Shadow and Bone (2012) – Leigh Bardugo

Title:Shadow and Bone
Author:Leigh Bardugo
Date published:2012
Publisher:Hodder and Stoughton
Star rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Leigh Bardugo has created something truly unique. Shadow and Bone is the first book in the Shadow and Bone Trilogy and it was every bit as delightful as I had heard it would be. Not one for reading too many fantasy reads, especially those of the YA (Young Adult) nature, it took me all of a couple of sentences to know I was going to love this book. Having read the amazing 2015 novel Six of Crows which is set in Bardugo’s unique world, the Grishaverse, I was struck by her very cool ability to create a universe that dragged you into it so quickly and adeptly that you had no chance to consider reality.


The novel starts with an introduction to our protagonists, a couple of orphans named Alina Starkov and Malyen ‘Mal’ Oretsev, who as children living in an orphanage in the Ravka, are tested by the Grisha Examiners. If discovered to have Grisha powers they would automatically end up being taken away and trained in this very elite and powerful army. However, for Alina and Mal this is not to be and they live out their lives at the orphanage in relative peace. Flash forward a little and they are both working as soldiers employed to protect Ravka from a very dark and dangerous entity known as The Shadow Fold, or The Unsea. One day whilst crossing the Shadow Fold on a dangerous mission with her regiment they are attacked and Alina reveals herself to have powers no one could have guessed at. Suddenly her world changes from soldier and cartographer in training to a member of the Grisha, the sacred army whose powers go far beyond the realms of reason and science. She finds herself living in an exorbitant palace under the watchful eye of the Grisha’s leader The Darkling, whose charming nature seems to have captured Alina’s heart. But what of her deep love for Mal, the dearest friend she has who now works as a tracker, and who has not answered a single letter she has written since she left and joined the Grisha?


Alina’s life in the palace is taken up with training with the mysterious and rather unforgiving Baghra, an old Grisha living on the outskirts of the palace, and learning the history of the Grisha. She befriends Genya, a beautiful young Tailor in the Grisha army and slowly begins to embrace her life as a defender of Ravka. However this brief sense of belonging and purpose becomes shattered when her true reason for being so revered is realized, and the Darkling’s role is questioned.

Amidst the stark and biting cold of this landscape the characters become a part of a story that relies on Russian folklore, magic and science. Alina’s unique gift among the cold and bleakness of Ravka brings literal light and warmth to Bardugo’s extraordinary world. The fantastical creatures of the Shadow Fold seem to be just as dangerous as the people in the palace, and even members of the Grisha themselves. In fact it is Alina’s humanity that we cling to as her world becomes darker and darker. Colder and colder.

Leigh Bardugo’s writing is simply beautiful. She has created a truly epic tale involving warriors and beasts and notions of magic that will have any fantasy fan smiling deep down in the deepest and darkest pits of their insides. I can’t wait to carry on with the rest of the trilogy in Siege and Storm (2013) and Ruin and Rising (2014).

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