Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
This was our ‘book-of-the-month’ for one of my book clubs, Saturday Night Out for Book Geeks. We are also very grateful to Pansing Books for providing us with free copies of the novel. Check out a few of my fellow book-geeks holding up their own copies of the novel.
The group had polarized views about the novel. I made no secret of the fact that I enjoyed reading this book; in fact the entire series made my best fantasy read of all time last year. And so I was surprised at some of my fellow book geeks’ response to the novel even before we met up last week through their Goodreads rating – that I actually began doubting my own book-sanity and my own personal reading of a novel. I had to ask a few other friends about what they thought about Shadow and Bone before I was comforted by the fact that I wasn’t alone in finding this to be quite an engaging read.
Some of the major objections about the book had to do with the Russian details that a few of my writer friends thought to be haphazardly done. A case in point would be the kvas, portrayed to be an alcoholic drink in the novel, is supposedly a non-alcoholic beverage in Russia. Another was the supposed linguistic errors with the word Grisha being in the diminutive form which runs contrary to the Grisha’s elevated position in society – leading a few book club members to adamantly state that the author has not done her research well enough to create a credible world. It was pointed out that the author was “Mary-Sue-ing” it (a new term I learned) which means that there is an intention to create an idealized character (through Alina) which might be part of a wish-fulfillment in the part of the author – and that Alina is driven more by feelings/emotions.
I just read the Q and A with Leigh Bardugo a few days back (way after the book club discussion, sadly) and it appears as if the major objections noted have actually been answered and addressed in the Q and A. Leigh Bardugo noted:
… Russia was always a point of departure rather than a final destination. I think that difference can be felt in big choices like the geography and history of the world, and smaller choices like not strictly gendering surnames, the construction of plurals, or using kvas as a stand-in for strong spirits.
When asked about the significance of the word Grisha:
‘Grisha’ is the Russian diminutive of Gregory. It means “watchful” and derives from the biblical Grigori. (A lot of paranormal fans will recognize the reference from fallen angel tales.) It also visually and aurally evokes the word “geisha,” and I hoped that would reinforce the sense of beauty and secrecy that surrounds Ravka’s magical elite.
Evidently, the author has done her research and the choices that she made were deliberate. While some of the readers may cringe at her world-building choices, it was intentional on her part to create her world in this fashion. It is not simply brought about by lazy writing, but an authorial decision that she made, whether the reader agrees with her choices or not. Plus, I have always thought that I do not necessarily need to like the characters I am reading for me to at least appreciate aspects of a story that worked at least for me, and kept me engaged as a reader.
Interestingly, and I have mentioned this as well in my Facebook status, some of the reasons that some of the book club members thought of as problematic about the novel are the very things that I found to be engaging about it and exactly what propelled the story forward for me. An example would be Alina’s internal struggles and what made her heed Baghra’s advice – that for me was the crux, because up until the end of the series (the third book), I was avidly looking for the Darkling’s redeeming qualities and ‘reading’/analyzing his gravitational pull towards Alina: “Like calls to Like”. While his villainy seemed inevitable in the first novel, I felt that he showed enough vulnerability to make me wonder whether he is indeed as evil as everyone portrays him to be. Could Alina’s decision to leave the Little Palace in the first novel be the actual thing that sent him over the edge? Could she have provided a counterpoint, a balancing force that made the elusive peace in their country possible?
Some of the parts which ruined the story for a few of the members of the book club were minor annoyances for me and something I didn’t really mind nor think about – especially the fact that this is a make-believe fantasy world. I felt that the author had enough leeway or flexibility to fashion her world in her own manner – this is not historical fiction after all. The other members of the book club agreed that despite the novel’s flaws, it wasn’t a complete disaster and that it was an engaging-enough read that transported us out of our mundane existence for a moment. If only because of the variety of opinions about the novel and the intense discussion it engendered among the book club members, I like it even more!
Saturday Night Out for Book Geeks – with my 13 year old daughter joining us (she has read the novel too). I am the host this month, and so the book club discussion was done in my place. And yes, there was videoke too – arguing about the novel proved to be way too exhausting, we had to sing our lungs out afterwards! 🙂