Sunday, June 17, 2012

REVIEW: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

Shadow and Bone (SaB) is book 1 in the Grisha trilogy, a Russian-inspired fantasy. Alas, the fantasy was like a lumpy beef stew — it wasn't cooked properly. The plot was disappointing, the protagonist pathetic, the magical world mundane, the antagonist...surprisingly cool so why was he not the protagonist of the story?

The Plot

Over 81,000 words, the novel began with a timid girl who in a dire moment unleashed a dormant power to rescue her friend. It wasn't just any power, it was the power of sunlight, the power that could — tada! — banish the Shadow Fold and its monsters.

+++ life at the court

Most of the story took place in Ravkia's capital, Os Alta, where Alina was sent to train as a Grisha. Os Alta was full of decadence, hidden agendas, and backstabbers-to-be. There was a dimwitted king, a conceited queen, her Grisha beautician who was the king's ex-mistress, clueless nobles thinking things were dandy, and this religious kook who say vague things that we're not sure if they're threats or warnings.

Unfortunately, the plot skimmed the court intrigue.

The plot was actually about Alina stumbling her way through magic lessons in wearisome way and thinking about her childhood friend/love interest in melancholic manner.

+++ the ending

I dislike ending that puts our heroes back to square one and SaB did just that. Nothing was resolved. If anything, Alina made things worse.

The Characters

+++ Alina, the heroine

SaB was told in 1st PoV from Alina's side and she was depressingly pathetic. Talk about insecure. She liked her childhood friend, Mal, but was too afraid to confess her feeling. So she moped. I wouldn't have mind if her reason wasn't juvenile: her childhood friend was hot and she was not. And the reason she wasn't hot was because she subconsciously suppressed her power which drained her strength and made her unhealthy.

Lesson of the day: Unhealthy people do not look hot.

So the girl's insecurity was due to her vanity. Yes, it was a flaw fitting for a teenage, but I could not cheer for her because the girl never toughened up, character-wise.

She was so pathetic that other characters had to push her to do things. One of the worst events was when the antagonist's mother had to (figuratively) shake her shoulders to wake her up to the truth. Something is wrong with a heroine if she need the antagonist's mother to yell at her "hey, that dude you're crushing on, he's using you" when it was obvious to everyone.

The supporting cast, Mal (Alina's love interest), Genya (Alina's one Grisha friend), and Baghra (Alina's magic mentor), were way more likable and interesting than Alina herself.

2nd lesson of the day: When your protagonist is pathetic, have strong supporting characters to cover for her.

+++ The Darkling, the villain

The story only referred the character as the Darkling. Darkling is a type of a Grisha that uses shadow power (yes, it was a Darkling who created the Shadow Fold). Referring him as the Darkling was the story's way to make the character an isolated figure.

In spite of it, the Darkling was a complex and compelling character. I rather read the story from his PoV. Yes, he was the antagonist but in him I saw a determination that I love to see in my ideal protagonist.

He acted ruthlessly, but it was not completely black and white and he was 100% villainous. He wanted to unite the four nations, to stop the nobles from hurting the serfs, to free the Grisha from servitude and witch-hunts. I realize good intentions mean little, that the ends doesn't always justify the means. Yet I was not repulsed by his actions. I saw it as "desperate times called for desperate measures."

The World Building

+++ the Grisha

The Grisha are the few humans born with the capability to use magic. Basically, they are witches, but in the fantasy world "witch" is a derogative word; Grisha is the politically correct word.

+++ magic

Small Science is the Grisha's fancy name for magic. The Grisha may call their power Small Science as much as they want, but it's still magic. There was nothing scientific about their power or the Academy lessons.

SaB did not elaborate the magic system beyond the classification of Grisha based on the power they held. This disappointed me because all Grisha are required to enroll in the Academy so I expected some magic lessons. But no. The magic lessons Alina received were simply "practice makes perfect" and "believe in yourself" — it was gag-worthy.

It couldn't be helped that all Grisha are trained young but the heroine wasn't since she just discovered her power. Because she was essentially in remedial class, the story thought it could sidestep from developing the magical world. It thought wrong.

+++ the setting

I presumed SaB took place in a northern part of the world in a medieval-ish era. The cold land was split into four nations: Kerche to the west, Fjerdan to the north, Shu Han to the south, and Ravka in the middle between the three. It was obvious (I'm 95% sure) what each nation was based upon: Kerch on Bosphorus, Fjerdan on Scandinavia, Shu Han on China, Ravka on Russia.

Because of the apparent inspiration, it was easy to imagine the geography and what each nation was culturally like. This led me to believe SaB depended on the readers' education for some easy world building. Not that the world building was bad — it was fine, but I wouldn't compliment it as creative.

+++ Shadow Fold

The one part of the Grisha world I would compliment as creative was the Shadow Fold. The land was this "black slash that had severed Ravka from its only coastline and left it landlocked" where eternal darkness and hideous monsters reigned. Some well-intentioned but mad (aren't they're always?) Grisha polluted the place with his shadow magic.

I wish more of the story was set in this gruesome place because every time the characters visit there the sense of danger thrilled me.

In Conclusion

I rate SaB 2-stars for it was okay. I recommend the book for readers looking for a decent YA fantasy (the writing was good) and like some romance. Alina spent a lot of time thinking about Mal instead of her magic lessons.

Readers who enjoyed SaB may want to look at Seraphina.

Amazon GoodReads

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