Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone is a fantastic exploration into, “second-world” literature that is both compellingly universal and creatively unique. This fantasy genre text upholds the literary convention of the, “high fantasy” sub-genre through the narrative invention of the parallel world of, “Ravka.” The text also skillfully interweaves conventions of the, “young adult,” or YA genre by including a female protagonist whose character arc follows the trajectory of a coming-of-age tale. The author masterfully builds the second-world of, “Ravka” by creating a concise visualization of this fantastic realm through the spectacular prose. The text’s pacing remains true to a steady rhythm that engages the reader until the end, while also keeping the reader in a space of suspense and anticipation for the remaining novels in the trilogy. The text’s characterizations are uniquely vivid and universally relatable, creating an other-worldliness that is neither alienating nor polarizing.
The narration remains localized to the realm of, “Ravka”, allowing the reader to easily visualize the, “high fantasy” characteristics of this parallel world. In order to supplant the reader’s visual experience, the paratextual material includes the option of referring to a detailed map of, “Ravka” located in the beginning pages of the novel. This map is a fantastic visual guide to the second-world of, “Ravka” and acts an immediate source of reference for literary world-building information such as locations and environment. Russia is a conscious cultural touchstone for the second-world of, “Ravka” and the narrative easily translates between Russia’s historic influences and the author’s fantastic inventions.
Shadow and Bone’s textual tone is mystically dark while remaining true to the other-worldly visual atmosphere of, “high fantasy”. The paratextual material aptly portrays a fantasy driven atmosphere within the narrative of the novel and includes outwardly visual characteristics of the supernatural as well as cultural exoticism. Based on appearances, the target audience for this novel is ultimately universal, but from a more specific perspective the target audience aligns with that of the YA genre, which markets to young adults.
The narrator’s strength of voice follows the same trajectory as the protagonist’s character arc, becoming increasingly more powerful as the narration progresses. The narratorial pace skillfully controls the rhythmic flow of information, allowing the reader to remain in the fantasy realm of, “Ravka” while creating connections to relatable references in reality.
Alina Starkov is the narrator of the main text, placing a female protagonist in the privileged position of setting the tone of temporality and securing the scope of knowledge. The author’s choice of narratorial voice portrays a strong and virtuous young woman who grows up with humble roots but still goes on to perform heroic acts. Staying true to the YA genre, Alina’s age-appropriate perspective guides the narrative, giving the reader a glimpse into her seemingly relatable but magically extraordinary existence.
Shadow and Bone‘s narration follows the coming-of-age tale of the protagonist, Alina, who begins as an, “underdog” but eventually discovers her true identity as a, “Grisha” as well as her unique power as the one-and-only, “Sun Summoner”. Alina’s character arc follows a typical YA genre protagonist trajectory but the author also includes unique aspects of the, “high fantasy” sub-genre. In an age-appropriate fashion, the first obstacle Alina faces is overcoming her personal battles and internal struggles. The inciting incident that sets up this first obstacle is a scene in which the protagonist accidentally and unknowingly channels her unique power. This incident causes a spectacular scene and draws the unfortunate attention of the, “Darkling”, who subsequently seizes Alina into his custody. The, “Darkling” then puts on a guise of charm and explains to Alina that she is from the magical order of humanity known as the, “Grisha”. After learning the aforementioned, Alina is half-persuaded and half-forced to go on to become the ruler of her internal world by mastering the command of her magical powers. Like the other, “Grisha”, Alina enrolls in a regimental schedule that combines combat training with cultural education. Unlike the other, “Grisha”, however, Alina learns she is the only creature blessed with the power to overcome the antagonistic forces of injustice and oppression as well as the ability to save, “Ravka” and all of humanity. During her grueling, “magic-channelling” training, Alina begins to get a glimpse into the, “Darkling’s” true colors. In due time, Alina experiences disillusionment upon hearing word of his salacious desires and his will to conquer the realm of, “Ravka” by expanding the, “Shadowfold”. Alina’s only remaining option is to independently master the ability of her unique power to prepare for the ultimate challenge of overthrowing the power struggle between herself and the, “Darkling”.
The protagonist’s character arc follows a typical YA genre trajectory with the inclusion of a battle over internal struggles that must first occur before the protagonist can become an adult who is free of selfish and childish desires. This particular text’s dual classification as both a YA genre and a, “high fantasy” sub-genre narrative, highlights the author’s magical enhancement of the conventional protagonists’ character arc trajectory with the inclusion of a powerful female narrator and a parallel Russian universe. Not only does Alina have to overcome age-appropriate struggles like all YA protagonist’s, but she must also harness her unique powers in order to save the entirety of the narrative’s, “high fantasy” second-world.
In the event that the aforementioned nine hundred or so words does not completely convince you to read this YA-meets-high fantasy novel or fails to even pique your curious interest in the narrative, then please consider this brief treatment of the text: Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone is a magical recipe for a textual spell that calls for one-part The Lord of the Rings, one-part Harry Potter, three-parts feminine power, and a dash of Russian spice. Enjoy!