My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I first read (actually read) Shadow and Bone, book 1 of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series) when it first came out in 2011, it took me a while, but I enjoyed it. It took me much longer to get around to the second two books. To be honest the first two books were all right, the third book was the best of the three. My favorite aspect of these books was the world building. The character development for the main character was passable in the beginning, but really became more complex once book three was reached. The story became more interesting as the series continued as well, starting off basic and becoming much deeper as we spent more time with Alina Starkov.
The world building was more unique than most stories published in America. Ravka is a Russian based country, at least in language and culture if not history. In this country there are people called Grisha who have magical powers use them in specific ways and similar to alchemy with its law of equivalent exchange. The Grisha are divided into distinct groups and wear kefta that identify them to the world. There is also a terrible phenomenon that has split the country called the Shadow Fold where scary humanoid monsters with sharp fangs and claws and huge bat like wings reside and eat anything that dares to enter their domain. It’s obvious that a lot of thought went into this world and you are plopped into it from page one until the series conclusion.
On a personal note, it was fun and a little disconcerting to read a book where the main character has my name. But in all fairness, Alina is a perfect name for someone who has the power to summon the light (for it is a Slovic name that means “bright”). In my opinion, Alina Starkov was the only character with true depth in the series, Mal came up a close second with radical internal conflict and slow changes. Unfortunately most of the supporting cast fell flat in personality, mostly because their character was built artificially with some stereotype or consistent characteristics, which gave them personality but never really evolved much beyond that. Bagra was consistently snappy and grouchy old lady. Genya was always interested in fashion and beauty. Zoya was continually disagreeable and complaining and proud. Prince Nicolai was witty, self confident, and a loving servant to his country. There was even the random lesbian couple to prove that this world is just as divers as ours. These are all great characters to have in a book, I could at least tell some of them apart, but that’s as far as it went. For a YA, this is great, but for an adult novel more would be needed I think.
The Darkling was a bit disappointing for me. He was an aggressive foe, but even he only came off as manipulating and power hungry. It was never quite clear what Alina saw in him besides the fact that he’s supposed to be handsome and an apparent person in power. Sure she’s naive, inexperienced, and craving attention from the opposite sex, but after she gets over all of that telling me as the reader that “like attracts like” isn’t enough explanation because it’s not obvious what that’s supposed to mean. For me, he only ever came off as mysterious (which really isn’t good characterization) until his true intentions are revealed, which makes sense because we are completely in Alina’s head. But we still need to see the Darkling as more than simply someone with power if we (the reader) are supposed to be seduced by him along with Alina. Admittedly there was an attempt to make the Darkling a little more human in the third book, but even that fell a little short because it was too little to late.
The first book is about Alina coming into her power and dealing with her conflicted feelings over Mal and the Darkling. The second book is about Alina coming to terms with her increased power, her growing struggle with wanting more power, and her desire to do the right thing. She is introduced to a new love interest and now has to choose between three candidates. Book three continues her struggle with the concept of power and what she’s willing to sacrifice for it, is she willing to become a monster herself to destroy a monster? Now that’s a compelling struggle!
If you are looking for something imaginative and light (on the boarder of “deep” if you can last to read the third book) I would recommend Liegh Bardugou’s Grisha series.