When Netflix’s Shadow and Bone television show premiered in April of this year, it was immediately met with overwhelming success. The fantasy show amassed over one billion viewership minutes in its second week of release! Thus, it came as no surprise that many of my friends were die-hard fans. Over the months, I saw the show, quite literally, everywhere: on social media, in the news, and especially in my friends’ moony-eyed text messages. I was skeptical, however. Being more of a book than a film person, I decided to pick up the novel that the show was based on in the first place: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. When I say this book did not disappoint, I say it wholeheartedly.
Shadow and Bone is a fantasy novel set in the lavish kingdom of Ravka, where a magical elite called Grisha wield coveted powers. But, the kingdom is plagued by a dark, mysterious land called the Fold. Countless ships, people, and Grisha have gone missing while trying to cross the Fold because of the man-eating creatures—volcra—that reside there. But people still cling to the hope of a Sun Summoner. The Summoner is believed to be a Grisha who will eradicate the Fold and restore peace to the land at last.
When seventeen-year-old Alina Starkov is called to journey across the Fold, she is seized with terror. Not only is she scared for herself, but she fears for the safety of her best friend since childhood, Mal. She might not admit it, but she has come to develop feelings for him that go beyond friendship. So when Mal is brutally injured in a horrifying volcra attack mid-journey, Alina unknowingly unleashes a power that saves his life. Before Alina can even comprehend what she has done, a mysterious Grisha named the Darkling whisks her away to train along with the rest of the Grisha as the most powerful of them all: the long-awaited Sun Summoner.
I loved every minute of reading Shadow and Bone! The worldbuilding, a rich tapestry of friends, foes, kingdoms, and language, was fantastic. And I loved the language influences so much—they established the vibe of the story. I haven't read a solid fantasy book in quite a while, and this book reminded me of how lovely and well-crafted they usually are.
While the entire story was such fun to read, the ending was what truly had my heart racing. I genuinely struggled with having to put this book down and go to sleep when I was in the middle of the climax. There was so much suspense and emotion that I was full to bursting, and even when I finished the book, I had to close my eyes and mentally recollect myself. There aren’t many books that can do that, so it was truly a thrilling and memorable experience!
On the downside, one of the weakest parts of the book was the romance. Mal is the main love interest in the story; however, his relationship with Alina is terribly underdeveloped. Mal wasn’t present for the majority of Shadow and Bone, so it was hard to root for him as a friend and love interest when I didn’t see him interact with Alina frequently. All I saw was Alina pining for him and writing letters that he never responded to. Not the most electrifying relationship.
Overall, Shadow and Bone was an exquisite fantasy novel that merits a full five-star rating. I look forward to finishing the trilogy and seeing how the show measures up to the novel. This is truly a story that deserves to be adapted on-screen. Thank you for this masterpiece, Leigh Bardugo!
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. Square Fish, 2o13. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!