Review: Shadow and Bone Trilogy

The Shadow and Bone trilogy by Leigh Bardugo has been on my TBR for some time now, so I was looking forward to picking up the first book, Shadow and Bone, a couple of months ago. I heard that the trilogy was different from the other fantasy books I was reading (think anything by Sarah J. Maas), so I was excited for a change of pace.

The Shadow and Bone trilogy is part of the Grishaverse, a Russian-inspired fantasy world filled with magic and small science. The Shadow and Bone trilogy is the beginning of the Grishaverse, followed by The Six of Crows duology and The King of Scars duology. And yes, I will be reading them all!

In Shadow and Bone (#1), you are introduced to the Grisha, the magical elite of Ravka, one of the countries in the Grishaverse. The Grisha are known as the Soldiers of the Second Army and they practice small science, manipulating matter for the purpose of battle and healing. There are the Corporalki (Heartrenders & Healers), the Ethereakli (Squallers, Inferni, & Tidemakers), and the Materialki (Durasts & Aklemi). There are also Sun Summoners, members of the Ethereakli who can summon and control sunlight. If you are reading this and scratching your head in confusion, don’t worry; this world is broken down very well in the books and at the beginning of each book. There are lots of intricate maps and a handy-dandy chart.

The books (written in first-person) center around Alina Starkov, who is afraid to cross the Shadow Fold — think a thick cover of unnatural darkness that is infested with dangerous creatures. Who wouldn’t be? When her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes magic that reveals that she is a Sun Summoner. Alina then meets The Darkling, and before you shudder at the corny name like I did, hang tight. He is one of the best characters in the trilogy. The Darkling is a Shadow Summoner and is Second in Command in Ravka. He is feared by all. He is also *misunderstood* and *dreamy*. Think your “bad boy” character, but he is actually quite dangerous. These books can get very dark and graphic real quick (which I loved). After she realizes that The Darkling is corrupt and evil, Alina turns on him, and she goes out with a group of colorful characters to save her storyworld.

I’m not too into breaking down what each book is about and giving spoilers, so I will just give you some likes/dislikes.

What I like the most about this trilogy is that each character is neither “good” nor “bad.” They are all grey characters, which makes the characters (and books) so much more interesting. Alina, especially, is a compelling heroine. She grows in power throughout the trilogy and struggles with wanting more. She sees The Darkling as an enemy, but the power he holds over her storyworld (and her) is alluring. She can’t get away from him, and she’s not sure if she wants to. I certainly wouldn’t.

One thing I loved about these books can be summed up with one name: Nikolai. Nikolai forever and ever. I loved him. Still love him. Bardugo did a wonderful job creating such a witty, colorful character that you won’t forget easily. Nikolai is definitely her first take at creating the colorful, witty characters that you will meet in Six of Crows (which happens to be one of my favorite books of 2021 so far), and he is the reason I kept reading.

While there are things I liked about this trilogy, there were many dislikes. First, the pacing was tough to follow throughout. Rhythmically, I struggled reading this trilogy. The first book was very fast-paced, but the second and third books dragged. While Siege and Storm was definitely my favorite because of the nautical elements and of course, Nikolai, Bardugo rushed through some of the climatic parts, making me wonder if the world-building and unnecessary dialogue/plot points could have been edited out to leave space for the good stuff. The third book, Ruin and Rising, was even slower, and I found myself struggling to finish the book.

Ruin and Rising fell flat, and it all has to do with the ending (which I will not spoil). A large portion of the book followed that classic epic travel trope — lots of traveling, lots of dialogue, lots of unnecessary stuff. But what left me more disappointed was the salient moments in this book (and arguably, the trilogy) were rushed. I felt cheated, because the story and the characters deserved a better ending.

Also, if you are looking for steam, find another trilogy!

Speaking of those who deserved a better ending (and here is where I get a little spoiler-y and use a lot of CAPS … you can stop reading here if you want):

The Darkling! WHY did this happen? The Darkling is the most intriguing character in the series, yet he is the weakest character in the trilogy when it comes to storyline. MAL gets more of a storyline. MAL. MAL!!

I have a problem with Mal. Who doesn’t?

While readers anticipate The Darkling to be a complicated, grey character, these are only assumptions given to readers through Alina’s perspective. Alina knows that there is good in him, but it is not explored otherwise. Other than a backstory provided to Alina when she’s at Os Alta, there are only fleeting moments of his goodness, and that’s where this trilogy fails. I don’t mind “teases” throughout a trilogy, but I do mind a lack of execution. The Darkling was done dirty in this trilogy, and instead of creating an illusion or allure to his character, it shows a lack of structure and attention to a character. And his ending? I won’t get started. What a let down.

So, here is my very messy review of the Shadow and Bone trilogy. I enjoyed it, I won’t read it again, and I will be watching the Netflix show once I finish The Six of Crows duology (which I love much more than the Shadow and Bone trilogy. Bardugo thrives at writing in third-person).

Have you read The Shadow and Bone trilogy/the Grishaverse? What are your thoughts?! Please share in the comments!

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