Review: Shadow and Bone
Thursday, April 13, 2023

Shadow and Bone (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, #1)Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s rare that I watch a book adaptation as a show before reading the books itself, but that’s exactly what happened this time. Like many people, I was introduced to the Grishaverse through its Netflix adaptation. As such, I couldn’t help but compare the two. It’s very hard to review just the book since already I had so much depth and scope in my head from watching the show, but I will try.

First off, let me just say that I very much enjoyed both the book and the show. Going strictly by the book: The story is told from the perspective of Alina Starkov, a mapmaker in the Ravkan Empire. Ravka is based on Russia and reflects its culture. Similar comparisons can be made between the book’s other nations such as Shu Han (China) and Fjerda (Norway). These similarities make it easy to embrace Bardugo’s fantasy world because in many ways it feels like home, if only superficially. There are, however, aspects of Bardugo’s world that are specific only to it. Most notably: the Fold or Unsea. This is a swath of land, stretching the length of Ravka, that is enveloped in never ending shadow and populated by terrible, flying, man-eating creatures called volkra. Because the Fold splits Ravka in two, the culture and country are also split. (Think Germany and the Berlin Wall. In order to cross the Fold, the Ravkan king employs Grisha, which brings us to the magic of Bardugo’s world. Grisha are basically elemental mages, each specializing in summoning elements like air or fire, blood-workers who can either heal or kill, and alchemists or tinkers. Beyond these is the Darkling, the only known Grisha to work his magic (or “small science” as Bardugo calls it) with shadows. He is extremely powerful and second in command only to the king, but he is not trusted, as it was a darkling who created the Fold.

Alina starts off as a virtual nobody, a scrawny, clumsy, not very attractive, easily-overlooked cartographer’s assistant, but she (and everyone else) quickly discover that she is so much more than she appears. She is a sun-summoner. More importantly, she is the *only* sun-summoner. This makes her Ravka’s hope for eliminating the Fold and uniting the country. That’s a lot of weight for her tiny shoulders, but she won’t have to carry it alone. Alina grew up in an orphanage with her childhood friend, Mal. All grown up, Mal is a tracker in the king’s army and often works in the same unit as Alina. It’s on a mission through the Fold to which they are both assigned that Alina’s powers first manifest, and Mal is there to see her in all her sun-summoner glory. Mal and Alina have a very YA, girl-next-door meets destined-mates romance.

Once her power is revealed, Alina is swept away to the “Little Palace” by the Darkling for Grisha training, and Mal is left behind. A good portion of the middle of the book is just Alina failing at being a Grisha and feeling like she doesn’t fit it, but it’s all well-written and believable. Alina forms friendships and rivalries among the Grisha, and a dangerous romantic bond with the Darkling. I’ll admit, this section might have felt a bit lacking if I didn’t have the TV-show knowledge to flesh it out, but I can’t say for certain. Regardless, Alina eventually learns to control her powers and is eager to strengthen them with the help of an amplifier. But not everyone wants the Fold to come down. Some people want to kill Alina before she can fulfill her destiny, others want to use Alina as a puppet. This is very much a coming of age, coming into her power story that forces Alina to make some hard decisions and face some unpleasant truths.

Overall, Shadow and Bone was a riveting, page-turning adventure that sank me deep into Bardugo’s world. I’m eager to read the next one.

And now a bit of comparison for those of you who want to know if the book and show match. Be aware that this section may include SPOILERS.

The biggest difference, which was apparent right away when I started reading, is that Alina is the only narrative character. That means no side quests with Mal, no insightful Darkling flashbacks, and no quirky group of Crows. The loss of the Crows was the hardest difference for me to wrap my head around. They were my favorite characters in the show, so I was very sad when I realized they didn’t even exist in this book. I’m still hoping they’ll turn up later in the series. At the very least, there is a follow-up book called Six of Crows, which gives me hope.

There were other, smaller differences as well. Alina is not part-Shu in the book, just a sickly-looking Ravkan, so there isn’t that extra layer of discrimination. The trip to the Little Palace takes more time and involves a lot more people than what’s implied in the show. Alina knows full well that the Darkling is hunting the stag, she encourages him to do it because she wants the amplifier. There’s no kidnapping side-story (that goes with the Crows), Alina just runs away on her own, and she intends to leave the country. It’s Mal who finds her and convinces her to hunt the stag before the Darkling finds it. Alina’s stag necklace is not fused into her body, and there’s no second piece of bone to control her. Alina doesn’t just leave the Darkling in the Fold to die. She makes a conscious decision to end him, sacrificing a bunch of other people in the process. And finally, Alina doesn’t get to imagine the Darkling dies. At the end of the book she already knows he survived and will be coming for her. Those few differences aside, I was astonished at how closely the adaptation followed the original story. Well done all around!

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