I am reading my way through the 2014 Abraham Lincoln High School Book Award nominees this summer—at least the ones that I plan to put into my middle school library. Thus, I am a little late in coming to Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. So late, in fact, that its sequel Siege and Storm just came out about a week ago. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other people (like me) that have yet to discover it.
Shadow and Bone is a fantasy/adventure that will be enjoyed by middle and high school students alike. In truth, it is a pretty conventional fantasy. Alina, orphaned as a young girl, faces a life-threatening situation and finds out that she has an incredible power within her—she is not only one of the Grisha, the magic “class,” but she is *the* Sun Summoner. This gives the war-torn country of Ravka hope, for Alina is the key to defeating the Fold, a sinister area of darkness in which live the volcra, horrifying flying monsters that attack and devour humans. Complications arrive in the form of the Darkling, leader of the Grisha, who at first seems determined to help Alina defeat the Fold, but then reveals his truly evil aims. Rounding out the story is Mal, Alina’s (only) childhood friend, with whom she has fallen in love. Alina’s newfound powers separates them until, of course, Alina needs Mal most. The reunited pair defeat the Darkling (for now) and finally kiss and set off together in search of, well, the sequel.
While familiar territory, Shadow and Bone stands out to me because of its richly painted world and stunning imagery—because it creates incredible visual effects in the movie my brain plays when I read. Bardugo’s country of Ravka calls up the flavor of traditional Russia. The imposing architecture and opulence of the king’s palace and the Grishas’ Little Palace quarters stand in stark contrast to the bleak landscapes and earthy markets frequented by the rest of Ravka’s inhabitants. While reading, I was compelled to look up pictures of “kefta,” the heavy, commanding robes of the Grisha, who not only have magic but imposing beauty as well. It turns out that the word “kefta” is Bardugo’s creation, but that keftas are a blend of traditional and modern Russian kaftans, as she explains in a guest blog post at Karin’s Book Nook.
More scenes from my brain: the evil in Ravka is palpable. The Fold would be terrifying enough if it had settled over land, but it is over water. Passengers aboard skiffs must float into terrifying darkness and pray not to encounter the volcra with their “milky, sightless eyes” and “gaping mouth[s] crowded with rows of sharp, crooked black teeth.” My mind sees them as a cross between pterodactyls and the Skeksis from Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. And then there’s the Darkling, powerful leader of the Grisha. The Darkling is every smoldering bad boy who ever lived rolled up in one, and he has had centuries to practice his charming coercions. Even as she stands against him, Alina still feels the Darkling’s pull—and so, too, does the reader.
Given its incredible imagery, it is no surprise that Dreamworks has picked up the movie rights to Shadow and Bone, scheduled to be made by Harry Potter producer David Heyman and hit theaters in 2014 or 2015. It is exciting to think of how Bardugo’s vision will be translated into visual and special effects in the film. Remember how frightening the Dementors are? Expect even more from the volcra. Remember the majesty of Hogwarts’ Great Hall? Imagine a touch of fairy-tale Russia added to it for the Grishas’ dining room.
Shadow and Bone got me thinking of other fantasy novels which I would love to see on screen. First and foremost is Clive Barker’s Abarat. Granted, he helps the reader imagine that world with his gorgeous and plentiful paintings. However, there is much in that world that he hasn’t illustrated for us and that my imagination has loved creating. A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz has Tim Burton written all over it when it plays in my mind. Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs, inspired by Han’s Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” would make for an extravagant wintry tale of a film. A quick check of the net has Barker hinting of parties interested in Abarat and a live-action adaptation of A Tale Dark and Grimm, but no inklings of news for Breadcrumbs. No worries, I can always re-watch that one by pulling it off the shelf.