Shadow and Bone (Leigh Bardugo) – Throwback 10

Young adult fantasy has been big business over the last few decades, with more and more books released that are designed to appeal to teens desires for love triangles, powerful heroes learning to overcome their issues, and corrupt leaders and institutions to rage against. It’s the kind of coming-of-age power fantasy that appeals to a lot of people, even those outside of the YA age bracket. But with so many books on offer it can be hard to know which ones are going to be worth your time reading as there’s just not enough time in the world to read them all. One that might be worth trying is Shadow and Bone, which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Shadow and Bone is set in the 19th century Russian inspired kingdom of Revka, a hard and harsh place where the kingdom is cut in half by the Shadow Fold, a mass of pure darkness that has taken over part of Revka. Filled with monsters and other abominations, the Shadow Fold can only be crossed by sandskiffs, large ships that glide over the barren sands. It’s on one of these skiffs that we meet the protagonist of the story, Alina. Alina grew up in an orphanage with her best friend Mal, and together the two of them are crossing the Shadow Fold as crew on one of the skiffs.

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During the journey across, their ship comes under attack from volcra, monstrous bat-like creatures that feast on human flesh. Whilst battling off the horde of creatures Alina unleashes a power she wasn’t aware she had, forcing the monsters back with light. This ability marks Alina as one of the Grisha, a group of people who are able to manipulate the elements to use as weapons. Alina is approached by the Darkling, the leader of the Grisha, who tells her that her power is unique, and that it can make her a target. Agreeing to travel to the capital with the Darkling, Alina’s life will forever change as she learns more about her powers, and finds herself in a fight for the fate of the whole of Revka.

If you’re familiar with young adult literature I think that there’s a good chance you’ll feel quite at home with Shadow and Bone. The book goes through a very recognisable formula, and incorporates a number of popular tropes; however, it gives just enough new and interesting things to make it stand out from the other fantasy fare of the time.

The biggest thing that makes this book, and the subsequent series of novels that would follow it, stand out is the setting. Leigh Bardugo herself has called the books Tsarpuk, having taken a great deal of inspiration from 19th century Russia. Not long after the book was released Bardugo said in an interview that “There’s tremendous power in the images we associate with Russian culture and history, these extremes of beauty and brutality that lend themselves to fantasy. And honestly, as much as I love broadswords and flagons of ale—and believe me, I do—I wanted to take readers someplace a little different. Tsarist Russia gave me a different point of departure.” And she’s got a great point. With so many other fantasy stories going in on European inspired history and the swords and sorcery imagery, having something that’s instantly so different helped Shadow and Bone to stand out amongst its competitors and grab readers’ attention.

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The world that Bardugo created, dubbed the Grishaverse, proved to be different enough to grab the attention of publishers, with Bardugo going from getting an agent to being offered a three book deal by Macmillan in less than 40 days; something that is frankly phenomenal in the publishing world. When the book was released it became an instant hit with readers, proving that perhaps it wasn’t just pure luck, but someone hitting on the perfect story and setting at the perfect time. The book received numerous award nominations, and even reached #8 on the New York Times Best Seller List. As time has progressed Bardugo and the Grishaverse have received even more praise, awards, and accolades.

One of the biggest developments for the series, however, came when the rights to adapt the book were picked up. Despite being picked up by Dreamworks a few months after release, with the announcement that it would be made into a film, little was done until 2019, where Netflix ordered an eight episode series based upon the first book. The series adapted the events of the first novel, as well as adding a new story-line that includes characters from Bardugo’s later additions to the Grishaverse, Six of Crows.

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The Netflix series, released in 2021, received positive reviews from critics and casual audiences new to the series, as well as long-time fans who not only liked the adaptation, but appreciated the inclusion of other elements in the Grishaverse. A second season of the show has been announced, but has not yet been released. The popularity of the show increased popularity for the books, and with new editions published, Shadow and Bone found a new audience as people picked up the book after seeing the series.

With several books in the series and a hit television show, Shadow and Bone has proved to be a popular new fantasy series; one that has caught audience imaginations and delighted readers for the past decade. With the book celebrating its tenth anniversary now might be the perfect time to try it out.

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