Shadow and Bone: The Grisha Trilogy, Book 1

Book review by
Julie A. Carlson, Common Sense Media
Shadow and Bone: The Grisha Trilogy, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Thrilling, exotic fantasy romance gets pretty violent.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 22 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shadow and Bone is set in a fantasy world with Russian influences -- from names and titles to clothing and locations. Alina is a cartographer's assistant, making maps. The author says that the book's made-up Russian-influenced language uses various Russian roots and suffixes as a basis. She was also inspired by Russian history and imagery to create the unusual and highly imaginative world. Royal court intrigue and politics are also part of the novel.

Positive Messages

Although Shadow and Bone is filled with darkness and despair, there are several positive messages, including staying true to yourself and your beliefs no matter what the cost and the power of friendship and love to heal old and new wounds, particularly in times of need. Trust and loyalty are also themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Alina is a very courageous heroine. She's a best friend and confidant to Mal, a fellow orphan and military comrade. They're inseparable until it's discovered that Alina has a supernatural power to summon the sun. Alina is known as a Grisha and is called to protect her land of Ravka by the Darkling, the powerful leader of the Grisha. Mal is also a positive role model. He's humble and cares for Alina, though he's also quite the ladies' man. 


Alina and Mal fight scary, dragon-like monsters known as volcra that hunger for human flesh and snatch innocent people without warning. One character is brutally injured by the volcra. The Darkling uses his elemental powers to murder people and protect Alina. Several minor characters are killed, including one man who's cut in half. The main characters kill thieves and assassins who cross their paths. At the palace, Alina's cantankerous teacher whacks her with a walking stick. Alina also partakes in combat and weapons training. Magic is used as a power for good but also as a weapon. Animals are killed.


One sexy make-out scene. It's suggested that a servant had an affair with the king.


The insult "stupid," plus "bitch" and "ass."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Minor teen characters drink alcohol and some get drunk. Alina drinks alcohol but doesn't care for it.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shadow and Bone is the first of a planned triology about a brave and strong young woman, Alina Starkov, who's discovered to have special elemental powers. It's set in a fantasy world with Russian-style names, titles, clothing, and locations. The characters -- especially Alina -- face violence, death, and destruction at every turn in a struggle between good and evil. The main characters fight and kill dragon-like monsters, as well as assassins and thieves. The villian called the Darkling uses his magic as a weapon and kills people. One man is cut in half. There's some crude language ("bitch," "ass"); romance involves brief kisses and one heavy make-out scene. Some of the teen characters drink alcohol and get drunk. Animals are killed for food and for sacrifice.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJulie P. December 11, 2020

Amazing book

I read this before allowing my child to read and if I must say so myself, it was pretty good. I don't really think the violence, sex or swearing is as bad... Continue reading
Adult Written byml1801 January 18, 2016
Teen, 16 years old Written byJflores14 August 22, 2015

Dazzling first book is sure to wow teen readers

This book is so so so gooood!!!!! I loved it and read it in one day:) lots of violence and romance to keep both boys and girls interested!
VIOLENCE- (... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byJem445 February 18, 2020

Love it!

Be aware that there is violence, a heavy make-out scene, and some swearing (but never f***).
Can get dark.
A lot of this book may go over a younger kid's... Continue reading

What's the story?

Alina Starkov is happy living as a mapmaker, as long as she has her best friend, Mal, by her side. They've been together through thick and thin since their days at an orphanage. Then one fateful day changes everything for Alina. The Grisha, a group similiar to witches and wizards who rely on the elements to get their power, discover that Alina is one of the most powerful of their kind. She can summon light and take away the darkness. The leader of the Grisha, the Darkling -- a sexy, mysterious man who wields his magic like a deadly weapon -- wants to train and mold Alina so she can learn to harness her power and destroy the Shadow Fold, a place of nightmares where frightening creatures roam. But the Darkling's ulterior motive is to make Alina his own. Alina must learn to trust her instincts and to stay true to herself or pay the price -- with her life.

Is it any good?

Leigh Bardugo is a master at creating an original and breathtaking world. It's not all rainbows and sunshine in Ravka. It's bleak and frightening. SHADOW AND BONE is fast-paced, with shocking twists and turns and a powerful ending that leaves readers anxious for more.

Bardugo's strength lies in her solid characterization, with both major and minor characters questioning the world, their roles in society, and how they fit in. The Darkling is a fascinating character -- a guy you love to hate, but also a guy easy to desire. Some readers may find the book's Russian influences and language a little hard to understand at the beginning, but the story quickly moves forward as various secrets and lies are revealed. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Alina doesn't want to be a Grisha and is pressured into developing her powers. What's the reasoning? What are the possible consequences?

  • How do you think Shadow and Bone compares with other romantic fantasy books? What do you think of the romantic triangle of Alina, Mal, and the Darkling?

  • What are your thoughts on the book's violence? Does it enhance the story, or is it too much?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and romance

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