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‘Shadow And Bone’ Plot Summary, Explained: What Does Leigh Bardugo’s Adult Fantasy Novel Hold For You?

The young adult fantasy novel “Shadow and Bone” is authored by Leigh Bardugo and was published in 2012. Bardugo’s debut novel is the first book in the “Grisha Verse” and is followed by “Siege and Storm” and “Ruin and Rising” in the trilogy. This New York Times bestseller acts as the perfect prelude to the vast and intriguing universe that Bardugo later goes on to create. The Shadow and Bone trilogy is the first series in the Grishaverse; it is followed by the “Six of Crows” duology and finally the “King of Scars” duology.

Spoilers Ahead

‘Shadow And Bone’ Book Plot And Summary: What Is The Story About?

Leigh Bardugo structures her plot with a before, a present, and an after. The Before introduces the readers to “the boy” and “the girl,” two orphans who belong to a land named Ravka. The boy, Malyen Oretsev, and the girl Alina Starkov had grown up in their benefactor, the Duke’s estate in Keramzin (converted into an orphanage), under the supervision of the housekeeper Ana Kuya. Bardugo wastes no time and immediately introduces the reader to Grishas. The conversation between Ana Suya and the ‘Grisha Examiners’, who come in to check the young Mal and Alina, tells us that Grishas are ‘special’ individuals who have the caliber to control the elements.

The story unfolds through the first-person narrative of Alina Starkov. Alina has grown up to be a junior cartographer, and Mal is an expert tracker. The plot begins with the two of them accompanying the troops, the regiments, and Grishas as they journey toward the Shadow Fold, which is also known as the Unsea. The Shadow Fold is believed to be an ominous stretch of land that separates Ravka from the outside world. Bardugo keeps her narrative pacy as well as explicative, and within the first few pages, the readers get a detailed idea of the Grisha structure—its sects, powers, divisions, and controls.

The Grishas are the proud elites of Ravkan society. They are boastful of the power they are bestowed with, the power of “small science,” wherein they can control and influence earthly matters and elements. Divided into three orders, the Grishas fall under Corporalki (orders of the living or the dead), consisting of healers and heart renders; Materialki (order of the Fabrikators) consisting of the Durasts and the Alkemi; and finally, Etherialki (order of the summoners) consisting of Infermi, Squallers, and Tidemakers. However, commanding all the Grisha Orders is the Darkling, the most powerful and most dreaded of all Grishas.

While Bardugo meticulously creates a Tsarpunk universe of its own, a world inspired by early 19th-century Russian history and culture, she pays equal attention to developing the character arc of the protagonist, Alina Starkov. Alina’s character grows with the progressing narrative. At the beginning of the novel, we see Alina as a plain, conscious, unattractive, and almost sickly girl. She is secretly infatuated with the attractive and popular Mal, her childhood best friend. However, Alina’s fear of losing the bond doesn’t allow her to confess her true feelings. Before entering the Shadow Fold, Alina has a simple plan: pass through West Ravka and enter the True Sea for the first time, and while Mal and other trackers would be hunting wild and exotic creatures, she would complete her training as a cartographer, documenting new discoveries and findings, and finally return home. But things take a drastic turn, and Alina’s life changes forever.

Soon the Ravkans take off on their expedition to cross the Unsea and bring goods back from the other side of the Fold. But the fleet of skiffs soon faces an attack from the Volcra. In spite of the presence of the trained Grisha army—the Etherealkis and the Squallers—they were no match against the innumerable winged monsters hovering over the skiffs. Among the many victims who had fallen prey to the Volcra attack was Alexie, Alina’s fellow cartographer. The horror only increased for Alina when Mal was brutally wounded by one of the Volcra while trying to protect her. This turned out to be a major turning point in Alina’s life. Something shifted inside her. The helplessness and hopelessness of seeing her closest and only companion battle death made Alina do something she herself had no control over. As the volcano closed in on Mal and Alina, a white beam of light erupted from her, almost like the blazing sun itself. The volcras disbanded immediately, and the fleet of skiffs was directed back to Ravka.

On their return, we get the first encounter between the Darkling and Alina, which turns out to be tense and dramatic, something that holds strong throughout their affiliation. Unaware of the uncanny incident she had involuntarily conjured up, Alina is perplexed when brought in front of the Darkling and was asked to give an explanation. In what feels like a trail, she soon realizes the order of events that have occurred. However, Alina’s shock and surprise do not end yet; the true revelation takes place when, through his magic, the Darkling demonstrates that Alina is indeed the Sun Summoner—one who can call on the light. The Darkling soon takes charge of Alina’s life, much against her will. An armed entourage is formed to escort the newly found Sun Summoner to the capital city of Os Alta. It is during this journey that Alina gets a glimpse of the Darkling’s powers when he saves her from the attacks of the Fjerdan (Ravkan enemies) assassins. She also gets to know more about the Darkling as he attempts to satisfy her curiosity. The one-hundred-and-twenty-year-old Darkling explains to Alina the mannerisms of Grisha power, Ravkan politics, and his ultimate purpose. The Grishas are ill-treated, tortured, and even killed by the neighboring countries; it is under the leadership of the Darkling that the Grishas have found a peaceful way of survival in Ravka. However, there is more to the Darkling than being just a leader; he is the descendant of the Black Heretic, a Darkling who was responsible for creating the Shadow Fold in the first place. Therefore, the Darkling has taken it upon himself to right the wrong done by his great-great-great grandfather, and for his plan to work, the Sun Summoner plays a key role. He asks Alina to help him eradicate the Shadow Fold completely.

The new phase in Alina’s life begins as she enters Os Alta. As she slowly lets go of her old timid self and embraces her role as the Sun Summoner, Alina gets accustomed to the Grisha politics at play inside the King’sKing’s court. During her stay at the Little Palace, Alina meets Genya, the Grisha Tailor, who makes subtle changes in her physical attributes in order to present her to KingKing. They gradually become good friends, and Alina acquires a deeper knowledge of the ways of the order in the capital. Genya tells her how she is forbidden from working for anyone other than the Queen and hence makes Alina promise to keep her “beautifying” process a secret. Soon it will be time for the Sun Summoner to be brought before the King, and with assistance from the Darkling Alina, she will successfully please the King. After the King’s approval, the Darkling commands Genya to make arrangements for Alina’s kefta fitting. The kefta is a uniform worn by the Grishas; however, the color of the kefta holds great significance, for it differentiates ranks and statuses: blue for the Etherealkis, red for the Corporalkis, purple for the Materialkis, white (like Genya’s) for the ones serving in the King’s Grand Palace, and finally black, which is the Darkling’s color. To everyone’s surprise, the Darkling provides a black kefta for Alina, but the surprise soon changes into shock when Alina disagrees to wear black for the fear of being the center of attention. Therefore, Alina’s kefta changes from black to midnight blue. After deciding on her uniform, Genya takes her on a tour of the Little Palace, where she visits the Fabrikators and also gets a glimpse of the Darkling’s library.

The real struggle of Alina begins when she starts her combat training as well as her sessions with Baghra. Like the Darkling, Baghra is also a living amplifier. Along with her training lessons, Alina also had to catch up on her readings about Grisha history. It is during one such reading session in the library that Alina meets the advisor to the KingKing, He informs Alina how people were building altars in her honour and putting their hope in her. This makes her immensely conscious of the powers within her, and for the first time, she realizes the responsibility she has to meet. However, in the middle of all this, Alina does not let go of the thought of Mal. She keeps writing letters to Mal, which receive no answers; later, with Genya’s help, she gets to know that Mal was in Tsibeya and was in search of the Morozova herd. The antlers from the stag belonging to the Morozova herd were believed to be the most powerful amplifier. Although thought to be a myth by many, including Baghra, the Darkling is adamant about finding the Morozova herd and leaves no stone unturned to do so.

The pressure of the combat training, her failure to summon her powers, and the lack of response from Mal get on to Alina, and she has an outburst in front of Baghra. It takes her back to her days in the orphanage and the day of the Grisha examination, when she had suppressed her powers in order to be with Mal. The moment of realization finally allows Alina to embrace her powers, and for the first time, she experiences the potential of the Sun Summoner. Gradually, Alina’s combat training and lessons with Baghra ease out as she slowly accepts her new self as the Sun Summoner. After one such session with Baghra, while Alina was returning to the palace, the Darkling caught hold of her and asked her whether she trusted him to find the stag or not. The moment escalates, and the Darkling ends up kissing her.

The climax of the narrative reaches its peak during the fete, where the Grishas were called on to put on a performance for the distinguished royal guests in the King’sKing’s court. Alina finally accepts the Darklings’ colors and wears black for her performance in the fete. They put on a spectacle for the audience. The Darkling and the Sun Summoner’s powers complement each other and create a show of light and shadow. Basking in the glory of their performance, the two end up sharing a passionate moment in the Darkling’s room. However, the story takes a dramatic turn when Alina meets Mal on her way back to the party. The two end up having a heated conversation as the pent-up emotions and grudges come up, and Mal ends up leaving the crying Alina. We also get to know that it was Mal’s tracker group that had spotted the Morozova herd. The intensity further escalates when Baghra visits Alina. She reveals to her the dark truth of the Darkling—that the Black Heretic is none other than the Darkling himself. He was the one to create the shadow fold. Baghra goes on to say that she is the mother of the Darkling and is well aware of her son’s sinister plan. The Darkling does not want to destroy the Shadow Fold; instead, he plans to expand it with the help of the Sun Summoner and be the sole controller of it.

The final section of the story narrates how Alina tries to escape from the grasp of the Darkling. After getting to know the Darkling’s true motivation, Alina runs away from the palace and the capital city. While trying to escape from one of the soldiers, she falls down a stream, only to realize later that Mal had been tracking her. The two reconcile, and Alina informs Mal about the Darkling’s true motivation. They plan to find the stag and get hold of the antlers before the Darkling does, so that Alina is powerful enough to fight against his dark powers. What follows is an intense chase and run between the two orphans and the Darkling’s guards. Alina and Mal reach further north as they keep tracking the stag, and during one of their camps, Alina makes Mal promise that if they are caught by the Darkling’s men, Mal should kill her first rather than letting her be captured and controlled by the Darkling. To this, Mal succumbs and promises to do so. During one of the nights when they think they are close to finding the Morozova stag, Mal discloses to Alina that two of his fellow trackers and friends, Mikhael and Dubrov, had been killed by the Fjerdans while they were out tracking the Morozova herd. Mal also ends up confessing his love to Alina, and they kiss for the first time. Soon after, the Morozova stag comes into view.

Just when Mal gets ready to kill the stag and get the antlers for Alina, she stops him. Her instinct does not allow her to kill the stag. However, within a matter of seconds, the Darkling shows up and kills the stag. Although the Sun Summoner puts up a fair fight to protect herself and Mal from the dark powers, the Darkling easily defeats her. Mal fails to keep his promise of killing Alina, and the both of them are held captive by the Darkling. One of the Fabrikators makes a crown out of the antlers, and the Darkling goes on to place the antler on Alina’s collar bones as they melt into her. The collar and she becomes one. Alina has now become the Darkling’s puppet. It was time for the Darkling to put his ultimate plan into action. He had gathered all the ambassadors from the neighboring countries to cross the Fold and witness the Sun Summoner’s powers. As the fleet of skiffs enters the Fold along with the Grisha army, along with Alina and the captive Mal, the volcras attack immediately. However, this time the Darkling commands Alina’s powers and steers the monsters away. Just as the fleet is about to reach the True Sea and finally cross the Shadow Fold, the Darkling does the unimaginable: he manipulates the Sun Summoner’s powers and combines them with his own to further spread the Fold. In the process, he kills hundreds of innocent villagers. The ambassadors are threatened by the Darkling to follow and bow to him, or else they would suffer the same fate. However, it is when Alina sees Mal being fed to the volcras that she remembers the repetitive dreams of the stag that she had been having in the past few days. She finally realizes the purpose, and this time she successfully gains full control of her powers, breaking from the shackles of the Darkling.

Alina calls on the Grishas on board to stand against the Darkling now that his true nature has been revealed. However, the fear of the Darkling’s wrath stops them from doing so. In a desperate attempt to protect Mal from the monsters, Alina jumps from the boat, and once she is sure of Mal’s safety, the Sun Summoner does what needs to be done. She practices the cut, a tactic she had first seen the Darkling perform on a Fjerdan assassin. She cuts the boat in half and flees with Mal towards the west of Ravka.

Leigh Bardugo ends her first book of the trilogy with a cliffhanger. What happens to the Darkling? What is in store for the people of Ravka? Will the Sun Summoner be worthy of the altars that are being built for her? These very many questions are answered by Bardugo in the next two installments of the trilogy- “Siege and Storm” and “Ruin and Rising.”

See more: ‘The Family Remains’ Summary And Themes, Explained: Trauma And Violence Define Lisa Jewell’s Latest Read

Farhana Tasnim
Farhana Tasnim
Farhana Tasnim is a Ph.D. scholar pursuing her degree in English literature. She has previously worked as a content writer. Farhana has always been an avid reader. Reading books across genres, analyzing them, and learning from them is how she likes to spend her time mostly.