Shadow and Bone

by

Leigh Bardugo

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Shadow and Bone: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The further north Mal and Alina travel, the less it looks like spring. But Mal and Alina’s relationship is easier, and they talk as they travel. Mal isn’t surprised to hear that most Grisha don’t like the King; the trackers and soldiers are also annoyed. Fjerdans have far superior weapons, and Ravkan soldiers should have better guns—but the King takes no interest. However, Mal refuses to talk about tracking the stag. As Mal points out birds’ nests, Alina wishes they could walk in the woods forever. Will she change if she gets the antlers for herself? Will it be enough to defeat the Darkling? Finally, after several days, Alina asks Mal to promise to kill her if the Darkling catches them before they catch the stag. He argues, but ultimately agrees.
Part of Alina’s transformation over the course of the novel entails essentially becoming disillusioned with her government and understanding how ineffective it is. As Mal shows, most adults with any experience in the world don’t think the King is doing a good job at managing the war effort—which many take as a sign that the King is disinterested in making sure as few soldiers as possible die. Alina asks Mal to promise something extremely difficult, but this promise also highlights how committed Alina is to doing the right thing and saving Ravka—unlike the Darkling and the King.
Themes
Desperation, Leadership, and Corruption Theme Icon
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Greed vs. Mercy Theme Icon
Quotes
As they get closer to an outpost, Mal gets more anxious, as he sees signs of other people. Then, one morning, he wakes Alina early: he has a feeling the herd is close. She grumbles, but Mal says they have to go so he doesn’t have to decapitate Alina. It seems a good sign he can joke about it, so Alina follows. When they reach a hill that Mal likes the look of, they sit on a fur and wait for hours. It seems like the perfect place for the herd, but the moon rises after dusk, and nothing changes. Mal sighs, but Alina assures him it’s okay—she’s certain the Darkling hasn’t caught the stag yet.
Recall that Mal has an almost supernatural ability to track animals, so it seems like a good idea to trust him when he believes the herd is close. But even though the herd doesn’t appear, this walk isn’t without purpose: Alina and Mal’s relationship continues to thaw, and for now, their goal keeps them moving forward. But they both continue to see the stag as a tool, rather than as a living being in its own right.
Themes
Greed vs. Mercy Theme Icon
Alina summons some warm light in her hands, arguing with Mal that nobody will see them and they’re both freezing. Mal puts his fingers in the light and then says that Mikhael and Dubrov were both killed in Fjerda. To Alina’s surprise, Mal continues that they’d hunted the stag all the way to the border, and the captain wanted a few people to dress as Fjerdans to keep going. It was silly—were the trackers really going to capture the stag and get it back over the border? But Mal says he volunteered because Alina saved his life on the Fold. He didn’t do anything when the Grisha took Alina away, and that haunted him. He thought if he could get the stag for the Darkling, he could help Alina. Mikhael and Dubrov didn’t know this, but they insisted on going. Nine went into Fjerda. Two came back.
Mal’s account of losing seven trackers in Fjerda shows that the dysfunction and disregard for people’s lives extends all the way down to mid-level officers in the Ravkan military. Mal implies that this was fool’s errand from the beginning; it was guaranteed to get people killed. And yet, it seems as though the goal was to make it seem like the trackers were doing something—anything— rather than doing the sensible thing. Interestingly, Mal willingly admits that his reasons for going into Fjerda were questionable, but he also suggests that he thought of himself as noble and good for going.
Themes
Desperation, Leadership, and Corruption Theme Icon
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Greed vs. Mercy Theme Icon
Alina is stunned and disturbed, but she surprises herself by wondering how many people the stag’s power might save. Could the Darkling use the Fold to end the border wars that orphaned Alina and Mal in the first place? Would that make Ravka safe? But Alina reminds herself that the Darkling would destroy everything before he gives up any power. Mal sighs that the entire trip to Fjerda was useless, as the herd returned to Ravka after a few days. Alina studies Mal. He’s changed so much, and she knows she’s partially responsible. She apologizes for Mikhael and Dubrov’s deaths, but Mal says it’s not her fault. Alina points out that it’s not his fault, either. They hold hands as it starts to snow.
Alina essentially realizes that the Darkling might have a point: perhaps it is better to turn the Fold into a weapon that could work for Ravka, rather than getting rid of it. However, she also knows now that the Darkling is greedy beyond belief, so even if he did the right thing initially, he’d soon wield too much power and more innocent people would die. Further, if Alina did go along with the Darkling’s plan, she’d be powerless (assuming Baghra told her the truth). So, nobody would be able to challenge the Darkling’s power again.
Themes
Desperation, Leadership, and Corruption Theme Icon
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Greed vs. Mercy Theme Icon
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