YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Shadow and Bone (Shadow and Bone Trilogy #1): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: June 2017 (Originally Published June 5th, 2012)
Number of Pages: 358 Pages
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the trilogy – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

The world is going to know who Leigh Bardugo is as an author, I’m saying that with 100% confidence. She’s already pretty well known amongst avid readers like myself for her YA fantasy books and even her first adult fantasy novel that released back in October 2019, but ever since the announcement of a Grishaverse show coming to Netflix, arguably the most popular streaming service in the world, I was filled with euphoric glee at thinking yet another author I know and love will also become globally known.

I’d learned about Leigh Bardugo initially through her Six of Crows duology, a two-part spin-off from the original Shadow and Bone trilogy about six outcasts who must pull of the heist of the century in order to stop a deadly drug from causing ultimate chaos, and while they throw you right into the middle of the world she’d created without too much time to get too much footing or catch yourself, those books had still resonated so deeply with me based on her expertly crafted plot, her personable and relatable characters, and how well the author writes about mental illness and characters with disabilities. Each character has a richly drawn out tragic backstory that makes you feel like you really know them on a personal level. Romance also doesn’t overtake the main storyline, and has truly one of the most diverse casts of characters a reader will ever meet!

I then turned towards her first set of books and begun reading Shadow and Bone even before the Netflix announcement. Sometimes people like going backyards in terms of a writer’s work, and I’m learning I’m actually not one of those people…I tend to notice things like their craft not being as strong, and it distracts me from enjoying the story. I can’t help it, but it’s just the way I am, not going to apologize for it.

While I enjoyed this book, I did notice a lot more parts of this story that I didn’t like when compared to her later books. It was a strong story for sure, but I noticed there were a lot of clichés that you see in plenty more YA Fantasy titles, which was disappointing. I know for the market of traditional publishing, the companies like to try and have all these aspects included in titles in order to up it’s marketability, but I’ll go more into those clichés later in my review.

Starting with Six of Crows didn’t deter me from too much of her books, they stand by themselves pretty well, but there are references made towards these earlier books for sure that went over my head, and there wasn’t as much told about the Grisha (beings with special abilities) as I’d hoped. Shadow and Bone and it’s two sequels will help fill that void and help readers have a better overall understanding!

What It’s About:

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Map of Ravka, aka: “The World of the Grisha”

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

What I Liked:

  1. The Darkling! He is by far the best character in the whole trilogy so far! I love those moody, brooding, dark demeanor male characters that Leigh Bardugo seems to have in all her books like Kaz Brekker in Six of Crows and Daniel Arlington in Ninth House. The Darkling is the leader of the second army, aka the army of the Grisha. When he learns about Alina and her unique powers with the Unsea and fighting off those wickedly horrendous Volcra, he has her brought to him to be brought to the palace in order to train and help hone in on her craft. He has an air of mystery to him throughout, but once you get past a certain point of the novel, his whole character becomes even more interesting and suddenly I’ve got goosebumps on my skin whenever he appears on the page!
  2. The Russian Influence! Not a whole lot of Fantasy-genre literature in general seems to lean towards Russia as a backdrop or inspiration for their setting! I admit, my only connection to the land of Putin was the beautifully done animated Anastasia movie…so yes, it’s abysmal. The setting of Ravka has some heavy Russian influence which makes these books already stand out more than a lot of the other titles out there. For those looking for something that doesn’t look out of medieval-era Europe or grimmdark Game of Thrones, definitely consider these books!
  3. The Unpredictable Plot! I’m not going to lie, but there were some twists that I truly hadn’t seen coming! It was fun to know the author could surprise me and make the story feel so much more exciting because I didn’t know what to expect to happen next!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. This Is WAY Too Tropey…It honestly felt like I was almost reading from a different author with all the usual YA clichés that this book was filled with! Six of Crows felt like such a more unique and original idea, so I was surprised at what I read in Shadow and Bone! Here we go with the list: We have the “chosen one” trope with Alina (the idea that the main character is the special someone who has extraordinary power to save the world in some way), and she’s also an orphan to add on top of it…Okay Harry Potter…We have it where she goes to an institute/school-like setting to practice her powers, even if it’s a palace…There’s Zoya, who’s the stunningly gorgeous token mean girl who instantly dislikes Alina because she’s a threat and steals her HBIC thunder amongst the other Grisha training…There’s the initial persona of the Darkling, who’s the dark and brooding bad boy who the “innocent and naive” heroine–Alina–can’t help but be attracted to…There’s the love triangle that kind of forms between Alina, Mal and the Darkling (Who will she end up with?!)…Like I said, these are all ideas and concepts we’ve seen before in PLENTY of other YA titles.
  2. He’s Just Not That Into You…I was unattracted to the idea of how Alina was in love with her childhood best-friend, Mal, who was completely clueless her feelings. Over the years, they’d drifted apart because he’d gotten hot, got new friends, and become popular as she’d stayed behind…At a certain point, you just ask her “Girl…what do you see in him?” Personally, I’m way more into the Darkling, but I’m also single, so there’s that…

Conclusion:

Overall, this was a fun beginning to the OG trilogy that started it all for Leigh Bardugo and her Grishaverse! It gives a much more detailed look into the Grisha specifically when compared to Six of Crows, and should be read first for those that like chronological order, hell, even those that prefer publication order too!

While I was disappointed in the amount of clichés that appeared in this first of three books, my love and utter adoration for SoC won’t allow me to write these books off and I for sure plan to keep going on to see what happens next. Unfortunately, since I’d read SoC first, I’m aware of a HUGE spoiler to the Shadow and Bone trilogy, but I’m someone who can enjoy the journey even if I know what ends up happening at the destination.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, Mystery/Thriller, New Adult, Paranormal

My Review: Ninth House (Alex Stern #1): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: October 8th, 2019
Number of Pages: 458 Pages
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Genre(s): New Adult, Paranormal, Thriller, Fantasy

Total Star Rating: 2.5 Stars

For many college students, it’s an incredibly influential time of their lives–I sure as hell know mine was! It’s a time of growth and transformation in many different forms; to trying to cram in study sessions between finals and frat parties, to being away from the parents and making stupid decisions, to signing away parts of your soul on rental agreements and budgeting time and money, to actually putting in an effort at school (for some of us), to allowing ourselves to be more open, exploratory and independent with no shortage of indulging in our urges (in more ways than one).

This adult-level novel from the author of amazing YA series, like Six of Crows and The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, takes her writing to the another level: she gives a detailed and distinguished look at the college lifestyle: the sex, the drugs, how we count sweats and yoga pants as actual clothing, the anxiety and depression, and the violence. Luckily, that last one isn’t as often of a thing as the others, but that doesn’t mean theres a shortage of violence. During my time at school, there were deaths by terrible causes: drug overdose, car accidents, alcohol related, sexual assault, and even a foreign student beaten to death. These sort of themes are what some readers have used to decide that this book is more suited for older readers.

One thing I seem to be growing towards now a days are the urban fantasy works that take the actual world we live in, and kind of throw the rug from underneath us to reveal mythology, magic and lore that has been hidden. In this title, it’s involvement is how the author took the actual secret societies on the Yale campus, and gives them a bigger edge than just being exclusive clubs for the future rich, successful and/or famous future of America. Nope, she makes them secretly able to summon magical, otherworldly powers with potions, rituals, small sacrifices, but also social influence. The one more original part of the story is that a ninth house (Ayyyy, that’s the title!) was formed to watch over the other houses and referee them into staying in order and not exploring too unknown of territory and causing major danger to them and everyone else.

The social commentary that goes along with this books with it’s many dark themes and subject matter make this an actually quite compelling read. In an ivy league school like Yale, class and privilege are VERY present, and the author did not bite her tongue on showing the ease that high class white males on a college campus have an advantage on. It’s something that I’m sure everyone can relate to on some level, because it doesn’t just stop at douchey frat bros. Luckily, the author does not hold back on calling out the various social injustices that still occur on plenty of campuses throughout the country. It’s always a great component of a book when it shows us content that we can relate to as it happens in our actual lives; it makes the book that much more realistic.

Another major theme about this book is like a tribute to anyone who’s survived abuse. It’s dark in terms of subject matter, and I go into it more later on in my review, but the main character has gone through some really heavy shit, like, more shit than anyone should ever have to go through. I swear, the death scenes she’s witnessed would make Tarantino blush. Part of the story is how she wants to heal physically but also mentally and emotionally from her various past traumas. She has her own triggers that she of course has to face head on in order to grow within the story.

What It’s About:

People didn’t need magic to be terrible to each other.”

– Leigh Bardugo, “Ninth House”

This is a story about a girl named Galaxy “Alex” Stern, and how she’d been raised by a hippie mom over in Los Angeles, but now is across the country studying at Yale University. She’s a survivor: she’s experienced all sorts of trauma in her past and after a particularly horrible event, winds up in a hospital bed, and it’s there she meets Dean Sandow and gets accepted into Yale.

The book switched back and forth between Late Spring (present time) and the middle of Winter (the past), with multiple mysteries occurring at once. In Winter, she’s just coming onto the Yale campus and being put her the tutelage of upperclassmen Daniel Arlington, or “Darlington,” while she learns the ropes of being a part of a secret society named Lethe House that watches over the other secret societies of Yale whenever they deal with the occult, the paranormal, etc. They act like a police force, and must attend every secret meeting in order to make sure nothing goes wrong, they stay in line, no one gets hurt or worse…expelled!

Sorry, had to do it!

But their extracurriculars are not supposed to be discovered by anyone, but cut to the present time, and the campus gets rocked by a gruesome murder. Alex arrives on the scene of the crime, and despite doubt from others, she believes one of the secret societies may be behind this crime. She does just about everything in order to try and solve the crime; she even makes a deal with a spirit that only she can see.

There were always excuses for why girls died.

– Leigh bardugo, “Ninth House”

What I Liked:

  1. Exploring the Occult in a New Adult Level Setting! So, I actually consider this title to be more of a “New Adult” reading level than just regular adult, mainly because the main characters are within the age 18-24 range. It’s also not what I normally go for: a paranormal thriller with aspects like the occult, secret Yale societies like Skull and Bones, and witchcraft. The premise sounded interesting, what can I say? I feel like witchcraft in general is making a resurgence as of late in literature, and I only hope it continues to get bigger and bigger! It has major potential for even more original stories to be created!
  2. Daniel Arlington! Easily my favorite character in the whole book so far! Leigh Bardugo is so great at creating those gritty, brooding, aloof male characters that are tall, dark and handsome. Put him right up there with her other characters like Kaz Brekker (from Six of Crows for those that don’t know) and the Darkling (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy). I found him incredibly compelling and interesting to read, but without giving too much away, his presence in the book was also unique. Call me Sharpay Evans via High School Musical 2, but I. WANT. MORE! *snaps fingers*
  3. The Dark & Gritty Subject Matter! Leigh Bardugo admitted at some point that she wanted this book to “fuck us up a little,” and I felt that, I really did! It was refreshing to honestly read something with subject matter that wasn’t afraid to go there, you know? A lot of it is definitely trigger warning material and dark themes that sensitive readers will not like, there’s no doubt about that. BUT, Leigh has informed those who follow her on Twitter about all of it, but here’s a little rundown: it has child abuse, a child that gets raped, drug consumption without consent, PTSD, violence, gore, suicide, drug abuse and overdose, sexual assault, and yeah…someone eats shit. literally…they grab shit out of toilet and eat it. It upsets me that people got offended about this stuff and wanted to try and “cancel” this book, but artists should be able to create from their own experiences as a way of coping, and apparently Leigh has had similar situations in her past (not the eating shit part!). If there’s trigger warnings, pay attention to it if it would upset you and don’t try to ruin it for other people, thanks for coming to my TED talk.
  4. All The Secret Societies Have Secret Powers! I thought it was fun how all the secret societies of Yale (even though they really aren’t all that secret if EVERYONE knows about them) have specific powers that have been around ever since they started up in New Haven. It’s also enjoyable how the author made it seem like it’s been a giant cover-up in American History and they’d actually had a huge influence of the development of the town of New Haven, and Yale itself.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. More Minor Characters Needed Attention… It felt like the only characters who received any sort of attention from the author was Alex Stern and Darlington. They’re good main characters, but there was plenty of minor characters who would’ve been good to add a few more perspectives to the story. I guess I’m kind of comparing this to her Six of Crows books, where we get 6 points of views. It’s not like we need that many for this title, but there are still plenty of more substantial characters in all her books up until now.
  2. Slower Paced Than Expected…This book wasn’t as exciting as I thought it’d be…THERE, I said it! It felt cold, aloof and kind of boring compared to her other titles. I got to about 60% percent into the book before it really started to pick up again, which is way too long of a wait for any sort of novel I’m reading. It just felt like not all that much actually happens while its almost 500 pages long. I think part of it is because the author spent WAY too much time explaining everything that pertained to the occult and witchcraft and maybe relied WAY too much on backstory for almost everything. Maybe she shouldve left a little more up in the air, and maybe saved it for the next book so she could space it out a little more. Still, I am trying give it the benefit of the doubt because of how much I adore her other titles.

Conclusion:

So, to be completely honest, but I found myself quite disappointed with this book. It was one of my most anticipated books of 2019 along with Queen of Nothing by Holly Black, and maybe I hyped it up myself a little too much and put it on some sort of subconscious pedestal because of how much I adored her Six of Crows books.

I wouldn’t say I hated it, but I’ve definitely loved other titles a lot more. I’m kind of in the middle about it. It has a seriously cool sounding premise, the setting at Yale with the emphasis on the secret societies and the occult; I am intrigued enough to want to check out the next title when it releases a year or so from this one’s publication date, but I seriously hope the next installment adds a lot more excitement overall.

I still remain a huge fan of Leigh Bardugo, and her writing is just absolutely magnificent, but I’m just gonna say this isn’t her best work. It’s fine, it’s normal…not every book an author writes that gets published is going to be mind-blowingly amazing! I’ve also just been in an emotional slump lately, and that could also be a part of it, I don’t know…

On a parting note, just make sure you’re in the right mindset whenever you decide to pick this one up! It is incredibly dark on certain themes and plot components, so sensitive readers that get easily triggered may want to keep this one on the shelf for a little bit before picking it up.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell