Warning: So many spoilers. If you’d like a summary, scroll to the bottom of the review.
Hey, Shadow and Bone. C’mere. I wanna talk to you.
Sit down, Shadow and Bone. How have you been? I’ve been hearing really great things about you.
You know, I really liked you at first. I mean, really liked you. Your first 90 or so pages had some of the tightest writing I’ve read in a while. I just tried to read A Court of Thorns and Roses and had to put it down after 50 uninspiring pages. With you, I was hooked immediately. You established a world populated by Grisha, this universe’s version of benders. You introduced me to your main character, Alina Starkov, tricked me into caring about her by giving her a shady past and an unrequited crush on her best friend, and didn’t skimp on action. You told me everything I needed to know in a manner of pages: the country of Ravka (AKA Fantasy Russia) is at war with its many neighboring countries and travel anywhere in the country is complicated by the existence of the Shadow Fold.
What is the Shadow Fold, you ask? Well, that’s ridiculous, Shadow and Bone, you should know, but I’ll remind you: the Shadow Fold is a region in the middle of the country completely covered by darkness and populated by terrifying monsters called the volcra. Travel across it is dangerous – characters are counted lucky if they die quickly.
Barely 30 pages in, Alina and her friend Mal are attacked on the Shadow Fold. Alina saves Mal by unleashing a hidden power and driving away the volcra. Turns out not only is she a Grisha, she’s a Sun Summoner, the only one of her kind.
Alina is introduced to the Darkling, the leader of the Grisha with “great powers.” All I’m really clear on is he can create darkness and cut men in half. I am clear on how hot he sounded. Thank the internet for fanart.
Shadow and Bone, you had me where you wanted me. You gave me great action, an interesting protagonist, and the promise of hot romance.
So, what I want to ask is this:
I have three big problems with your story.
1. You turned an interesting story into high school politics
I’ve read books before, Shadow and Bone. This is not the first time I’ve read a story where the protagonist learns new skills at a prestigious academy and faces difficulty and social rejection. Heck, there’s a pretty well-known novel about a boy wizard who goes through the same things!
I loved Harry Potter and The Lioness Quartet. I’m not saying you can’t make this the plot of your YA fantasy novel.
My problem is that magic wizard school ISN’T WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR. You spent 90 pages throwing me scary monsters and quasi-Scandinavian assassins, and you followed that up with Alina’s struggles with homework. FOR 100 PAGES.
2. I was promised “heady” and “poignant” romance and you didn’t deliver
As I mentioned before, the Darkling was pretty hot. He and Alina had some chemistry, which I was interested in seeing develop.
Instead, the Darkling disappears.
When he does speak to Alina, it’s to pass on exposition. Your Exposition Fairy, hard at work. Their relationship didn’t so much develop as…happen. Out of nowhere.
One minute, it’s all exposition about a magical stag that could help them destroy the Shadow Fold. Then this happens:
He looked down at me. The cold air had put a flush in his cheeks, and the lamplight shone in his gray eyes. “Alina, if I tell you that I believe we can find the stag, would you think I’m mad?”
“Why would you care what I think?”
He looked genuinely baffled. “I don’t know,” he said. “But I do.”
And then he kissed me.
Not 20 pages later, he and Alina almost have sex against a wall during a raucous party. WHAT IS HAPPENING? It’s Octavia and Lincoln all over again!
What really peeved me was how you brought Mal back in. For the BULK OF THE NOVEL, Mal sleeps with other women, expects Alina to be his wingwoman, and generally doesn’t care as much about her as she does about him.
I’ve been in this kind of friendship. I know how this feels. There’s no point in hanging on to an uneven relationship. Alina realizes that though she has made Mal a priority her entire life, he doesn’t care about her. I thought her letting go of this friendship was a good step toward character development.
Then you brought Mal back.
Up to this point, you had done nothing to make Mal remotely likeable. To remedy this, you have Mal slutshame Alina for being into the Darkling. Later, while helping her find the stag, he picks fights and is nothing but rude to her the entire time.
SUDDENLY, he’s declaring his love for her. “I’m sorry it took me so long to see you, Alina,” he says. “But I see you now.”
BOOOOO! BOOOOOO! BOOOOO! After “graciously” forgiving Alina for considering sleeping with the Darkling ONE TIME, Mal says, “We found our way back to each other, Alina. That’s all that matters.”
NOT TRUE! Call me crazy, but I think sleeping with every other girl ever and being a terrible friend still matters!
3. You didn’t foreshadow your big twist
Come on, Shadow and Bone. I JUST POSTED about obvious foreshadowing yesterday. You went to the opposite extreme with no foreshadowing at all.
As I said yesterday, when I come to a twist ending, I want to be surprised, but I also want to feel like I should have seen it coming. When I reread a story or rewatch a movie, I want to see all the little clues I missed that lead up to the big reveal.
There were no such clues with you, Shadow and Bone.
Page 236, the wise old mentor reveals that the Darkling…is eeeeeviiiiil!
And Alina feels so foolish, because she should have known!
Because he killed a guy by cutting him in half? He’s an immortal being with intense power. That guy was trying to kill his Sun Summoner. Still on the Darkling’s side.
Because he can create darkness?
Because he wears black on the time? Seriously, where were your clues, Shadow and Bone?
You gave me no reason to hate the supposed villain! It’s not a good twist if it came out of nowhere!
I wanted to love you, Shadow and Bone. I gushed about you to my little brother, telling him “this is how you write a fantasy novel.”
Shadow and Bone, you made me look like a fool.
Want to know my final verdict, Shadow and Bone?
Excellent first 1/3. Disappointing latter half. Don’t read it for the romance. Worth a read…as long as you get it from your local library.