Shadow and Bone
For a recent trip by plane, I was glad to have all three of Leigh Bardugo’s novels that tell the Russian-flavored fantasy tale of Alina Starkov, who finds out that she is a “Grisha,” someone who can do magic. The first of these is Shadow and Bone. In it, Alina finds that she can make light, but she is attracted to the power of one who can make darkness, and the results of her actions in the trilogy are predictable but entertaining, as she learns to use her power while honoring her alliances.
The plane ride was only an hour, which is about how long each book took and how long my (direct) (this is rare!) flight was from Columbus to Raleigh-Durham, NC, so I had another book to read at the motel where I had a pisgah view of the pool in August—it was filled with water, but closed and surrounded by dirt and equipment. This was the trip I took to help Eleanor move, as Ron made the four-day drive with her from Tucson, AZ to Chapel Hill, NC and then had to fly back as soon as they arrived because he had a “retreat” at work that he couldn’t miss (and then he spent the rest of the week dealing with what I hadn’t been able to get cleared away from the tree falling on our deck and part of the roof in the one day I was home after it happened).
Did I tell you that a tree fell on our deck while Ron was gone? Walker and I were in the part of the house nearest where it fell. We heard it falling—a very big noise—and I froze. I should have run to the farther part of the house, but it sounded like it was coming down all around, and my intellect was not in charge of my body for those few moments. The trunk smashed up some benches and outside furniture, and it made a hole in the roof above Walker’s room (where he was when it fell) and tore off the gutter, but we were pretty lucky. Part of the reason it didn’t do more damage to the house is that it fell on the electric line, which is suspended among the trees in the woods in back of our house. When the trunk fell, it was caught by the line for a moment, and then it smashed the pole and the transformer, which burned on the ground and sent arcs up the wires in back of the house (this was at 10 pm). The fire department came, and the electric company, who just shook their heads and said they would be back to see about it in the morning. The next morning, the tree company came at the behest of the electric company and refused to take down the other two enormous trunks of the tree, which they told me is rotten at the heart and will eventually fall on the electric line. Instead, they trimmed an oak so it had no leaves, and left it lying all over the ground. Ron hired a different tree company to come and haul away the fallen trunk, but he and a friend who wants firewood have been trying to chop up the oak pieces on the ground. We may eventually have to hire the tree company to come back. In the meantime, though, we had an expensive plumbing emergency (it’s an older house), so we’re leaving things alone for a while.
One of the things I liked most about Shadow and Bone is the way it creates an entire culture, complete with mythical creatures. I had to look some of them up, because it’s not clear which are mythical only in the fiction and which are mythical in our world, too. There is “Morozova’s herd,” for instance, which is a herd of magical white deer that appear only at twilight, and they are compared to “unicorns and the Shu Han dragons.”
In the second book, Siege and Storm, they go hunting the firebird, and Alina learns more about the effort it takes her opponent, the “Darkling,” to create monsters called “nichevo’ya,” which he makes using “Merzost,” described as “a corruption of the making at the heart of the world.”
In the third book, Ruin and Rising, they try to discover the secrets of an early Grisha named Morozova without uncovering the forbidden mysteries that led to his destruction:
“He’d killed animals and then brought them back to life, sometimes repeatedly, delving deeper into merzost, creation, the power of life over death, trying to find a way to create amplifiers that might be used together. It was forbidden power, but I knew its temptation, and I shuddered to think that pursuing it might have driven him mad.”
There’s a delightfully smart and adventurous prince named Nikolai who keeps turning up to help save Alina until it’s her turn to save him and her country. I love the scene where she is trapped at gunpoint by Luchenko’s gang and one of them mentions the prince:
“’I saw the prince when I was in Os Alta,’ said Ekaterina. ‘He’s not bad looking.”
‘Not bad looking?’ said another voice. ‘He’s damnably handsome.’
Luchenko scowled. ‘Since when—‘
‘Brave in battle, smart as a whip.’ Now the voice seemed to be coming from above us. Luchenko craned his neck, peering into the trees. ‘An excellent dancer,’ said the voice. ‘Oh, and an even better shot.’
Nikolai then shoots all the bad guys, of course, and swings down from the trees.
The end of all three books has to do with Morozova’s use of “Merzost” to bring back his daughter:
“It wasn’t healing. It was resurrection.”
His actions have far-flung consequences, into succeeding generations. Only Alina, in the end, can disperse his power so that her country and everyone still living who she cares about can be saved.
It’s a good adventure, wrapped up nicely. Just the thing to read while traveling to set up a daughter’s new life and trying to get your own back on track.