I know there are a million reviews for this book. I’m pretty sure EVERYONE read it last year, and everyone bought the sequel last week. So reviewing it would be pretty redundant. But I thought it would be fun to go through and parse it from a writer perspective. Most of the fantasy writers I run into are writing for Young Adult these days, and this is a Young Adult Epic Fantasy Series that is TOTALLY taking YA Fantasy by storm. I want to point out just a few things that the first book in the series really hit on the head.
Opening Hook Includes Massive Worldbuilding Without Info-Dump
I read the first four chapters multiple times. They were masterful– masterful, I tell you! The Shadow Fold, the Volcra, the Unsea, all of it is introduced cleanly through action. We get a clear picture of the setting and the forces at work, as well as most of the characters that will be in play for the entire novel.
The Important Characters Are Dealt
There are often so many characters in fantasy, we want to introduce them all at once. In SHADOW AND BONE, all of the main characters are put in play right at the beginning, but Bardugo also made it obvious which people we really need to pay attention to, and whom can fall by the wayside. There aren’t a bunch of confusing extras. We meet the main character, Alina, the love interest, Mal, and the villain (in fine, dark form), The Darkling. All the other characters that are introduced later are great, but the reader understands that they aren’t front and center, at least not in the first book. (This requires more effort when you have multiple POVs, but it’s not impossible.)
Action That Pulls Us In, Mystery That Keeps Us Reading
By the end of these first 75 pages, our main character has just escaped grave danger, is torn from the boy she just might love, and set out on a mission that may lead to destruction. We learn that Mal and Alina have deep devotion to one another and want to keep each other safe, but other than that, we’re left to guess at where their relationship may be headed. We also have no idea what the Darkling may be up to, and whether he is good or bad at the core.
As The Quest Changes, So Does The Main Character
As the story progresses and Alina discovers more about Ravka’s history and what is expected of her, her goals change multiple times. She grows with each new revelation, learns how to adapt and how to succeed. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if your main character is likeable or learns from their mistakes, but there must be growth while remaining consistent. Bardugo did this perfectly.
Happy Ending, With Danger Lurking
So many times I get to the end of a book and find it tied up with a pretty little bow. In a series, you just can’t do that. There must be a perfect balance of satisfactory close with enough bad stuff about to hit the fan that we are afraid for the characters and MUST keep reading. Not going to spoil the end, just in case some of you haven’t read it, but seriously. Go read it. Then you can see what I mean about all the things this book did right. And of course, then you can buy SEIGE AND STORM!
— Rachel O’Laughlin