As always I am late to the party. I mean, everyone has already read the Six of Crows duology a year ago which followed The Grisha trilogy, and here I am – finally reading the first book in the trilogy. But better late than never, huh?
Following my rather mixed feelings in regards of “Crown’s Game” by Evelyn Skye (I was excited to read the book set in Imperial Russia but also found all language fumbles and misconceptions rather frustrating – neither of which prevented me from buying the book or its sequel, by the way), I became increasingly anxious over starting The Grisha trilogy. I heard good things, but not amazing things. People were praising Bardugo for setting her fantasy in Russia, but at the same time they were not calling it an amazing book. Even the title of the series made me feel apprehensive – who names the series a short version of the name Gregory which, by the way, is the name for magicians of that world.
Not to mention, the types of the order – Corporalki, Etherealki and Materialki – that make even less sense and only vaguely resemble Russian language. (Stapling ‘ki’ ending to an English word is not how you go about it. It just makes it sound derogatory.)
But at some point I was like – enough is enough, time to read the series! If I hate it, then I will hate it, but if I don’t – then I want to be able to say so.
Long story short: I did NOT hate it. But I was not instantly enamoured either.
Linguistic fumbles aside (and, yes, I did find mistakes in the language, which once again made me what to pull at my hair and yell at non-native speakers incorporating words in foreign languages to seek reliable native speaking translators), you can definitely tell that “Shadow and Bone” is Bardugo’s debut novel. It is not a necessarily bad novel, but it is cliched and raw in some parts, although I did enjoy the fact that it is a very fast paced book. You get thrown into the midst of action almost from the very beginning, which is great and saves you from paying too much attention to certain plot holes.
I liked all main characters, although the trope of “the chosen one” is getting pretty old. The Darkling is, probably, my most favourite character, in spite of how cliched of a dark brooding but incredibly attractive villain he is. I loved the depictions of the Shadow Fold and Unsee and volcra.
While reading the book, I felt compelled to stop treating this world as an actual historical depiction of Russian Empire in 1800s but treat it as a sort of resembling reality fantasy world. I am thankful that unlike Skye, Bardugo did not claim any historical prowess when it comes to world building. I would not have handled that well. The world of Ravka (another word that makes me cringe internally) is as historically accurate as the animated movie ‘Anastasia’ (which is a great movie but is also so Hollywood-like that it is almost offensive that it was so well received and is still loved by many, considering how far fetched it is from actual events). Since “Shadow and Bone” does not claim to be set in Russia, I am (almost) willing to overlook poorly constructed sentences in Russian (please, do not use Google Translate when you write books), misconception that kvas is a heavy alcoholic drink (it is lighter than beer and I can’t imagine anyone getting drunk on it!) or that everyone eats buckwheat and marinated herring for breakfast (the herring is delicious, by the way) or that the name of the main protagonist, Alina Starkov, sounds like an immigrant Russian name in USA (because since Alina is female, her last name should have been Starkova). As you understand, I can continue with this list.
I did enjoy reading the novel, when I was not cringing or rolling my eyes. It is better than some debut novels, I have read. It is not perfect – not even close, but it is book one in the trilogy, and I have heard from several people that Bardugo’s writing does get better in later books. Which gives me hope.
Overall, the book has a distinctive Hollywood flair to it. The alluring boys are too alluring, the stubborn main characters are too stubborn, and the creepy villains are too creepy. You know what I mean. But the pace of the narrative was enough to keep me hooked. I flew through the book that turned out to be shorter and a much quicker read than I expected. So, I have to give Leigh that. She managed to keep me entertained in spite of everything.
I can not wait to read the second novel. I hope it does get better.
Personal rating: 3 stars