4 out of 5 stars
If this were the first Leigh Bardgo book I’d read, it would get 4.5 stars (.5 off only for being too short). But as stunning as this is, I’ve read Six of Crows, so I know what she can really do.
Entering the Grishaverse is like being hit in the face with a staggeringly creative, tightly packed, finely etched brick. It’s so real on the page that it reads like an actual place – you’re living, fighting, and dying in it.
Shadow and Bone has not one, but two orphans! Take that, YA tropes! (As the Honest Trailer for Frozen would say, it’s “adjusted for inflation.” Though Frozen actually has three orphans. Gasp! But wait till you read Six of Crows – it’s 95% orphans.)
Friends since youth, orphans Alina and Mal live in Ravka, a country locked in endless war. All kids are tested to see if they are Grisha – otherwise regular people who possess certain types of magical powers. In Ravka, Grisha are collected and trained from a young age to form an elite class within the army. Neither Alina nor Mal show any powers, and so end up an assistant mapmaker and a ranger, respectively. Until one day (there is always that day), in an emergency (always one of those, too), Alina unleashes a power no one knew she had (they never do).
I won’t try to explain the Fold or the Black Heretic, or anything else I’d ruin for the sake of simplicity. Suffice to say that Alina’s power makes her incredibly valuable, powerful, and endangered. She’s whisked off to be trained, and to save Ravka/or not with the most powerful Grisha of all, The Darkling. But The Darkling is not all he seems to be.
To recap: magic, danger, secrets, lies, duty, friendship, angst… did I mention that Mal is a grade-A fox and The Darkling is sexy as hell?
Leigh Bardugo has more brilliant ideas on one page than most books have in total. Her world-building screams off the page. Starting this story is like being dropped directly into Alina’s brain, and all you can do is hold on for the ride. Shadow and Bone has everything: love, hate, fear, action, even the politics are blistering. You should read this book, then the rest of the Grishaverse triology. Then the Six of Crows duology – and you’ll really thank be after that.