I’m not sure how to write this review mainly because I wasn’t expecting to be this conflicted about so many things. “Shadow and Bone” is an engaging read, so let me throw that out there first, how about that? We follow Alina, the painfully stereotypical rags-to-riches redemption story of a girl everyone overlooks, who is unimportant and unremarkable and ugly, until she suddenly becomes one of the most powerful and important people in her war torn country. In a land with serious Russian vibes, and a well-defined magic system for everyone but Alina and the Darkling, Alina holds the key for bringing her country out of the dark (ha) and into the light (ha). Those aren’t exactly metaphors, either. So, yeah, I really liked the book, but you can kind of see where I’m going with my qualms, right?
Alina is the ugly/pretty girl who, once she steps into her power, literally blossoms and finds herself in a world of intrigue that she thought she’d always be denied because of how sickly she always appeared. She has one friend, Mal, who is handsome and amazing and of course she likes him but he never notices her, and then you have the nearly ageless and mysterious—and powerful—Darkling who everyone feels an allure to (yours truly included), and Alina is drawn to him (obviously) because she feels like this man is the first person to truly see her and want her. It’s sad and tragic, and also pretty on point for all things YA tropes. I liked the Darkling best as a character; his complexity and the desires he has for his country are superb. He is all the right kinds of richly dark and mysteriousness I like in characters. I did not care for Mal. He’s a sweet guy and easy to like, sure, but the trope… ugh it just never felt genuine and too forced and just too… obvious? Let’s go with that. Alina is just fine to me as a main character, she’s pretty inoffensive and her sass can be endearing at times, but my eye did twitch a ton with her when it came to her backstory and how pathetic we are supposed to find her, and then root for her because she is such, SUCH an underdog. I don’t like feeling as if I am being dictated to about how to feel or view certain characters, and I felt that way with Mal and Alina pretty much the whole book. Genya, however, is an utter delight.
That aside, I honestly couldn’t put this book down. The story was exciting and intriguing, even if the magic system has a serious blind spot to Alina and the Darkling in terms of where they fit into the Small Science. I don’t know what it is about Bardugo’s writing, but it is always fun to read and even when I’m not loving certain things, I still love how she tells stories. That being said, her voice really hits its stride in Six of Crows. It was just so much better, and because I read that duology first, this books’ issues are much more apparent. But you still kind of have to read this series first to really appreciate, and just get, all the finer details of those later books so it’s a tough position to be in. This book was good, I enjoyed it, and the world building Bardugo does is just masterful, but Six of Crows is way better in my opinion. Who knows, maybe I’d feel differently if I had read this first but eh, I didn’t so here we are.
So how do/did I rate this book? Bardugo is a fabulous writer, I love the intricacies of her worlds and how fleshed out they are, and just the sheer amount of subtle details she can pack into a book to create such a wonderful atmospheric vibe when reading. Outside of the Darkling and Genya, though, I didn’t like the characters all that much, and all the check boxes for YA tropes… I was just not a fan—I seriously hate the ugly/pretty girl that everyone ignored until they woke up one day and were important, it makes everyone feel false, even if they are supposed to have a redemption arc. Plus, when I compare it to her later works, which granted, may not be fair of me, this just falls a bit flat, and that may be because it’s written in 1st person? I don’t know! I’m so conflicted! I am honestly a very gut reaction book reviewer/rater sometimes, and this is one of those times. I’m just not in love here, guys. I like the series, I love the GrishaVerse Bardugo has crafted, so I am sticking with it and continuing on, because I KNOW it all gets better. But this is a 3.5 star read for me. Please don’t hate me…
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