Spoiler Free – The Shadow and Bone Trilogy Review
Series Rating: 3.5/5
I first read The Shadow and Bone Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo in 2018, then reread it this year, and since Netflix will soon release its adaptation, I thought it would be nice to share my thoughts on the series that made Leigh Bardugo a household name.
This trilogy follows Alina Starkov, a young girl who discovers that she is a Sun Summoner—one who can summon the power of light—upon entering the Shadow Fold, a swathe of monster-infested darkness that bisects the Ravkan nation. Alina enters the world of the Grisha: an army of powered individuals. They are led by the Darkling, an exceptionally powerful Grisha with the unique ability to control darkness, the polar opposite of Alina’s power.
While I was not immediately taken in by the hype over Shadow and Bone, I was enchanted by the setting. I had never read a Slavic-inspired fantasy before, and while Bardugo took more liberties with the nuances of Slavic grammar and history, Shadow and Bone had a world that felt more fleshed out than the vague “in a kingdom far away” route YA fantasy readers used to get at the time.
The descriptions of the places, the clothes, the food, the history—these all made me feel like I was experiencing a unique culture in a completely new world.
Shadow and Bone specifically introduced more about the political climate of Ravka, while Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising, Book 2 and 3 respectively, contained more folklore elements that really enhanced the fantasy-feel of the story.
The Magic System
The magic system makes this trilogy stand out among the many awesome YA fantasy books out there. The Grisha practice the Small Science, a term coined for the belief that their powers are not quite “magic” but are instead an extension of the natural world. The Etherealki have power over the elements, the Materialki can control materials like metal or glass, and the Corporalki have power over the human body, both for healing and for causing harm.
Of course Bardugo’s Small Science isn’t as strictly structured as it sounds, and there are individuals like Alina and the Darkling that have more unique and rare abilities.
A huge part of why I’m not quite as in love with Shadow and Bone as much as everyone else seems to be is the characters. Looking back at the trilogy, it wasn’t until the second book that I started to feel genuinely invested in the characters.
I am not the biggest fan of our heroine, Alina Starkov, a sad thing since all three books are told from her point of view. Alina had as much of a personality as a mop bucket, and I found her inner dialogue irritating and petty. It doesn’t help that she’s a Chosen One that everyone kind of just “accepted” as this powerful being. Granted, she is a 17-year-old girl burdened with an immense power and the expectations of a whole nation, so I understand that all of this could explain why she wasn’t as self-aware and decisive as I would have liked.
Also, unpopular opinion time: I do not understand the hype over the Darkling. AT ALL. I am totally here for the brooding, morally grey bad boy trope, but the Darkling came off as more creepy and obsessive rather than darkly alluring to me. If you love him, I completely respect that. I would also recommend 1-2 hours of therapy a week, and maybe an exorcism or hot chocolate.
Apart from those two, I pretty much loved everyone else. Mal, Alina’s childhood friend *coughs* possibly more *coughs*; Nikolai with his witty remarks and devastating charm; Zoya and Genya, both Queens in their own right; and quite a few more notable personalities that made the story come alive for me more than the main personas.
Shadow and Bone basically starts off with the idea that Alina being the Sun Summoner can eradicate the Shadow Fold, a whole section of pure darkness inhabited by monsters that plagues Ravka. Book One’s plot line is easy enough to follow, with Alina having to hone her powers to achieve the complete destruction of a darkness that even the Darkling, arguably the most powerful of the Grisha, has no control over.
Of course, things don’t turn out to be as simple as that, and so unravels a story that is full of secrets, trials, miracles, and just that little bit of adventure.
There is definitely something for everybody in this trilogy. It employs some well-known tropes in fantasy, like the presence of powerful artifacts and just the slight bit of a quest angle to the story. There are pieces of history and legend that cement the story as a worthy fantasy. There are scenes that show a lot of Grisha power, that lay out battles and bloodshed, and there are even PIRATES, because of course we need pirates.
I do find that this trilogy isn’t perfect when it comes to pacing. There are chapters that tend to drag, offset by ones that are suddenly full of action and shocking revelations. I think Siege and Storm is the most consistent in terms of pacing, but overall, the scenes where significant things happen make the reading worthwhile.
There are a lot of interesting plot twists throughout the trilogy, but I think most of those were kept a mystery until Ruin and Rising, the final book. For some readers I think the sudden influx of revelations from the finale can be overwhelming, but it all depends on whether you saw some of the twists coming or not.
I think I’ve kept everything spoiler-free so far, so of course I won’t go into details with the ending. Again, I will give a rather unpopular opinion by saying that I liked how this trilogy ended. I know some readers were deeply unhappy with how Bardugo concluded Alina’s story, but I respect her decision to end the trilogy the way it did. It was unexpected, maybe a little risky, but I think it just works so well.
Or maybe I’m just thrilled at how it must have completely shattered what people expect a happy ending to be.
Despite the rocky start, I think The Shadow and Bone trilogy has cemented its place in the YA fantasy genre, and I do feel that it serves as a forerunner for a lot of the beautifully crafted YA fantasies we have now. Bardugo continues to expand the Grishaverse, and I am personally eager for more of her amazing world.