“Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Orphaned and expendable, Alina Starkov is a soldier who knows she may not survive her first trek across the Shadow Fold – a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. But when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed. Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country’s magical military elite – and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift. As the threat to the kingdom mounts and Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation. Welcome to Ravka . . . a world of science and superstition where nothing is what it seems.”
My Overall Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Welcome to the Grishaverse. This story is told from the perspective of Alina Starkov: a lonely, orphaned girl, who feels invisible and, frankly, useless; she is referred to frequently as looking ‘sickly’ pale, and frequently seems forgotten. Her town is destroyed in warfare as a child and she is taken in (alongside another orphan called ‘Mal’) by ‘The Duke’, who kindly fosters orphans, allowing them the possibility of a better life. In this alternate universe, set in ‘Ravka’ – a country that resembles our Russia – which is constantly at war with it’s surrounding countries, so much so that the majority of it’s population tend to become (or seriously consider) joining the First Army – the King’s Army. However, there is a second army: the Grisha army – Grisha are human, born with abilities that allow them to command elements. This army is commanded by The Darkling, an all powerful Grisha who can command shadows and summon awe inspiring darkness and destroy any foe; he answers only to the King himself. Mal and Alina eventually grow up and join the first army; Mal is charismatic, strong and successful in his ambitions – but Alina is often overlooked, and is a quiet cartographer. However, when Alina and Mal try and cross the Unsea (a patch of darkness created by an ancient, seemingly mad, ‘Darkling’ – an ancestor of the present one) they are attacked by a group of evil creations that live in the dark. In a moment of desperation, when Mal is injured and they face imminent death, Alina discovers a hidden power within herself and saves the battalion – she is a ‘Sun Summoner’. Almost immediately, she is scooped up by The Darkling and whisked away to his ‘Little Palace’ in the Capital, where he begins to train her, and tells her she is the key in ensuring the survival of The Grisha and the end to their country’s wars. However, things are certainly not as they seem in this new palace, and as Alina struggles to adjust to a pampered, luxurious life, and attempts to control her new powers, she slowly uncovers secrets, dark motives, and a desire for the mysterious, brooding darkling. Indeed, we’ve heard this setting before – no? Girl discovers she is special, and is whisked away by a handsome, powerful, dark stranger to a life of luxury and a hot romance. Typical… but don’t be deceived, there is far more to this story than meets the eye – and every time you think you know where the plotline is going, it throws a grenade in the mix and things (sometimes literally) blow holes in your world. This is no typical adventure or romance story – it’s something else entirely.
I must admit, I was introduced to the Grishaverse by the praising reviews of Bardugo’s new series ‘Six of Crows’, but am somewhat of a perfectionist, and once realising that there was, indeed, a previous series in this universe, I had to read it before picking up the duology. I read the scathing reviews, the mixed reception, some describing it as ‘An Absolute Disaster’ and others praising it as the new Harry Potter. The critical decapitation of the author’s use of Russia as it’s inspiration without researching or including authentic Russian culture. It seemed like marmite; love it or hate it. I came in with little expectation, frankly expecting to read 30 pages and throw it down, disgusted and bored. Lords, I was surprised when the entire trilogy sucked in the flames of my very soul, and I couldn’t put it down until I’d sapped up the words like the oxygen in a room. It doesn’t do it justice to describe this series as ‘amazing’ or ‘captivating’, because it was more than that.
I can’t say I was disappointed by the ‘love triangle’, because this really wasn’t a love triangle – this was something more real, bare, and flowing with heartbreak, confusion, and raw emotion. I initially enjoyed slightly less the typical ‘pretty but thinks she’s plain’ protagonist, but honestly, other characters in the world also verified that Alina was ‘plain’, which made up for this cliché. I think the only main issue with this book is the misuse of Russian names, titles, and ‘things’ – like the drinks, the terms, the objects. However, I also respect that this is a fictional text, not based on real life but inspired by it – and the author is at creative liberty to use names and terms how she wishes them to mean in a book.
Bardugo’s writing is captivating, it kindles a hungry flame within, sharing beautiful depictions that allow you to picture the very scenes as if they were before your eyes, but never painting enough detail to bore the text; leaving just enough space to fill in the blanks with each reader’s imagination. It is engrossing. The characters grow with the story, twisting and morphing into new people, growing with us, but heartbreak is woven in and motives never truly revealed. The worldbuilding was fantastic, to say the least. There is landscape and detailed description, political intrigue, complicated relationships, plotlines that twist and turn at every moment, and just enough information given to keep the reader wondering ‘what is going to happen next?’ I sometimes found myself highlighting an entire page of text, because it was so beautifully written. The ending is BADASS. I love a badass, heart wrenching ending. The Darkling himself is intriguing, and despite so much pain, I found myself hoping eternally for his redemption.
“The problem with wanting,” he whispered, his mouth trailing along my jaw until it hovered over my lips, “is that it makes us weak.”
“The Darkling slumped back in his chair. “Fine,” he said with a weary shrug. “Make me your villain.”
My final thoughts on this book are: I WANT HUNDREDS MORE OF THESE. Three books are not enough, The Darkling himself was captivating and enough to draw me in – the story and worldbuilding and development was the thickness and beauty that made this book fire.
Goodreads:Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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