Set in a Russian-inspired fantasy world, Shadow and Bone is the story of Alina, a young woman working as a cartographer in the army until, on a journey through the magically-dark-and-dangerous Fold (aka the Unsea) she shows off previously-unknown light powers and is swept off to be trained as a Sun Summoner and a savior of the people...falling into the grasp of the intriguing Darkling and leaving behind her best friend from childhood, Mal, in the process. One of my friends loves this series, and Bardugo's associated duet that happens after these books (Six of Crows and its sequel) so I had this slated for one of my reading challenge categories for the year in order to finally get around to it. Aaaaaand...?
Rage. Ugh. This started off with such promise. "Who is the love interest here?" I demanded of said friend. "I don't want to get my hopes up over nothing." She refused to tell me. "This book is going to crush me, isn't it?" I asked. She liked my comment. Because here's the thing...the Darkling is freakin' awesome and Mal is totally lame.
Yes. I said it. And coming off the high that was Uprooted just a little while ago, I was so looking forward to another magical-tutor-romance thing. And for a while, it looked like I was going to get it! I was intrigued. The Darkling has, guess what, dark powers that compliment Alina's sun-summoning ones. A light-mage/dark-mage pairing? Okay, not the most original, but I thought there was promise there. But as I read on, I started to get suspicious. Mal wasn't responded to Alina's letters, for no apparent reason. This clearly meant he wasn't getting them--they were being intercepted somewhere along the way. And honestly, it just couldn't be that easy. After all, there are three books in this series, and this is just the first. I started to have a sneaking feeling that the Darkling was going to turn out to be a Big Bad and Mal was going to sweep back in and become the childhood-friend-turned-love-interest, which is a dynamic that I actually don't really like. And if the Darkling became the Big Bad, it would mean that Bardugo was seemingly falling back on the tired, tired, tired trope of "light=good, dark=bad." Which I really, really hoped wasn't going to happen, because I had such hopes here.
Overall, this was a book with a lot of potential. It's a story with a lot of potential. I have a bit of hope for it becoming fuller and more fleshed out in the next two books, which I definitely will read, but coming to the end of this one I find myself a tiny bit disappointed. The writing is pretty clearly on the wall here, and I was feeling so miserable about it that I even went and read the jacket blurb of the third book. I can already tell that I don't like where it's headed. Sigh. So much sadness here.
Another reviewer suggested that, if you liked where you thought this book was going but were disappointed in where it actually went, you should read Sarah J. Maas' A Court of Thorns and Roses and its sequels. I'm inclined to agree; while maybe not having the awesome Russian-fantasy-dynamic that the Grisha has (which is very cool and I'm so happy to see that authors are branching out into areas other than generic-medieval-England fantasy settings) it has the feel that I was actually looking for here. I'd also recommend Uprooted.
So, yes, I will keep reading these books...but I'm going in steeled for the worst.
3 stars out of 5.