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Is Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo Worth Reading?

Darkness has split the country of Ravka in two for centuries, ever since the Shadow Fold was created by a mad Grisha.

Swarming with man-eating monsters, it’s the stuff of nightmares that keeps the country at war with its neighbors even as it struggles with poverty and hunger.

Alina Starkov was orphaned by that same war and is serving in the Army when she discovers a new power thought only to exist in myth.

Is Alina the bright ray of hope the country has been waiting for?

Will she be the one to finally destroy the Shadow Fold and put an end to the war?

Shadow and Bone is a Great Book to Start Off a Long Series

Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone

ISBN: 978-0805094596

As a fan of the magical, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo satisfies a longing I didn’t realize I’ve been having.

It’s been a long time since we were introduced to Harry under the stairs, but this book reminds me of some of that initial excitement.

The one that says “yes, this is a new world to explore to and I can’t wait to do it!”

Set in a dark political landscape that makes clear the distinction between the “haves and the have nots”, you get the feeling it’s supposed to evoke feelings of old Russia and the Tsar.

As a protagonist, Alina is one you can root for. Her own awareness of her limitations and very human struggles to resist temptation make her both appealing and relatable. 

It’s the addition of Grisha’s though (magical humans who can control different elements) that really adds complexity to the status theme that runs through the story. 

Grisha magic

There is also just enough love and intrigue to feed any romantic soul, but it doesn’t overwhelm the plot. 

While I haven’t yet watched the Netflix show based on the book (I always read the book first when I can), I’m very curious to see how closely they followed the book. My guess from what I have seen of the show poster and trailers (and given the complexity of the storyline) is the show is pretty different from the book. 

But regardless of if you have seen the show already or not, do yourself a favor. Read the book anyway. Better yet, use these Shadow and Bone book club questions to tackle it with your reading group!

It’s a surprisingly quick read, and the best thing about this book is that it makes you really excited to pick up the next one. And what more can you ask for from a good series?

I was grateful to learn there are 7 books total in this YA series (two more just in the Shadow and Bone Trilogy), so I won’t have to be saying goodbye to the Grishaverse anytime soon. 

Best Quotes from Shadow and Bone

“This was the hardest part of beiing him- other than the way he made my heart do clumsy acrobatics. I hated hiding how much the stupid things he did hurt me, but I hated the idea of him finding out even more.”

Alina, Shadow and Bone

“The problem with wanting, is that it makes us weak.” 

The Darkling, Shadow and Bone

“Whatever burned between us was just as bright, just as undeniable. The moment our lips met, I knew with pure and piercing certainty that II would have waited for him forever.”

Alina, Shadow and Bone

Biggest Spoilers from Shadow and Bone

Does the Darkling love Alina?

It’s somewhat open to debate whether he ever had any feelings for her, but the book leaves it that the Darkling used Alina’s feelings for him to distract her from looking to closely at his plans for her, and so he never really loved her. 

What is Alina Starkov’s power?

She discovers she is a Sun Summoner, a unique power among the Grisha. This means she can call forth sunlight, and use it to hold back the darkness of the Shadow Fold. 

How does the Shadow and Bones book end?

Alina uses her power to save Mal and escape through the Shadow Fold with him, abandoning everyone left of the boat behind her to the man-eating monsters the Volcra (including the Darkling). It ends with Alina and Mal sailing off into an unknown future together on the True Sea. 

What Happens in Shadow Bone? A Full Summary

Our story begins with two children, Alina Starkov and Malyen Oretsev, living in the orphanage run on the estate of Duke Kermasov. They are fast friends who form an unusually strong bond with each other.

One day three Grisha  (people gifted with magical abilities) arrive on the estate to test the children to see if they might also be Grisha. 

We fast forward in time to when the children are grown and serving in the Ravkan army. Mal is a tracker, and so good-looking that even beautiful Grisha eye him. Alina is a pale, thin mapmaker not so affectionately called “Sticks”. She is also silently in love with her best friend, Mal. 

They arrive in Kribrisk to board a sand-skiff to cross the Shadow Fold, an area of darkness that appeared generations ago and cut most of Ravka off from the sea.

It was created by a mad Darkling, a shadow summoner, and the most powerful Grisha. The Shadow Fold can be crossed with the help of Grisha powers but is full of Volcra, winged monsters who catch and devour travelers. 

Alina has a very bad feeling about their crossing. They begin anyways and are almost immediately attacked. Several of her companions die and Mal is about to be taken as well when something unexplainable happens and Alina passes out. 

She awakes to find herself guarded by Grisha. She is taken to the Darkling and he uses his powers of amplification to bring out her own power. She lights up the room, and then some.

She is a Sun Summoner, the first in a very long time. She may also be the key to destroying the Shadow Fold. 

She is immediately packed into the Darkling’s coach to get her away before assassins learn of her existence.

She arrives at the King’s palace and meets Genya, a Tailor Grisha who can alter a person’s appearance to be better looking (something she does regularly for the Queen as a kind of “pet” Grisha). 

She is brought in front of the King and the Darkling brings out her power again, causing everyone to weep at the sight of their future savior.

She is immediately put to beginning her training. First with Bhagra, an ancient Grisha woman to help with her being able to summon her power on her own, and then with Botkin on hand-to-hand combat. 

Training with Botikin Shadow and Bone

Alina struggles and continues to be unable to summon her power on her own. The Darkling comes up with the idea of getting her an amplifier, a talisman that she can wear to make her stronger.

He wants to track Morozova’s herd and get her the antlers of the Stag to make her a collar. The collar would be the most powerful amplifier ever (if the stories are true). While discussing the collar, he surprises them both by kissing her and sending her reeling. 

In all this time she hasn’t heard from Mal. She finally remembers that when she was tested as a child she chose to push down and ignore her power so they wouldn’t be separated.

She now welcomes her power in, and it all comes rushing back. She blooms with health after years of having to spend all her energy on denying what she was. 

A ball is held, and she demonstrates her new powers at the right hand of the Darkling, wearing his colors.

They kiss again and almost go further before they are interrupted with news of the herd.

Heading back to her room, Alina runs into Mal who is the one who has been tracking the Stag. They fight, thinking the other forgot them.

Later Bhagra finds Alina and tells her she has to run because the Darklings real plan is different than what he has told her. He wants to use the collar to enslave Alina’s power to him so he can use the Shadow Fold as a weapon, not destroy it.

Alina believes her, because it turns out Bhagra is the Darkling’s mother, and he is the one who created the Shadow Fold originally.

She runs, and is eventually caught up to by Mal. They decide to hunt the herd themselves and get the collar for her so that she can maybe be strong enough to fight the Darkling. 

stag antlers from shadow and bone

After a long time of coming close but not finding the Stag, Mal admits how different things were once Alina wasn’t around anymore. It was the absence that made him realize how important she was to him and how he had never really seen her. But he does now.

They kiss, and at that moment Alina sees the Stag. When the deer approaches, Alina cant bring herself to kill it. Instead, she shows mercy and vows to find another way.

At that moment an arrow shoots and strikes the deer. The Darkling comes out and kills it, harnessing the power for himself. He places the pieces of antler around Alina’s neck and with that, her power is his to command. 

Mal and Alina are both brought back to the palace where the Darkling uses Mal to keep Alina in line as a hostage. Genya is now raised up in status as she helped the Darkling make the king ill. Alina realizes she has been betrayed from every side. 

They all travel to the Shadow Fold where they board a skiff with ambassadors from the neighboring countries and an envoy of the king. There the Darkling makes it clear that he can use Alina’s power to keep the Fold at bay, or he can use his power to expand it.

He demonstrates that by expanding the Fold to destroy a whole village and make them Volcra food. He shares his plan to have peace now that there are no more countries, only his power. 

They go to leave and the Darkling pushes Mal off the skiff to leave him for the Volcra. In the moment before he is about to die, Alina realizes that by granting the deer mercy, she had become as much responsible for its life as the Darkling had by killing it.

With that, the Darkling can’t control her anymore and the full power of the amplifier is hers. She tries to explain the Darklings’ evil plan to the other Grisha and begs them to help her. They either don’t want to help or are too scared to.

Making a decision, she dives off the skiff to protect Mal, and purposefully lets the darkness close behind her, sacrificing everyone else. 

They run, and we last see the two of them on a boat on the true Sea on the other side of the Fold, sailing off into their future. They will face whatever comes next together.

Looking to make reading a more regular thing? Why not start a book club! Check out my article on How to Form a Book Club for tips on creating the ideal club for your lifestyle.

Did you read Shadow and Bone? What did you think?

I would love to hear your thoughts about what you did (or didn’t) like about it, so leave a comment below!