Books on Blast: “Shadow and Bone”

Behold, a fantasy love triangle featuring Super Sun Woman, Mr. Popular and The E-boy

Graphic+by+Leni+Santos%2FSAC.Media.

Graphic by Leni Santos/SAC.Media.

Ah, to be young and wrapped up in the bliss of getting into a nice, hopelessly romantic book; to swoon over the handsome men of wild fantasies and wish you were as strong as the main protagonist, picking the one they truly love and ultimately winning their affections. Well, those days are over and I had hoped that after the first few chapters of “Shadow and Bone,” I would be getting a little more than that. I was gravely disappointed.

“Shadow and Bone” is the first book in the “Shadow and Bone Trilogy” and serves as an introduction to the “Grishaverse” universe written by Leigh Bardugo. I will give her this: when it comes to worldbuilding, Bardugo knows how to hit plenty of marks in the “Grishaverse.”

It’s a fantasy world filled with magic and monsters where people with special abilities, known as Grisha, are treated as a higher class. It’s one of those worlds that result in you taking an online quiz to find out which order you belong to and what power you might have. There’s a science behind these abilities, and the structure of society seems to be fairly thought out—unlike the main characters and plot within those first three books.

How can a protagonist that’s so powerful be so weak? The event that launches her from her ragged life and into the world of high society is the discovery that she is a Grisha—and one of the most powerful ones in existence at that.

I get that people love a humble character, but this girl’s self-worth is pushed down so low that every time she cries about not fitting in or not being good enough, I lose any empathy I might have had for who should have been a relatable character.

The fact that she’s very plain-looking is frequently poked at by other, mainly female, characters in the book. At the same time, the first-person perspective makes every pretty girl around her seem snobby, flirtatious and ultimately out to steal either of her men.

Of course, despite all this, she gets all the love and attention she could ever hope for from both the hottest boy in her expedition team and the most powerful man in the world.

The straw that really broke this critic’s back, though, was the fact that the main protagonist always chooses the path of “good.” They’re a protagonist; it’s their job to be the good guy, but there’s almost never any real moral debate in the choices she makes.

Maybe you can call me a villain for this—but when it comes to making the choice between a legendary amount of power that would enable her to defeat the big bad or accepting the risk of him getting to that ultimate power first in order to avoid spilling blood, you would think that the choice is obvious. She continuously makes goody-two-shoes choices, and they always backfire on her. Can you blame me for hating a protagonist that’s her own antagonist?

Then there’s the matter of the plot. I can only compare it to a movie that’s based off of a book; it lacks all the substance you were excited for upon its release and ultimately leaves you with far too much frustration and disappointment. While I walked in expecting a fantasy novel powered by a refreshing new take on the world of magic, I got a hormone-fueled fight between “light” and “dark.”

The sad bit of it is that we are still talking about a book and apparent source material for an upcoming new Netflix show. I can only hope that Netflix takes away at least a few of the many cliches in this teen dream, fantasy romance and adds a little more story that goes beyond “this person likes that person” and “big bad plans world domination.”

We have the protagonist from humble beginnings getting sent straight to the top and the handsome best friend who is secretly in love with the protagonist. The fight between good and evil is so blatantly obvious because the author is shameless in naming the two opposing forces The Sun Summoner and The Darkling. There’s a kiss on a moonlit night and a popular girl who hates the main character for pretty much no reason.

Tropes and cliches flood the pages, and I still haven’t recovered from being completely and utterly drowned in them, only to come back and keep reading simply to make an exception for the seductive angst of the book’s main antagonist and secondary love interest.

Let’s face it; the hearts of many teenage Goodreads reviewers bleed for this fictional e-boy called The Darkling, and obviously, I’m one of them.

However, while many of them are swooning over his mysteriousness, what really keeps me reading is the fact that he’s the only character I see with any actual passion. He has ambitions and knows how to get what he wants, even when emotions get involved. Despite how he’s perceived in the world, with everyone fearing him and him setting out to conquer the land, I truly don’t see him as the ultimate evil such as Kronos from the “Percy Jackson” series or even Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War.”

If anything, by the beginning of “Siege and Storm,” the second book in the trilogy, he just seemed like an edgier, slightly more influential Loki.

What didn’t capture the hearts of many Goodreads reviewers for “Shadow and Bone” was the amount of poorly-researched Russian influence found in it. From the not-quite-Russian names and vocabulary to the alcoholic kvas constantly being downed, readers familiar with Russian culture were not happy with Bardugo’s research or lack thereof.

The person named the King references the Tsar, and the creepy priest that hangs by his side is an obvious nod to Rasputin. Personally, I felt a little bit more bothered by the use of “Shu Han” as a name for what’s likely this world’s version of an “Asian” country, but then again Bardugo isn’t the first author to use cultural appropriation in worldbuilding.

At the end of it all, Bardugo’s writing style is fabulously descriptive, and it’s that style that warrants giving at least the first book of the “Shadow and Bone” trilogy a try. It’s good for a quick read, but if you enjoy it enough, I highly recommend that you go straight to “Six of Crows,” one of the newer additions to Bardugo’s “Grishaverse.” The plot is fleshed out, the characters are diverse and you actually care about them. In this book, Bardugo seems to understand the point of taking in constructive criticism, and I have to applaud her for that.