How did Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo reintroduce me to YA fantasy?

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This quarantine has really turned everything upside down. It even made my posh, I-only-read-adult-fiction ass, read young adult fantasy. I know… I’ve gone mad. What is happening to me? Well, it’s good you asked… Because, we all know by now, that I will certainly tell you all my opinions.

So, picture me, sitting in my room, relaxed, drinking coffee, scrolling through my twitter feed. And I’m becoming more and more confused. I don’t understand anything these people are talking about. There are abbreviations and weird names I’d never heard before. I find it really hard to talk to these people since we seem to have so little in common.

Then, I decided I had to change that as soon as possible. I will, after all, have to read all these ya fantasy books if I want to be one of the cool kids. Peer pressure, I guess.

The books that have been popping up the most in the last few weeks are the Grishaverse by Leigh Bardugo. The Netflix series seems to have been announced. So, naturally, like a hoe I am, I decided to check out the cast. And behold! My boy, Ben Barnes. He appears to be a character named The Darkling (which is both hot and cringy). I’m interested, I think to myself.

And them, because I’m bored, lonely and, in all honesty, trash for Ben Barnes, I decided to dive into this world. And so began my journey!

Okay, enough with the melodrama.

After I did my research I discovered there are currently six full-length novels in the Grishaverse. This includes the Shadow and Bone trilogy, the Six of Crows duology and the first book of the King of Scars duology. I’ve decided to read the books in order of publication.

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Moving on, I have to admit now and here that I have no prior knowledge of this world. I literally know nothing. I don’t know how I managed to avoid spoilers for the last eight years, but I am so thankful now since I can dive into this story without prior bias.

After doing all that (vague) research, I dived into Smoke and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. Oh, how I wish I read this book when it came out. I would, without a doubt, go crazy. It has all the tropes that tickle my liking!

WARNING: if you haven’t read this book by now, I’m (not) sorry to inform you that there will be spoilers.

Our main character is Alina Starkov, a young and ugly girl with no apparent talents. She is also an orphan, because why not. Let’s make our girl’s life as shitty as possible…
Alina has a best friend Mal with whom she is, of course, stupidly in love with. Mal is talented, a snack and a real hoe. Bardugo, in my opinion, portrays him as an unlikable character of first (maybe that is public knowledge, forgive my narcissistic ass for thinking I’m onto something if that’s the case). Mal is Alina’s close friend from when they were children as they were raised in the same orphanage. However, as much as Alina is in love with Mal, he is completely blind to her. The boy fucks around.

Okay, let’s get to the plot. Our protagonist is a cartography apprentice in the army. She is traveling the country Ravka where they all live. The plan is to get to the Shadow Fold which they have to pass through to get to the True Sea. The problem lies in the fact that the Shadow Fold is literally the scariest place in existence. A couple of hundred years ago there was this madman, The Back Heretic, who decided to wreak havoc a bit and destroyed fertile land creating the Shadow Fold. His plan was to become a tyrannical ruler of the land and take the power away from the King of Ravka. Well, he didn’t really think it through so the people that previously lived there turned into these hellish monsters called volcras. Therefore, his plan kind of flopped. He couldn’t rule a land until he could control or annihilate volcras.

Fast-forward to Alina’s arrival to the city of Kribirsk, the last stop before the Shadow Fold. This is where we first meet the enchanting Grisha. They are people who have special magical gifts. There are a few types of them, which I haven’t really memorized so far, honestly. What I like about this magic system is the fact that there is a power hierarchy within it. This makes them a kingdom inside a kingdom in a way. And all kingdoms must have a king… enter Ben Barnes… no, excuse me, The Darkling! He is a special Grisha, he only wears black and for some reason his power is much greater than that of the other Grisha. A boy to my liking.
Alina’s first contact with The Darkling is when his carriage almost runs her over. As this happens we are told a bit about The Darking himself: there is the possibility he’s evil, cruel, ugly but hot at the same time, and immortal. (Spoiler: all of these turn out to be true).

“The Darkling slumped back in his chair. “Fine,” he said with a weary shrug. “Make me your villain.”

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When the group sets out into the Shadow Fold they are quickly attacked by volcras. Many are killed, but when one tries to kill Mal, Alina goes batshit crazy and turns into a lightbulb. Short synopsis. This act scares the volcras away and they are saved. However, Alina’s life can never be the same. Her newfound power proves she’s Grisha and she must leave with the Darkling to Os Alta, the capital of Rivka. This wouldn’t be a ya fantasy if our protagonist wasn’t a one of a kind and a savior of the world. She turns out to be The Sun Summoner, a Grisha who can with the help of the currently Darkling destroy the Shadow Fold.

The Darkling wastes no time and fetches her immediately. Then, in Os Alta she is thought the Grisha ways and has to master her powers. Also, to make it all a bit spicier, she has a little affair with The Darkling. (And I do too, honestly…)

“The problem with wanting,” he whispered, his mouth trailing along my jaw until it hovered over my lips, “is that it makes us weak.”

And then, just as you think all is going well, all goes to shit instead. I did expect it, however, I didn’t want to expect it. I was so sad when it turned out The Darkling was actually evil.
Since this is the first book I hope there can be some more turns of events that will make The Darkling a bit less evil. Or even better, since I like my evil boy, it would be great if there would be some bigger threat that would unite Alina and The Darkling.

Now, I must admit… even though Mal annoyed me at first, he became my favourite alongside Alina, The Darkling and Genya. I think that when we got to meet Mal more, he stopped being just Alina’s unrequited love. Also, even though I didn’t want to, I do ship Alina and Mal a bit.

Alina is a great character in my opinion. I was surprised I like her since I, unfortunately, find many female protagonists in ya books annoying. But, Alina was interesting, relatable and actually quite likable. I rooted for her.

What I really like about this book is that it is based on Russian mythology and culture. I enjoyed reading about it since I was a child so when I realized this book took from it I was ecstatic.

To conclude this long word vomit. I enjoyed this book a lot. I think I would be obsessed with it if I read it when I was younger, so I’m a bit sorry I didn’t check it out then. But, oh well… who knows. There are five more books to make me obsessed. We shall see what happens.

If you’d like to keep following my journey reading the books from Grishaverse by Leigh Bardugo, I will be posting a review/essay on every one of them. If you have any opinions about this post, any criticism, advice… it is all welcome. Also, if anyone wants to buddy read it with me I would be really glad!

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