Shadow and Bone is the first in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. Alina Starkov is a scrawny orphan with little past and an uncertain future. As a conscript mapmaker in the First Army of Ravka she is sent across the Fold, a sea of dark magic that destroys all it covers. Her skif is attacked and, in the panic, Alina discovers she has suppressed her magickal powers. Alina is taken to the Darkling, the prince of the Grisha, and taught to use her powers.
The first half of the book is pretty slow and full of frustrating elements. I’m finding insecurity and a lack of self-belief poor obstacles for making protagonists resistant to taking on the challenges presented to them. I know it’s completely realistic and that’s how people feel, but I’m finding it boring in stories. Or maybe it’s just boring if it’s not written well. There’s some cliched mean girls bitchiness between Alina and the more privileged of the other Grisha students. The Darkling is a one hundred and twenty year old magic user and appears to be captivated by Alina. This is somewhat unbelievable, given what we know about both characters, and I was happy to discover this was misdirection.
I’ve read some reviews that suggest the Russian elements of the setting weren’t very convincing and I don’t know enough to judge myself. Alina’s immediate surroundings are well described, but the sense of the wider world was vague. I liked that Bardugo chose something different to inspire her fantasy world and nothing struck me as out of place.
The second half of the book was much better. The conflict becomes much more meaningful and the pace picks up. Alina’s understanding of the world is flipped over and she is on the run. It’s quite tense and I found myself nearly missing my stop on a couple of occasions.
It’s not the most skillfully written book but it’s not awful. It’s written in first person from Alina’s point of view but never gets right inside her head. I would rather it had been in third person. On the whole, though, I liked this. It’s a slow start but a cracking finish. I do like an exciting ending and I appreciated the twists in the middle. If you’re looking for a change of pace in your fantasy reading this could be just the thing.