FIRST THOUGHTS: It’s midnight and I read the last 7 chapters feverishly in one go and my eyelids are dropping. But like, it’s good. Really good. I liked it enough that I’m giving Shadow and Bone a THIRD chance. It’s that good.
NEXT MORNING THOUGHTS: A lot of people I’ve seen have said this book was slow, which made me a bit leery going into it. And I guess, in some ways it is ‘slow’. If by slow you mean creeping. If by slow you mean gripping. If by slow you mean packed with tension. I get that the pace will deter some people, but it was one of my favorite things about the book.
One of the first things I should say before going further with the review is that this book will not be for everyone. READ THE CONTENT WARNINGS! I’ll repeat some of the biggest ones I can remember here: CW for rape, underage rape, sexual assault, drug use, addiction, self-harm, gore. These things are displayed and discussed very explicitly so please be cautious when going into this book.
The first book this put me in mind of was a more paranormal, culty version of Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places Despite the content warnings above I still don’t think this book was quite as horrific as that one, but it contained the same lush, dark, disturbing prose, occult/horror focus, and chilling atmosphere.
Galaxy “Alex” Stern is one of the most remarkable, raw, heart-breakingly real protagonists I have read in a long time. She is a badass and a survivor to her core. I found myself wanting to get up and cheer for her at times, and other times just wanting pull a Dawes and fix her a hot meal and give her a hug. None of the other characters quite lived up to her in my mind but frankly that’s what you want out of your protagonist. That also doesn’t mean I didn’t fall in love with the others: the gentleman knight Darlington, the shy, awkward, and courageous Dawes, the complicated but morally ironclad Detective Turner. Even the minor characters, such as Alex’s roommates, added a realness and complexity to the narrative. As someone who attended a small liberal arts college in New England as well, many of the side characters were at times both refreshingly and disgustingly real. The same goes for the atmosphere, events, and character of the college itself.
The world-building was also stunning. The depth of thought that went into not only the nine houses but also the city of New Haven was incredible. I’ve been to New Haven a few times but am not familiar with the city or with Yale, so the way Bardugo brought the campus and the town alive for me was impressive.
My one small quibble was that I felt like we didn’t get enough Darlington POV. Bardugo still did a remarkable job of getting me to care about the character but, the shift to Alex-only POVs was jarring, and I wish we’d had a little more time to spend with Darlington’s voice before he vanished. Even so, I feel like this will be rectified in further books.
I want to invent a time machine just so I can travel into the future and read the next book. As any good series opening should, the ending left me starving for more.