The Use of Betrayal and Lies in Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo
(In the following essay, D.V.. analyzes how the use of betrayal and lies by author Leigh Bardugo in Shadow and Bone develops the main characters and contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.)
In Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo tells a mesmerizing story of an orphan girl named Alina living in the fictional kingdom of Ravka. Throughout the book Alina struggles with her new found powers, a new lifestyle, and deep longing for those she left behind. Bardugo’s use of betrayal and lies in Shadow and Bone completely shifts the tone of the book, changes the direction of the plotline, and further develops the main character Alina into a stronger and less naive person.
From going to almost being killed in the Unsea to finding out she is one of the most powerful Grisha alive, Alina’s life becomes very complicated very quickly. After Alina’s powers are revealed to the world in an explosion of the light in the Unsea, she is brought to the tent of the Darkling. Who “wasn’t known for mercy” (Bardugo 46). One of the biggest betrayals in the entire book is executed by the Darkling which directly affects the plot line and meaning of the book as a whole.
When Alina first met the Darkling memories of childhood rumors and tales came flooding back to her. “Darklings are born without souls. That only something truly evil could have created the Shadow Fold”(81). In addition, she saw his terrifying acts of violence in real life. “Slowly, I opened my eyes and took in the horror before me. I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound would come. The man on top of me had been cut in two”(70). Yet hearing and seeing the horrifying truth in front of her, Alina still chose to believe the Darklings lies.
His first lie to her was his most terrible lie of the entire book. While Alina was confronting the Darkling on rumors and stories about him, he lied to her about who he was and why her powers were so important to him. “‘My great-great-great-grandfather was the Black Heretic, the Darkling who created the Shadow Fold….every Darkling since then has tried to undo the damage he did to our country, and I’m no Different’”(81). Very early on in their relationship the Darkling lies to her by saying that the Black Heretic was his relative, while in truth he is the Black Heretic. In addition, he makes it clear to Alina that his one goal for her is to use her to get rid of the Shadow Fold, when in fact he wants to use her to enlarge it and grow his control over the world.
These lies are later revealed to Alina by his mother who was living in the palace and worked with Alina to strengthen her powers. However, before this happened, the Darkling grew his web of lies as he tricked Alina into falling in love with him. “One moment, I was staring into his slate-colored eyes, and the next, his lips were pressed to mine. I felt that familiar sense of surety melt through me as my body sang with sudden heat and my heart jumped into a skittery dance” (196). The Darkling’s manipulation of Alina through his fake gestures of kindness contributed to the development of the plotline.
For example, the Darkling’s manipulations not only trick the main character but also deceive the reader. When the Darkling’s true motives are revealed, this deception produces a major shift in tone. One moment Alina was sneaking off to kiss the Darkling which creates a tone of love and romance and the next she is being told that the Darkling wanted to control her with “a collar---of bone” (240). This instantaneous shift from love to manipulation and power changes the entire meaning of the work as a whole . The book changes from a story of personal growth and romance to story of fear, regret, and survival.
Soon after the betrayal is revealed to Alina and the reader, Alina chose to escape from the Darkling’s control by running off into the dangerous country of Ravka. She is found in the woods by her best friend and crush Mal. The treachery of the Darkling lead Alina to have everything she wanted. It allowed her to stop hiding her power to control light, which lead her to become healthy and strong and to finally feel whole. Similarly, without the Darkling’s duplicity she may not have regained the close relationship she had with Mal. This ironic outcome develops Alina as a character. After she finds out the truth, she becomes stronger, making hard decisions to save the world and trust her instincts.
The final betrayal of the book is a betrayal done by Alina. After she is captured by the Darkling and controlled with the collar of bone, she finds herself being used as a tool to grow the Unsea. When Mal is thrown from the boat into the Unsea she finds herself in control again and saves his life, and makes the choice to deceive all the people and her friends on the boat and leave them for dead in the darkness. This final betrayal once again creates a major shift in tone, develops Alina as a character, and changes the plotline of the book. Very quickly, Alina goes from a slave to the one in charge. By tricking those around her and choosing to save someone she loved Alina becomes strong and powerful again. The tone changes from fear to relief, and the plotline turns from Mal being lead to his death, to Alina and Mal being able to escape the Darkling.
In conclusion, the tone, plotline, and characters of this book are directly affected and changed due to duplicity in this story. Without lies this book would have had a flat plotline with static characters that do not grow and change. Instead, lies and betrayal have produced a book that has major shifts in tone, characters that are constantly changing, and a plotline like no other.
(D.V. 2016)