Shadow and Bone

by

Leigh Bardugo

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Shadow and Bone: Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Alina stands on the edge of the crowded main road, staring down into the valley below. She hurries along the Vy, the main road that once connected Ravka’s capital city, Os Alta, to the sea, before the Shadow Fold was created. The Fold looks like a smudge in the distance, but it cuts Ravka in two, separating East Ravka from the ocean. On some maps it’s labeled “the Unsea,” but this is just to make people think that it’s not so bad. However, it is that bad: this valley used to be full of rich estates, but one day, darkness filled the valley. The farmers and other residents vanished.
Now, readers get more insight into exactly what’s plaguing Ravka: the Shadow Fold and the fact that it’s almost impossible to cross the Fold. Alina alludes to what sounds like a public relations campaign to make the Fold sound better when she describes people calling it the Unsea. The whole situation suggests Ravka is damaged and traumatized; it’s in a difficult spot and, for now, there’s no clear fix.
Themes
Desperation, Leadership, and Corruption Theme Icon
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
As Alina tries to tell herself crossing the Fold will be fine, Mal whispers in her ear that she can’t faint in the road. Alina says she has a plan: if she got hurt, she wouldn’t have to risk dying in the Fold. Just then, a pretty girl named Ruby passes, and Mal tells her he’ll see her later. Alina rolls her eyes; she and Ruby were friends, right after Alina and Mal joined the army. But it didn’t take long for Alina to realize Ruby just wanted to be her friend to get close to Mal. Noticing that Mal looks happy, Alina snaps that they could easily die. Mal insists the Grisha will protect them, and they have guns.
Alina and Mal’s relationship seems different now than it was in the prologue, when they were small children. They’re older and are trying to balance their friendship with romantic interest in other people. Mal also seems far more easygoing than Alina, who reads as very tightly wound and something of a worrywart. These differences may contribute to the tension in their friendship.
Themes
Identity and Self-Knowledge Theme Icon
Conformity vs. Individuality Theme Icon
In truth, there’s more wrong with Alina than just fear of crossing the Fold. She used to be able to tell Mal anything, but she can’t anymore, so she says nothing about how uneasy she is. He suggests that the volcra will go for Mikhael first, and Alina flashes on a childhood memory of flipping through a book with Mal. They’d come to an illustration of a volcra, with its leathery flesh and blind eyes. They live in the Fold and eat human flesh. It’d been holding a human foot. Coming back to the present, Alina realizes she’s stopped walking. Mal assures her that things are going to be fine, and Alina rubs the scar on her right palm.
Here, the implication is that Alina is in love with Mal and is trying her best to hide it. And she seems to be even more anxious, given that she’s going to cross the Fold with her friend and crush—someone she really doesn’t want to die. Introducing the volcra helps illuminate for readers exactly why the Fold is so frightening: it's not just dark, there are actually flesh-eating monsters out there.
Themes
Identity and Self-Knowledge Theme Icon
Suddenly, Mal snatches Alina and jerks her out of the road—a big black coach rushes past. The coach belongs to the Darkling. As Mal hastily lets Alina go, a red coach and then a blue coach roll past. A gorgeous girl looks out of the blue coach and smiles at Mal. Mal’s friends Mikhael and Dubrov rush up to him, teasing him about the Grisha girl. They point out that she’ll be staying at camp and that the lavish Grisha tent has lots of dark corners. Teasing Alina, they lead Mal away.
It's unclear if Mal reciprocates Alina’s feelings. And yet, his instinct is clearly to protect her from harm, highlighting that whether it’s romantic or not, he does care for her. Mal’s friends, meanwhile, seem to not see Alina as girlfriend material—they’re far more interested in the gorgeous Grisha girl.
Themes
Identity and Self-Knowledge Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
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Alina continues into the village and to the Documents Tent, where she slips in without the Senior Cartographer noticing. She sits next to her friend Alexei and tells him she’s late because the Darkling almost ran her over. Pulling out her notebook (as a junior cartographer, she’s supposed to submit two sketches each day), Alina begins copying a sketch of a mountain range. To bribe Alina into telling him more about the Darkling’s coach, Alexei pushes over one of his drawings for her to pass off as her own. When Alina is finally done, she and Alexei head for the mess tent. Over the meal, Alexei and a girl named Eva argue: Eva insists the Darkling isn’t natural, and Alexei calls her a peasant for believing this. Alina says nothing; she’s more of a peasant than Eva, but neither she nor Mal talk about their youth in an orphanage.
It's not entirely clear yet who the Darkling is, but he’s definitely a person of interest—and a powerful one, if his coach can roll through town so quickly that he puts people in danger of being run over. The dinner conversation highlights again that there are big differences in how people of different classes view the Grisha and the Darkling. It’s a peasant—that is, low-class—belief that the Darkling is unnatural and inhuman, implying by extension that people with more education and power see the Darkling as human like them. At this point, it’s hard to parse if lower-class people are responding to the Darkling’s abilities or his power and prestige. 
Themes
Desperation, Leadership, and Corruption Theme Icon
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Quotes
Across the hall, Mal is entertaining his fellow trackers. When Alexei shakes his head at the idea that Mal and Alina were ever friends, Alina tells Alexei that they grew up together and he wasn’t always so full of himself. When they’re finished eating, Alina and Alexei walk past the Grisha camp, which is lavish and massive. Then, they return to the barracks, where people are clearly afraid for tomorrow. Alina gets into bed, but she’s wide awake when, hours later, she hears tapping on the tent. She slips on her boots and heads outside to meet Mal on the steps. Mikhael and Dubrov are drinking on the footpath. Alina hesitates: it’s hard to be around Mal because she doesn’t want him to know how much she cares or how his flirting with others hurts her. But she swallows her jealousy and sits down.
Alina doesn’t fit in anywhere. She has to explain her childhood friendship with Mal to Alexei, who seems like her current best friend; and she can’t fully be herself around Mal anymore because she’s working so hard to hide her feelings for him. Still, the fact that Mal shows up to visit with Alina at night at all suggests that he does care for her, and perhaps he too is trying hard to fit in with his newer friends in the army. The description of the huge, well-appointed Grisha tent exposes the class differences again: they’re also in an army camp, but they live in luxury, unlike the non-Grisha soldiers.
Themes
Identity and Self-Knowledge Theme Icon
Desperation, Leadership, and Corruption Theme Icon
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Conformity vs. Individuality Theme Icon
As they watch Dubrov and Mikhael drink, Alina asks Mal what he’s doing here—he used to visit her all the time, but he hasn’t in a long time. He says she looked miserable at dinner, and he’s worried about her. Alina offers that hopefully a volcra will eat her tomorrow so he can stop worrying, but Mal insists he’d be lost without Alina—a clear lie, since he’s a skilled tracker and has never been lost in his life. Mal admits that he’s nervous too. They discuss Keramzin and Ana Kuya, and then Mal grabs Alina’s hand. Tomorrow, he says, they’ll drink and watch the ocean, just the two of them.
Alina is wildly uncomfortable letting Mal express any affection or care for her. Mal is almost certainly speaking figuratively when he says he’d be lost without Alina. He means that he’d be emotionally lost without his friend. And yet, Alina insists on taking him literally. This allows her to continue telling herself that she’s unimportant and not good enough for Mal, even when there’s a lot of evidence suggesting he cares about her as a friend, if not as more than that.
Themes
Identity and Self-Knowledge Theme Icon
Conformity vs. Individuality Theme Icon
Mikhael ends the moment by shouting for Mal. As Mal jogs away, he asks for luck. Alina wishes him luck, but she wishes she hadn’t—he’s just going to go seduce a Grisha and have lovely babies with her. Mal has never looked at Alina like he looked at the Grisha girl earlier, or even Ruby. Alina tells herself that they’re still friends, and that’s the most important part—but will they keep getting further and further apart?
Again, Alina continues to think of herself as not good enough for Mal—obviously, she reasons, he’s going to choose someone prettier and better than her, like a Grisha girl. Her main goal is keeping their friendship alive, but at this point, she’s not willing to see Mal’s overtures as true expressions of friendship due to her own poor self-esteem.
Themes
Identity and Self-Knowledge Theme Icon
Conformity vs. Individuality Theme Icon