This was a book I saw a lot in book blogging / booklr circles. People were talking about it and its sequels so, eventually, I picked it up in the library and gave it a go. As with many hyped books, it’s always a case of weighing up my personal response against the expectations I had when I started, but with Shadow and Bone I didn’t really know anything about it other than that most of my bookish friends had read it, so at least I didn’t have concrete ideas of what to expect.
It definitely wasn’t a bad book, but I felt it didn’t entirely live up to its potential. It had a cool magic system and interesting world-building that drew on Russian culture and ideas (although I did see some criticisms of the accuracy of this). The Grisha, a race of gifted and thus privileged people, were politically complex and interesting.
But none of that was explored as much as it could have been. Instead, the book focused on Feelings. ALL OF THE FEELINGS. And… well, I’m not big on feelings. You guys should know that by now, right?
I understood it, to some extent. Alina, the protagonist, wouldn’t have had much motivation to seek out details about the world around her, because she grew up on it. She had no reason to research the political and social situation around her. And yet that left it feeling a little bit shallow and incomplete somehow. There was no pause to take in these details — it just sort of assumed knowledge of them and moved on.
That said, the last book I read immediately before this one was The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, which is nearly a thousand pages long and full of incredibly detailed worldbuilding, so that might have messed with my perception and expectations.
Now. Let’s take a moment to talk about the romance. It’s hard to do this without spoilers, but I’ll do my best, and I’m sorry if I give away any details. You’ve probably come across them in other reviews anyway. You see, I’ve long held that if YA protagonists read YA books, they would be able to avoid these really frustrating tropes.
Namely: DON’T FALL FOR THE ANCIENT POWERFUL BEING. Because they’re probably evil. And using you. And also you can do better. And just. Why. Why would you do that.
It frustrates me so much. I realise some people like the whole mysterious element, as well as the dark and brooding element, and don’t get me started on the ‘bad boy’ phenomenon. But it drives me nuts. I feel like if these characters had half a gramme of sense they would take one look at these people and be like, “Yeah, I’m gonna stay far away from that.” And they never do.
Petition to give all YA protagonists a crash course in “how not to screw up your plot and character development by falling for an unsuitable older man”, please. (It’s always an older man, let’s be real here.) Actually just a crash course in “being a YA protagonist”, because there was nothing in particular that made Alina different from the last poor and ordinary teenage girl who discovered she had an unusual power.
Anyway, that sort of marred my enjoyment of the book a bit, because I just got annoyed. There was too much on Feelings and not enough on Cool Magic and Worlds, and the Feelings weren’t even the kind of feelings I like and thus I wasn’t invested in them and I was impatient to know more about the world the story occupied.
However, I was still nursing a Patrick Rothfuss-inflicted book hangover, and therefore probably couldn’t give this a fair assessment because anything would have fallen short at that point.
I’m not sure if I’ll seek out the rest of the series. Maybe? I’ve heard good things about Six of Crows, which I believe is related but not part of the sequence. (A prequel? Companion novel? I don’t know.) But I’m not sure if this one captured my attention enough — as I sit down to write this review, barely a fortnight after reading it, I’m still struggling a bit to recall the details.