Die deutsche Rezension findet ihr hier
Alina and Maljen grew up together in an orphanage, now they’re in the tsar’s First Army: she’s a cartographer; he’s a tracker. When they try to cross the Shadow Fold, an ocean of shadows dividing the country and being home to gruesome creatures feasting on human flesh, something unexpected happens. Alina manages to drive away the attacking monsters with light originating from her body – this is a power that normally only a certain and rare kind of Grisha, the magically talented population, possesses. When Alina had been tested on her powers years ago, there was nothing, though. She couldn’t possibly have done that, could she? Still, the Grisha’s leader, the Darkling, believes that Alina is the hope he longed for. Instantly, she’s brought to one of the tsar’s palaces, but fails when it comes to using her power and making progress with her training. Can she really be the people’s only hope?
The book’s (German) cover is beautiful, but that’s as far as it goes. All the reviews I read promised me an awesome book or at least one that has more positive aspects than negative ones. And so this was what happened: after a long, long time I finally spent my money on a German hardcover again, which is really rare today. They’re very expensive after all. That this was such a big mistake only made it worse.
Actually, the beginning is pretty interesting. I just loved the prologue; it’s one of the best I’ve ever read and if the whole book would have been written in this manner, I would have adored it only for that. But then the author switches from the third-person to the first-person narrator and this little magic is gone.
Still, the next chapters aren’t bad. I liked Alina well enough: she has a loose mouth she should keep shut from time to time but of course she can’t, which made her only more likable in my opinion. She’s a young girl with all those worries and fears a young girl can have. She’s in love with her best friend, who only flirts with other and better looking girls. As a cartographer she’s okay, but there are others better than her. Of course she dreads crossing the Shadow Fold, but Alina surely has no idea how much she should actually fear it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how much I should fear it as well.
After that all the potential seems to be gone. With every page Alina sounds more and more like an extremely young and clumsy girl that hasn’t experienced anything in life so far – but this is not the truth. Even after I’ve finished the book I don’t really know how old she actually is. Just 16? Already 18? In both cases she sounds much younger, which made it difficult for me to really feel with her. If a 12-year-old sounds like one, that’s one thing. If someone I expected to be much older seems to be so young, then that’s irritating.
As a result, I cared even less for her, just as I wasn’t too concerned about other characters as well. In most cases there is a promise of depth, though nothing more. Anyway, they appear so rarely it’s impossible to get to know them – or to be shocked about what they do, for that matter.
The plot was thin. For the most time, Alina is trained as a Grisha which is interesting at the beginning but ceases to be so. There’s nothing to create tension, no ultimatum that would push the action. The Shadow Fold has been there for generations, what’s another few months then? Maybe Leigh Bardugo wanted us to be thrilled by the question whether Alina would be able to use her powers or not? Well, it’s not really a question at all, just as the rest of the story was rather predictable.
After an absolutely unforeseeable turning point (sorry, irony) this changes a little bit but it doesn’t do much good. I really liked the hopelessness that follows this part of the book, but after all everything works out rather stereotypical.
It would be an acceptable book, if it hadn’t been for one very annoying detail. The author’s focus on beauty was quickly getting onto my nerves. Everybody’s beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful, and Alina’s tirades about how ugly she is were tiresome. Who doesn’t look good isn’t special and who isn’t special doesn’t look good – instead of showing the reader that looks aren’t everything and that even “ugly” girls can do great things, Alina has to look better as well. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to use magical make-up on her.
I have to admit that there are moments where all of this isn’t that important at all. The explanation for Alina’s looks made sense, at least in that world. But still, in the end, one is surprised if you find yourself longing for the ugly girl and that’s only one detail. Beauty is much too prominent in the story, which shows it as something that a meaningful life isn’t possible without. Maybe later Leigh Bardugo wanted to introduce some criticism about this obsession with beauty, who knows? But by now, she already lost me.
There’s a last point I didn’t perceive that much myself. It concerns the Russian influences on the story and the fact that the author seemed to be a little lazy in her research. It already starts with the surnames. It is well known that men’s and women’s surnames have different endings in the Russian language – even someone like me, who never really dealt with Russia and only thought about learning the language for a moment, knows that. So it’s not too much to ask that the author has to know that, too, right? Well, if she does, she chose to ignore it – unfortunately, this is no use of an artistic licence but offending ignorance.
They corrected this detail in the German translation, but they could do only so much. Some names make no sense when they’re translated and Grisha is just the short form of the name Grigori. Bless this imagination, it threatens to crush me! There are some more things, but others are better informed and have already talked about it. This won’t be a problem for those who don’t know much about Russia, just as I couldn’t know about all of this. And if you don’t care about that, then never mind. But I think you can expect more of an author when they use such influences. If Leigh Bardugo would have added entirely new details, that would have been okay. Actually, I would have liked it! But garbled facts are nothing I want to see in novels or anywhere else.
“Shadow and Bone” was a huge disappointment for me. The book offered neither the tension nor the romance nor the world I was hoping for. Instead there’s a predictable plot that gets seldom interesting, a protagonist who was likable only on first sight, bad research about Russia (or laziness?) and a dubious display of the role of beauty. All in all, it wasn’t satisfying.