Netflix has once again traversed the stacks of the library to adapt its next big-budget fantasy adventure. They’ve set their sights on Leigh Bardugo’s New York Time’s bestselling trilogy series, Shadow and Bone – as well as incorporating her later books, the Six of Crows Duology. If you’re like me, then the book was better. Yes, I know I haven’t actually watched the series yet (and believe me, I’m excited!) – but I’ll fall on this sword. The book is ALWAYS better. If you’re a newbie to Bardugo’s Grishaverse, and you’re looking to catch up on the book series before devouring the TV adaptation, then this is the article for you. I’m here to help you understand the magic system, and figure out which order you should be reading the books in (because yes, there are quite a few of them at this point).
To understand Shadow and Bone’s world, one must first understand The Grisha. The Grisha are a group of people born in the countries that inhabit the world of these books. They practice The Small Science, which is essentially being able to manipulate elements and the human body, depending upon which order you belong to. In Ravka, one of the countries within the series, children are tested for Grisha abilities. If they’re identified with a capacity for The Small Science, they are are sent to The Little Palace to live and train under the direction of The Darkling, eventually joining Ravka’s Second Army (the first Army is for non-Grisha). Being a Grisha sounds great on paper, but they’re often outcasts. Ravka is one of the only countries that trains Grisha to reach their potential, though the power-free population is weary of them. In other countries outside of Ravka, Grisha are hunted, sold, or experimented on; often hiding their power for fear they’ll be discovered. The Grisha are broken up into three groups: Corporalki, Etherealki, and Materialki. And dear reader, just to make things simpler for you, I’ve made a handy chart explaining what each group specializes in:
What sets Bardugo’s universe apart from other YA fantasy fare is the Russian/Eastern European inspired settings. Her imagined countries within the Grisha books are characters themselves. You can feel the grit of war-torn Ravka, the permafrost of Fjerda crunching under your boots and the limitless possibilities available in a city like Ketterdam, found in prosperous Kerch. All roads to these places begin at Shadow and Bone. This is the first book in the series and introduces us to our heroine, Alina Starkov, a refugee orphan of Ravka’s endless wars. Alina finds kinship in Mal, a boy living in her orphanage and the story follows them further into young adulthood. Shadow and Bone is the setup; we watch Alina go from a nobody with nothing to… well… without ruining the story, somebody. We are also introduced to one of my favorite fantasy villains – I’m keeping this spoiler free, so no names! But I can say Bardugo writes such a multi-faceted baddie, that you find yourself empathizing with them. To complete the arc of Alina’s story and see if she succeeds in aiding the Grisha, you should follow up Shadow and Bone with Siege and Storm and close out with Ruin and Rising.
I enjoyed the Shadow and Bone Trilogy; they lay some exceptional ground work for future books. And while I strongly suggest that you start at the beginning, I’d be lying if I told you I began my Grisha journey there. I’d heard a lot of hype around a book called Six of Crows. Naturally, I picked it up and oh my, it was EVERYTHING. Six of Crows is a separate story taking place in the same world as Shadow and Bone. You do not – I repeat – DO NOT have to read the first trilogy before picking up Six of Crows. Nevertheless, you will have to make peace with the fact that the ending of the Shadow and Bone trilogy will be ruined for you. Six of Crows is to this day one of my favorite books. It’s a rag tag team pulling off an unthinkable heist – gleefully blowing stuff up and taking down oppressors. This story is a two-parter, so when you’re finished make sure you pick up Crooked Kingdom for dare I say it – an emotional and action-packed finale? I love Leigh Bardugo’s writing, but you can tell that Shadow and Bone is her first series. I suggest reading it because it is a worthy tale that is interesting and really immerses you into her unique magic system and world, but Six of Crows is where lightening strikes. It’s a five-star page-turner that I recommend to almost everyone I meet.
In 2019, Bardugo returned to the Grisha Universe to continue the story of Prince Nikolai, a fan-favorite character from the original trilogy. The first book is King of Scars. In it you will find excellent humor, monsters, and an ending that will SHOCK YOU. The follow up, Rule of Wolves was released in March of 2021 and includes a satisfying ending to Nikolai’s story with the possibility for more tales on the horizon.
There we have it folks. Leigh Bardugo has created a magical world where the lives of the Grisha hang in the balance. There are riveting villains, politics, humor, and a coming-of-age cautionary tale on the balance of power. So pick up a book and get a head start on Bardugo’s Grishaverse and don’t forget to stream Shadow & Bone on Netflix April 23rd, 2021.