3 Things About This Book
| Flat Characters | Typical YA Tropes Circa 2010 | Lack of Care for the Culture That “Heavily Inspired” the Book |
It’s been 10 years since Shadow and Bone was first published, and well, the content certainly speaks of its age. Littered with generic themes and tropes, two-dimensional characters and a drama-filled love triangle, Shadow and Bone is your typical YA book circa 2010. Seriously, if you needed a book that embodies practically all mainstream YA books of that era, this is the one. I flashbacked to practically every book within the same genre I had read around that period.
Let’s start with the themes and tropes: your bland Good VS Evil with no greyness, your rigid Light VS Dark (looks like you’ve been forgotten again, Dawn and Twilight), your cookie-cutter “Chosen One” trying to find their own identity while struggling as the Special Snowflake who’s been cleansed from supposed muddy, humble roots. I know it’s difficult to write something new and I don’t expect that at all, but what makes a book different despite the similar themes, is the execution. It’s the emotions, the way the characters are alive and how, despite reading this story so many times already, this version still has an impact because these characters are the ones who leave that impact. Sadly, this isn’t the case here.
Alina is your not-conventionally-pretty-but-actually-is “Chosen One” who’s also the owner of one single brain cell that doesn’t even multiply. Mal is the childhood friend and first crush who’s also a possessive, toxic bundle of insecurities. Darkling acts as your typical manipulative, power-grabbing villain whose main flavours are abusive and sexually aggressive (and, he’s also toxic!!). These are the stars of Shadow and Bone‘s complete mess of a love triangle. I’m never convinced by Alina’s “love” for Mal because of how she’s made breathless by Darkling at the next moment, but I’m definitely convinced by Alina’s lust for Darkling because she goes back to moping over Mal’s lack of attention for her right after.
Outside of the love triangle, the characters don’t stand well on their own. They don’t really change or contradict themselves, their complexities are practically zero which makes them flat. They’re simply there as devices to move the story forward to the next plot point, and that’s it! Though, I do like Alina’s moment at the end of the book. She was so ornamental for the majority of Shadow and Bone that that scene was her only flash of three-dimensional character potential for me.
While the author’s writing makes Shadow and Bone an easy read, I couldn’t appreciate the very apparent lack of care for the culture that heavily inspired the book. I’m not an expert in cultures, but I think it is only polite to treat every culture with respect and if you’re going to use a lot of elements from it instead of properly making up most of it, then it should be done with care and respect. It’s fine if some words are wrong (it’d be unrealistic to be an expert in the language when you’ve not learnt it or spoken it), but the most basic thing like names should never be mistaken.
Honestly, had I read Shadow and Bone earlier, back when it was first published, maybe I would’ve liked it more. But, right now, as my present self who has grown and read amazing YA fantasies where they dive deeper into themes, respect the culture they’ve been inspired from and have incredibly human-like characters, reading Shadow and Bone has shown me that I shouldn’t wait for time to ungracefully age hyped books. Nevertheless, I know that Bardugo has grown as a writer with her newer books and I’m excited to dive into those.