Yes, I am late to the party on this one! I’ve been making my way through my YA fantasy TBR list during quarantine, and this trilogy felt like a good starting place.
This review will include spoilers!
Overall, I enjoyed this series. It definitely feels like one complete story, but at the same time it also feels like it is setting up future stories. Bardugo does both things very well. If this were the end of the story, it had a definite ending. As we know, however, we see other characters and their journey beyond this trilogy.
Certain aspects of SaB embrace YA cliches. Such as the ‘dull/plain’ female protagonist who goes through a transformation and the love triangle (or quadrangle?). I don’t think these were handled in a bad way, but, for me, they added layers to Alina’s character that made her less relatable and less likeable. That is just my opinion and there were times in the novels where I really warmed to Alina and sympathised with her, despite the cliches.
Alina and her love interests are where the big cliches end. Bardugo has created a really unique universe, which is bleak and beautiful. You get a real sense, even in this early trilogy, that she knows every inch of the whole world she created. The Grisha and their powers are detailed so wonderfully, and of course made far more immersive by the use of a ‘fish-out-of-water’ protagonist, who experiences it all with the reader.
Character is something I will explore more when discussing Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology but there are some great characters in Shadow and Bone. I found Alina unlikeable at times, but she is an interesting protagonist. I particularly liked her pull to power, I would have liked this to have been explored further. Alina believes it’s Morozova’s amplifiers that give her that want for more power, but I would suggest it stems from childhood feelings of powerlessness and weakness. Which is totally relatable! Each character holds some duality in them. Tolyar and Tamar are fiercely loyal but deceive Alina. Genya was Alina’s only ‘real’ friend but betrayed her. David did the Darkling’s bidding but then aided Alina. Not one character is wholly good or bad. This duality is highlighted by the two stand-out characters. Nikolai literally has two personas. The prince and the privateer. And like Alina, I could never quite decide what I made of the Darkling. He had such polarising moments that had me hating him and then wanting to root for him.
The ending, I felt was a little underwhelming. I really wanted to see Alina all-powerful but perhaps that was just me. Mal’s sacrifice had me all sorts of emotional, which was a little unexpected as I didn’t really warm to him as a character. It was also made a little less significant when he came back to life. But I don’t dislike that and it plays nicely into the religious theme running throughout. It was a bittersweet ending altogether, it just felt a little lack-lustre to me.
It’s a good story and a great introduction to the Grishaverse, and I am excited to see the Netflix adaptation.
Just my humble opinion.