Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
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.
Shadow and Bone is the first installment in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy.
I got nothing out of this book except for the villain.
I would like people to save me from the misogynists assuming I’ve got the hots for a villain because I’m a woman. Let’s all just agree that villains are interesting without me having to jump through hoops to explain the complexities of the human experience and how villains are inevitably that darkness we see in this political hellscape we live in. They also have that internal villain we see in ourselves.
Yes, you wanted a review on the heroine. You want to know how interesting and complex she is? How is this book that is supposedly all about her? I barely noticed her at all. She’s like those etchings artists never intend to show people because the woman they drew is barely an outline. She is shadows, smudges, and lightly spattered with paint. Left alone in favor of much more interesting landscapes, Alina exists for the purpose of developing the interesting characters, mainly the Darkling.
The author did a disservice to her book by giving such a lack of development to a character who supposedly exists to be a ‘strong’ and ‘feminist’ character. A feminist fantasy is not one that gives all the attention to the men in the book and a barely developed anti-feminist stereotype of a chosen one. Girls deserve better than to see a heroine as a flat character who expects the men around her to stand up to her bully. I expect YA authors to provide intelligent and well-developed heroines, particularly ones that do not lower themselves to slut shaming, diminishing appearances, and calling all girls selfish and mean. I can definitely list this book amongst the old YA books that had anti-feminist narratives.
Teaching girls that their moral character is based on their appearance is anti-feminist because it shows girls that it’s okay to hate other girls based on how they look. Not only that, it shows girls that appearance is a value, that their worth is based on their face and body. When heroines diminish their looks and look around them at all the selfish pretty girls it is a product of misogyny.
The beautiful girl in blue smirked and leaned over to whisper to her friend. I clenched my jaw. How nice to know that the Grisha could still maintain their snobbery in the midst of hearing about a volcra attack.
And cheering men for calling out women who are bullies (which is a misogynistic stereotype by the way) for you? The only thing this does is gives men a pat on the back for creating this misogynistic world they’ve built.
If you came for the world building, it’s not really here. There’s snow, fur hats, Russian architecture. The magic system is unsophisticated and even for soft world building its development is nonexistent.
I did, however, love the way Bardugo uses old world Russia and fuses it with 19th century revolutionary Russia for inspiration. It goes great with the development surrounding the Darkling. The darkness of that time period matches the analogy of the villain’s darkness. The way he moves, the way he says things seductively, the way he curls his lips. This all does things for the manipulative and seductive way propaganda can blind people from goodness and wrongness. Or the fact that you can never really have either.
The worst people in history lied in the guise of good intent. Monsters and villains rely on ignorance. Even people that tell their people they are fighting for their country can convince people their intentions are good, even if there are shades of good and wrong in their actions. That’s what I find interesting about the Darkling. He is complicated; human and seductive.
He slumped back in his chair. “Fine,” he said with a weary shrug. “Make me your villain.”
I will give some credit to Bardugo. She knows how to write emotion and good dialogue. She keeps things going. I can tell she used to be a scriptwriter. She is definitely good at distracting me from what is missing from her book. I love the small descriptions she gives and the way she closes in on a scene between two people in an intimate moment. Even with all the major problems I can see talent here.