Shadow and Bone is the first in a series by Leigh Bardugo. While the book as a whole was pretty underwhelming, one thing took me by surprise: the attractive, brooding ‘bad boy’ love interest was actually evil. And portrayed as evil. And the main character thought he was evil. And he had nothing explaining away his evilness. He was the bad guy. Crazy, right?
The Six of Crows duology (which I wrote multiple reviews of) is set in the same world and takes place after this series. I loved Six of Crows, but picked this book up with some trepidation. Shadow and Bone is a fantasy romance, which I try to avoid, and most reviews say it’s not as good as Six of Crows. But I took my chances.
It was about what I expected. Decent, not great. I think the best word to describe it is ‘standard.’ Standard main character (Alina), standard love interest (Mal), standard setting (vaguely medieval land).
However, the villain, called only the Darkling, wasn’t quite standard. He was introduced as the extremely attractive, super powerful figure. His and Alina’s powers were the reverse of each other. Although (at least) a hundred years old, he looked the same age as Alina. See where this is going?
Yeah, they kissed a couple times.
And then his true plan was revealed. World domination, ultimate power, that stuff. And he was going to turn Alina into his slave to make that happen.
I was waiting for the Darkling to back out. To say he could never do that to her, that she had changed all his plans. I was waiting for a Tragic Backstory
excusing explaining his decisions. I was at least waiting for him to say he really loved her.
I must admit, I’ve only read this first book. Some of that might happen later in the series. But in this almost-standalone book, there’s no excuse made. The Darkling does enslave her. He doesn’t pretend to ‘really love’ her. In the end, he’s portrayed as truly evil.
I find it kind of funny that it surprises me to meet a bad guy bad boy. Most of the ‘dark love interests’ really should be considered bad guys, but they rarely are. In Shadow and Bone, though, the Darkling’s questionable behavior actually becomes full-fledged villainy- a refreshing change of pace. He goes on to make a great flavor of villain.
Don’t feel like you have to give your character a tragic backstory or explain his behavior away. Even if he is attractive. Sometimes, his being inexcusably evil is interesting enough in itself. If he’s young and has a connection to the main character, inexcusable evilness is a rare trait.
Have you read Shadow and Bone? What did you think?