. It does seem like we’ll see a lot more of him in the next book, though, given that it’s just him and Alina off on their own.
Yikes. I mean, not for a second did I think he was a good guy–his name is literally the DARKling–but I have to say, I was surprised by how quickly things started unraveling near the end. I was not expecting the plot twist regarding the demonstration at the Fold, and I’m very curious what happened to him after Alina left him and the rest of the crew behind. I’m positively certain he’s not dead, though. I think this is an area I’m a bit disappointed in – I would really have loved some more of his backstory, because I just have so many questions about what’s going on in his mind and what his motivations are for….well, pretty much everything. I have a feeling this is going to be addressed in the coming books, though.
alina & mal.
To be honest, for the first 90% of the book, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this relationship. Not just because the childhood friends to lovers trope isn’t my favorite, bu also because it was my least favorite variation of it: the super attractive guy who’s constantly surrounded by romantic attention, and the girl who’s practically invisible. On top of that, there wasn’t a whole lot of backstory that gave me enough to want them to be together, or even to understand why Alina liked him. However, during the last 10%, I began to see the strength of their bond (most likely because they started to have significantly more page-time together) after Mal started describing what he went through after Alina was taken. Although the romantic nature of their relationship still felt a bit rushed, I wasn’t entirely opposed to it (potentially because it seemed pretty great compared to the situation that Alina was running away from…).
Ultimately, although I have some mixed feelings about my reading experience, I’m compelled to keep reading on due to all the hype around her books and also because they come very highly recommended by some trusted friends.
I felt like this book had a solid premise/world and a solid plot, but somewhat frustrating and underdeveloped characters. As a very character-motivated reader, I’m holding onto the hope that these characters will be developed more in the coming books.
I do want to take note of the fact that this was Bardugo’s debut novel and therefore I’m very aware of the fact that her writing will most certainly get better and increasingly develop from here, so I’m excited to see how this universe and series will progress!
bonus: the playlist
songs I feel in some, way, shape, or form capture mal & alina & the darkling & ravka
Have you read Shadow and Bone? Have you watched the TV show? Let me know what your thoughts about either/both were down below!
Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day <3