Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo Book Review

The Grisha series is another phenomenally popular young adult series that has a sort of Harry Potter quality meant for the older side of the age bracket while adults who adore magic and fantasy will revel in this trilogy.  Shadow and Bone, a runaway bestseller, is the author’s first published novel. Henry Holt & Co. | Hardcover | June of 2012 | 358 pp

Alina and Mal are lucky orphans who were taken in by the Duke, a wealthy benefactor who allowed orphans to be raised in his grand estate.  When all children reach their eighth birthdays in the land of Ravka, they are tested by the Grisha to see if they exhibit magical abilities.  If so, they are removed from their homes and taken away to a great palace where all Grisha are trained while their parents or caretakers are given hefty sums to pay for their generous contribution to society.  Neither Alina nor Mal exhibited any peculiar traits.

The story flashes forward to Alina and Mal within the first army.  Alina is a cartographer-in-training and Mal is one of the best trackers ever known.  They are young but their chances of survival on the current expedition are not very high.  Their battalion has been chosen to cross the Fold along with a group of Grisha who will do their best to guide and protect them.  The Fold was created hundreds of years ago by a wayward Grisha.  It is a dark swath of land that divides the country in half where no light penetrates and deadly creatures roam.

Although the Grisha are plentiful on this journey, the ship is quickly attacked by a hoard of flying beasts who descend upon them with fangs and claws.

“Hold on!” I cried.

Then the flame vanished, and in the darkness I felt Alexei’s fingers pulled from mine.

“Alexei!” I shouted.

His screams faded into the sounds of battle as the volcra carried him into the dark.  Another burst of flame lit the sky, but he was gone.

Just when Mal and Alina are about to be taken by the volcra for a feast – something happens.  A burst of light emanates from Alina’s body, so bright and blinding that all of the volcra are sent away screaming.  The ship turns around with its remaining crew, and Alina is brought straight to the Darkling – leader of all Grisha.

Alina is taken away from Mal and immediately sent to the palace where she will be trained as a Grisha.  They call her a Sun Summoner, the only one of her kind and the one they have been waiting for.  With her ability, Alina and the Darkling can hopefully destroy the Fold.

But there are some problems.  Alina misses Mal terribly and he hasn’t returned her letters, she’s unable to call her power on her own, and the real place of the Grisha in the king’s court seems unfair at best.  Moreover, a hidden conspiracy lies just beneath the surface, thinly veiled by superficial friendships and fake agendas.

There are three facets to this tale that I absolutely adored (four if you factor in the fact that it is a trilogy which gives me more to read):

First is the Grisha lifestyle.  The Grisha are not rulers of the land but kept, owned really, by the king and queen of Ravka.  They are trained in a magnificent setting and abide by a code of hierarchy.  There are several different types of Grisha and many varying powers while each hold ranks identified by color.  The Darkling is considered supreme but for the first time, another Grisha (Alina) is allowed to wear his color:  black.  Alina transforms at the palace, both physically and mentally, and earns respect among her peers.

Second is Alina’s connection to Mal.  It’s a connection that was made years ago when they were orphans living in the Duke’s estate.  This sensitive bond is the reason why Alina first exhibited her Sun Summoning ability when she thought all was lost in the Fold, and it is also why she can’t seem to summon the ability on her own.  Once you understand it, you’ll see just how beautiful the idea really is.  It shines.


Third is the depiction of the Fold and its deadliness.  The Fold (also called the Unsea) divides the country of Ravka which makes it difficult to get to the port cities on the true sea.  The goal is to eliminate the Fold and make Ravka whole again.  But it is the Fold itself that is described with such frightening intensity which makes this read gripping.  The author doesn’t sugarcoat the fright – there is real terror and deadly consequences for even being near the Fold.

Shadow and Bone is absolutely first rate and recommended to all young adults and ages beyond.

Magic and Danger!

4 1/2 Stars

Loved it.

This first in a trilogy will blow you away. Perfect for older Harry Potter fans.

Rebecca Skane is the editor-in-chief for the Portsmouth Review. She holds a Bachelor of the Arts degree from Lawrence University in Wisconsin and resides in Portsmouth, NH with her husband and two children. She is the founder of The Portsmouth Book Club which boasts over 1,000 members. She also doubles as a professional escapist. Her genres are scifi and fantasy, both adult and young adult - but she often reads outside of her preferred genres. You can follow her on GoodReads. Aside from her love of good books, she is a professional website developer, content editor, and SEO expert. You can visit her web design and development site at

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