Shadow and Bone tells the story of Alina, a teenage military mapmaker in the fictional land of Ravka. Alina has never felt like she fits in: she believes she’s not a Grisha (a person who can perform a sort of magic), but she’s also not very good at anything. So, it’s a shock to everyone when it’s revealed that Alina is actually a Grisha with a rare and powerful talent: she’s a Sun Summoner, someone who can manipulate light. Through Alina’s process of self-discovery, the novel proposes that accepting one’s identity is essential to a person’s happiness. Initially, Alina struggles to believe she’s even a Grisha: Alina struggles to call her power without help, is weak and uncoordinated, and compared to the other Grisha (who are all naturally attractive), she’s mousy and plain. But it’s revealed that Alina has been trying for years to keep her power locked away so that she could stay with her childhood best friend and love interest, Mal. Working so hard to subsume this part of her identity has made Alina’s life miserable and taken a major toll on her body—and once Alina accepts the part of herself that can summon light, she feels confident and competent for the first time in her life. Indeed, as Alina learns to have a relationship with this part of herself, she apologizes to it for keeping it locked away for so long and hurting herself in the process. This suggests that she sees her previous actions almost as a form of violence against herself. Ultimately, as Alina discovers the full extent of her powers, forms an even better relationship with herself, and uses her power to help people she loves, the novel implies that this kind of self-knowledge doesn’t just help the person in question. Rather, being comfortable with oneself is also the first step to being able to help other people.
Identity and Self-Knowledge ThemeTracker
Identity and Self-Knowledge Quotes in Shadow and Bone
The kefta was far too large. It felt soft and unfamiliar, the fur lining warm against my skin. I chewed my lip. It didn’t seem fair that oprichniki and Grisha wore corecloth while ordinary soldiers went without. Did our officers wear it, too?
I pulled the kefta tighter around me, feeling suddenly cold. I remembered the surety that had flooded through me with the Darkling’s touch, and that strangely familiar sensation of a call echoing through me, a call that demanded an answer. It had been frightening, but exhilarating, too. In that moment, all my doubt and fear had been replaced by a kind of absolute certainty. I was no one, a refugee from an unnamed village, a scrawny clumsy girl hurtling alone through the gathering dark. But when the Darkling had closed his fingers around my wrist, I’d felt different, like something more.
“I…If it would be alright, I’d prefer to have blue robes, Summoners’ blue.”
“Alina!” exclaimed Genya, clearly horrified.
But the Darkling held up a hand to silence her. “Why?” he asked, his expression unreadable.
“I already feel like I don’t belong here. I think it might be easier if I weren’t…singled out.”
“Are you so anxious to be like everyone else?”
My chin lifted. “I just don’t want to be more conspicuous than I already am.”
The Darkling looked at me for a long moment. I wasn’t sure if he was thinking over what I’d said or trying to intimidate me, but I gritted my teeth and returned his gaze.
Abruptly, he nodded. “As you wish,” he said. “Your kefta will be blue.”
I closed my eyes, feeling tears slide down my cheeks, and I reached out to the thing within me that I’d kept hidden for so long. I’m sorry, I whispered to it.
I’m sorry I left you so long in the dark.
I’m sorry, but I’m ready now.
I called and the light answered. […] It surrounded me, blazing with heat, more powerful and more pure than ever before because it was all mine. I wanted to laugh, to sing, to shout. At last, there was something that belonged wholly and completely to me.
Suddenly, lots of things seemed easy. I wasn’t tired all the time or winded when I climbed the stairs. I slept deeply and dreamlessly every night and woke refreshed. Food was a revelation: bowls of porridge heaped with sugar and cream, plates of skate fried in butter, fat plums and hothouse peaches, the clear and bitter taste of kvas. It was as if that moment in Baghra’s cottage was my first full breath and I had awakened into a new life.
I’d wanted so badly to belong somewhere, anywhere. I’d been so eager to please him, so proud to keep his secrets. But I’d never bothered to question what he might really want, what his true motives might be. I’d been too busy imagining myself by his side, the savior of Ravka, most treasured, most desired, like some kind of queen. I’d made it so easy for him.
Dimly, I’d been aware that I still had a shard of the blue cup in my hand, that it was digging into my palm, but I didn’t want to let go.
When he finally set me down and ambled off to the kitchen to find his lunch, I had stood there, my palm dripping blood, my head still spinning, knowing that everything had changed.
Ana Kuya had scolded me for getting blood on the clean kitchen floor. She’d bandaged my hand and told me it would heal. But I knew it would just go on hurting.
I’d thought the stag was haunting me, a reminder of my failure and the price my weakness would exact. But I was wrong.
The stag had been showing me my strength—not just the price of mercy but the power it bestowed. And mercy was something the Darkling would never understand.
I had spared the stag’s life. The power of that life belonged to me as surely as it belonged to the man who had taken it.
I fumbled with the tiny black buttons of the kefta. There seemed to be a thousand of them. When the silk finally slid over my shoulders and pooled at my feet, I felt a great burden lift from me.