If Shadow and Bone had been my introduction to either Leigh Bardugo’s work or the Grishaverse, I may have decided not for me. Six of Crows (both the novel and the duology) is far better written and has more interesting characters; Rule of Wolves has better character and world development for some who are introduced in the first trilogy (especially Zoya) and more interesting plot. Ninth House (non-Grishaverse and non-YA) does the unwilling chosen one thing way better and with a far more intriguing character set. I know there are people who adore this series, but having now actually gotten around to reading the first novel, this is definitely one of those time where the book does not live up to its reputation, not even a little.
The premise of Shadow and Bone is standard fantasy, with Alina Starkov, scrawny orphan as she often reminds us, discovering she is in fact in possession of a very rare power that could save the kingdom of Ravak. She is drafted into the Second Army by the Darkling, a charismatic leader with hints of major secrets. She is dragged to the royal court, educated, both in the ‘small science’ ie magic and Grisha life, and starts getting used to her new life. A major discovery about what the situation behind the Fold, literal region of darkness inhabited by monsters, sends her running away from the Darkling and the Grisha. To be continued in the second installment. None of this is very original, but the premise of the way magic works in this world and the political and social systems associated with it are quite intriguing. Thing is, nothing is developed, from the world to the characters to the Grisha system. A few key facts are mentioned but that’s it. There’s so little given to picture the world or relate to the characters, which is problem enough. We’re expected to know where Fjorda and Shu Han are and what people look like and what the country and cultural relationships are like, and that’s not a great assumption for the debut novel.
The writing is also not very interesting. Description would help both with world and character building and making reading more interesting. It’s also primarily in first person from Alina’s perspective, but since she’s fairly one dimensional and knows little of what’s going on around her, that does nothing to add interest. Personally, I don’t like this type of narration to begin with, so that’s already strike one.
I already know how the story ends since I’ve read Rule of Wolves, book 2 of the continuation of Ravka’s story, but I was interested on seeing how things got to how they were at the beginning of that part of the story. If I’d actually started here, I really don’t think I’d have kept going. It’s a quick read, but not a very interesting one with a lot of holes. I could fill in some of the holes since I know how things turn out, so it wasn’t so bad. I just don’t see how this book got enough people interested that all the rest could come later; by itself, it’s just not that great.