Recommended Read/Watch: Shadow & Bone (Grishaverse)

Despite having begun the books a couple of years ago, I have never written a specific review about any of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse books or the Netflix series based on them. Even considering each individually, it just felt like I might be biting off more than I could chew, because these series are so expansive, and while somewhat familiar at times (chosen one, love triangle, etc.), they’re also very different from anything that came before. I mean, was tsar-punk even a thing before Bardugo introduced it in her setting of Ravka?

Well, now that I’ve finished the King of Scars duology and the second season of Shadow and Bone on Netflix, I felt like it was time to at least try to put into words some of my thoughts on the Grishaverse, while I’m caught up with what’s been created so far.

Before going forward, here’s a quick key to the Grishaverse titles I’ll be referencing:

  • Shadow and Bone trilogy (Alina’s books): Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising
  • Six of Crows series (Crows’ books): Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom
  • King of Scars duology: King of Scars, Rule of Wolves
  • Shadow and Bone series: Netflix adaptation

Diving into the Grishaverse, I read Six of Crows first and believed from the start it would be the best series, and I still think that thus far, but King of Scars is 2nd, and while the original Shadow and Bone trilogy is the weakest of the three (if only because it’s the most similar to other series in the YA market), it’s still good and provides absolutely vital groundwork for everything following.

So, even if you’re not a fan of chosen one tropes and you think love triangles have been done to death, if you’re going to step into this world, it’s worth it to start with the Shadow and Bone trilogy and read all of the books because otherwise you’re robbing yourself of details that, while maybe not vital to the other books (The Crows’ books stand perfectly fine on their own), will still add to your enjoyment and appreciation of the world and it’s characters. Because Bardugo has crafted such a realistically complex world shaped by political machinations, conflicting ideologies, competitive trade, misunderstood history, and more, each book offers some new angle on what makes parts of this world tick in a way that makes the whole that much more impressive. And the characters are just as richly drawn, from the more “cliche” Alina to the ruthless Kaz, they all have their charms and flaws, and alternately make you groan or cheer depending on the moment.

The one trap I fear these books/show could fall into is the double-edged sword of fan-service. I love these characters, and I enjoy seeing more of them, but I also want it to feel earned, especially when they cross paths with one another. After the success of meshing the Crows’ story with that of Alina’s in the first season of Shadow and Bone on Netflix, I can see the attempt at replicating it in Rule of Wolves, but the heist with the Crows, while appreciated, didn’t feel vital in a book that was already so stuffed with multiple action-packed plot lines that had to be resolved. And the second season of the Netflix series also had me feeling a bit torn, as I enjoyed seeing a newly invented heist for the Crows’ to attempt, but it seems it may have come at the cost of including some of the slower character-deepening storylines from Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising (season two seemed especially short of Zoya to me). My fear is that the Netflix series may be trying to move so fast it’s risking new viewers not connecting as deeply to the characters (and by extension the emotional stakes) as readers who are already aware of various backstory details, but maybe a third season will prove my fears unfounded and that they’ve just had to shift the order of some of these storylines.

I highly recommend reading as many of these books as you can before watching the Netflix Shadow and Bone adaptation, or at least reading them concurrently. It will only help you enjoy the details that much more. But at least give one version—books or Netflix—a try because these are really good stories with such impressive world-building there could probably be classes taught on Ravkan history or Grisha folklore.

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