“Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Orphaned and expendable, Alina Starkov is a soldier who knows she may not survive her first trek across the Shadow Fold—a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. But when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed.
Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country’s magical military elite—and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift.
As the threat to the kingdom mounts and Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation.
Welcome to Ravka . . . a world of science and superstition where nothing is what it seems.”
Shadow and Bone is set predominantly in East Ravka, ruled by a greedy king prone to excess, unaware of the growing power and dominance of the once-feared Grisha, those with the supernatural abilities of creation: weather, fire, the body, and metals known as ‘the little science’. Those of Grisha ability live in luxury compared to the common people of East Ravka. Protagonist, young female cartographer, Alina Starkov is on deployment with the First Army to the Shadow Fold, a supernatural barrier dividing Ravka into East and West. The Shadow Fold, first created by the most-feared Grisha, the Black Heretic, is a inhospitable wasteland populated by Volcra, winged monsters.
While making a crossing of the Shadow Fold, Alina’s childhood friend and fellow orphan, Mal Oretsev, a tracker and rifleman in the First Army is among those in the expedition attacked by the monsters and Alina’s dormant Grisha power is suddenly released, saving Mal and many of the expedition. Alina’s Grisha power is as rare as that belonging to the Black Heretic and General Kirigan or ‘the Darkling’, a power that Ravka have waited generations to see. Where the Darkling creates shadow, Alina creates light and together, their powers can finally destroy the Shadow Fold and re-unify Ravka.
Alina soon finds herself in the luxury and splendour of the highest Grisha ranks and training. But nothing is as it seems among the Grisha and Alina misses Mal and security he always provided. When her powers cannot reach the strength the Darkling needs for them to destroy the Shadow Fold, he suggests a specific amplifier for Alina; a collar of antler from a supernatural white stag. It is Mal who tracks the stag but when Alina receives the antler collar, she understands the horrible price she must pay and soon Alina can only hope to save Ravka from the darkest of deceptions.
Shadow and Bone is young adult fantasy novel and has many fascinating elements to the world-building, the powers of the Grisha themselves are a interesting concept. The social and political intrigue that form the context to the main storyline is equally fascinating. But there is sense of a missed opportunity in the simple main plot which is predictable, making the interesting and diverse characters feel underwhelming in some instances. Nonetheless, Shadow and Bone has significant potential and hopefully, the political and social context of Ravka and the history of the Grisha will be fully explored in the remaining novels of the trilogy.
Shadow and Bone is recommended for readers of young adult fantasy looking for a unique fantasy realm, and those who enjoy a fantasy concept that is intellectually challenging. The predictable storyline can feel a bit stale for more advanced readers but the characters are all interesting and engaging. Overall, a recommended read for those who enjoy young adult fantasy.