Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy 1) By Leigh Bardugo
Summary on Goodreads: Here
Possible Spoilers Ahead.
I’m in a love hate relationship with this book. Don’t even talk to me.
I had very high expectations for this novel. Mostly because it is set in the world that is very much like Russia and it just screamed home and childhood to me. Look at the cover too, it’s beautiful, mysterious and it reflects the themes of the novel wonderfully. It just begs pick me up and read me.
The fact that the book is set in world that is different from the generic middle ages is very refreshing. It’s beautifully described and explained very well. The world is well built and you can see the influence of old Russia and Russian folklore everywhere.
The characters were wonderfully developed as well. Alina, the main character, is kick ass heroine who goes though a lot of development and growth; a journey of self-discovery and becomes a stronger person in the end. However, some of the supporting characters seemed to be picked from stock: you have your flawless, misunderstood, beautiful best friend with a dark past; the best friend who takes her for granted until she’s gone; and the dark and mysterious stranger who neither the reader nor Alina know whether to trust or not and can’t help falling for.
Needless to say I had a problem with both love interests, but especially Mal, the best friend who took her for granted. I understand that they grew up together and they care for each other, but I don’t think he deserves her, because he never noticed her as a romantic interest until she was gone. He even admits it himself, that he never saw her, not while there were hotter women he could sleep with, but of course he always loved her. When she’s beautiful and grown up, he suddenly notices. She easily forgives him of course, but I’m not that forgiving.
Like I said before, the influence of Russian culture is very apparent, but Bardugo took a lot of liberties with the language. I would call this cultural appropriation. I was easily forgiving with some things, but not others. For example she makes “kvas” a national, cultural type of drink. Easily a replacement for wine. But that’s not what kvas is and I thought it was a bit silly. First of all, most of the time it is not alcoholic, even kids drink it. I was happy about it because it’s something cultural enough, and it’s not vodka, so it wasn’t stereotypical. But as Russian person, I thought the idea of kvas as something to get drunk on was ridiculous, because it’s gross, and especially because there are other cultural drinks, such as “samagon” that would have fit the role better, which is basically home-distilled vodka.
The problems with terminology doesn’t stop there, but I feel that it annoys me only because some of the words were just a little bit off from what they actually are. Like the dress/clothes that they wear she calls “kefta” when the original word is “kaftan”. So, I don’t really see why she has to go and change three letters. Also, adding the suffix “-alki” to something to make it feminine. But that’s not even the annoying part, the annoying part was that she didn’t make all the words her own, but only a few. If you’re going to change the words to make them your own, change all of them! Why adopt a culture only partly? Especially when it’s so obvious, and then change a few things to make it your own. As an English reader, I would have been annoyed at the fact that not all cultural words are explained. And I’ve seen a few other reviews that say that they felt confused because they didn’t.
I did like the plot twist very much because it was a surprise to me. I feel now that it shouldn’t have been, but it was, and I’m happy it was. Because I was glued to the rest of the book, reading it with wide eyes and a captured breath. It was beautiful.
Furthermore, the book was well written and the dialogue was pretty funny. I chuckled and flailed a few times. So I can say that even though I was annoyed at a few things, it was still an incredibly entertaining and great read.