168 hours: Shadow and Bone

I’m reading Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo and, sadly, it does not work for me. This is partly a personal problem–I grew up with Russia, I took Russian in college, I have eaten Russian food and danced Russian dances. I will always be hypercritical of depictions of Russia & Russian culture. But it’s not just personal issues. There are major problems here, including the fact that Alina Starkov should be Alina Starkova. The Russian part is downright sloppy–Ruby as a personal name? Mal as a nickname? Mis-translations? (Moi soverenyi p. 43 is plural when it should be singular.) These things should have been edited. You can’t stick in a few Russian names and allusions to Rasputin and have a Russian-inspired book. It doesn’t work like that. And I know–BELIEVE ME–that it’s hard to write about a culture that’s not your own. That’s why you get someone familiar with that culture to read your ms before you publish it.

These are the exact problems I had with The FitzOsbornes at War–a decent story ruined by sloppiness. If I can’t trust the author to get something as basic as the proper form of a woman’s last name right, how can I trust them at all?

I know this is pretty harsh, but Alina Starkov? REALLY?

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15 Comments

Filed under bookish posts, reviews

15 responses to “168 hours: Shadow and Bone

  1. Marie

    I absolutely love that the ad at the bottom of this post … is for vodka. ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Oh, I so agree about how just one wrong name can knock down a book. A lot of historical fiction/fantasy has been tarnished for me by this!

    • Maureen E

      I know what you mean about the names! Sadly, in this case it wasn’t just one name–it was a pervasive ignorance of basic Russian culture and language, aside from a few misused symbols (balaikas and the creepy priest, which I strongly object to). What saddens me is that Russia has such a rich historical and cultural heritage–there are some FANTASTIC fairy tales!–that could have made Shadow & Bone a joy to read, if the author had done her homework.

  3. Pingback: 168 hours: Day 4 stats | By Singing Light

  4. A bit off topic, but I’m so dismayed that you were disappointed by The FitzOsbornes at War. I’ve so been looking forward to reading it! It’s so frustrating to be jarred out of story by inaccuracies.

    • Maureen E

      I think it’s definitely still worth reading FOaW for yourself! And it’s a lot better than this one. But I will admit, I was disappointed that I didn’t love it like the other two.

  5. I’m now really curious about what you thought was sloppy in The FitzOsbornes at War! I didn’t pick up on anything being poorly researched… although I’m possibly not the best person to judge that sort of thing. (And I was too busy, feeling emotional, to pay a much attention to the historical detail.)

    • Maureen E

      I think it was partly actually the pacing–a lot of time was spent on the beginning of the war and then there was a sudden jump to the end. I was also very bothered by the mention of radar, which was covered under the Official Secrets Act and which Toby just mentions without even thinking about it. (I’m also not sure the extent to which it was widely known even among RAF pilots.) I think it was also the fact that the focus seemed to be so much on Kick Kennedy and the personal dramas as opposed to the actual war–I have a hard time not comparing it to Connie Willis and Elizabeth Wein. And in other books that might make sense, but Sophie is a political person and aware of the larger world, so I wish I had felt more engaged in that part of things. I’m being a bit vague because I’d have to re-read it to find more specific examples.

  6. T. Mills

    Let me just preface what I’m about to comment with this: I’m certainly not claiming to know or understand the author’s thought process behind writing “Shadow and Bone”. I’m only about 75 pages into the book, and obviously there is a heavy Russian influence to the world created by the author. That being said, the world created is not real though. It isn’t Russia, but the fictional nation of Ravka. Maybe, and this is just an opinionated guess on my part, but maybe the author purposefully tinkered with the Russian influences in part to slightly separate Russia with the fictional nation of Ravka?

    • Maureen E

      I would accept that–I can certainly think of other cases in which that’s true (Martha Wells’ Wheel of the Infinite, eg), except that some of the differences came across less as differences than as mistakes. Perhaps it’s the way I was reading it, but it seemed like Ravka was a fictional world with a couple of Russian elements thrown in, in a rather haphazard way. I also don’t claim at all to know what Leigh Bardugo was thinking or planning–and it’s not that she’s a terrible writer. It’s more that writing about a culture that’s not your own is hard and to me the world of Ravka did not seem like one that was explored in a complex enough way to satisfy me. Obviously, many others have different opinions–and I will freely admit that anyone from the West who chooses to write about Russia in any form will have a hard time convincing me that they know what they’re talking about. It’s a culture I’m not part of but that I’ve grown up with and so for me the stereotypical markers of Russia don’t make something Russian-inspired. Anyway, I hope that makes some kind of sense! And if you’re enjoying it, great!

      • T. Mills

        I think I can understand where you’re coming from. I have a similar issue with certain depictions and stereotypes with German culture. While I didn’t grow up in Germany, my grandmother is German, so I’ve grown up with a lot of German influences in my life. It gets a little annoying or frustrating sometimes when people depict Germans as so cold and emotionless, when many of them are far from it. So, I could definitely understand why you would have an issue with Russian inaccuracies or bad Russian stereotypes with your personal exposure to real Russian culture. It would definitely be something hard for me to get past if it was a culture I was more personally familiar with.

        • Maureen E

          Yes, that’s a lot of where I was coming from. Thank you for your very polite & reasoned comments, by the way! I really appreciated that. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Anonymous

    I get where you’re coming from. If I were Russian. I’d probably be annoyed too. But for me, the point is the story and not he “Russia-Inspired” part. I suppose Bardugho wasn’t trying to make it a picture perfect depiction of Russia, but a Russia-esque world. Though I’ll take this information as something to learn from when I write my own book in the future. So, thank you for this~

    • Maureen Eichner

      Hi there, Anon! Yes, I certainly understand where you’re coming from, and it’s a huge case of Your Mileage May Vary. For myself, I love worlds inspired by history and cultures, but it has to be done with respect and understanding, and in my reading of Shadow & Bone, that was lacking. I’ve been meaning to write a fuller, more considered review of S&B, and this is a helpful reminder to do that. So thank YOU! ๐Ÿ™‚

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