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Reading the Shadow and Bone books? Don’t start with the first one

If you’re super excited about season 2 of Netflix Shadow and bones series and you’ve never read the Leigh Bardugo books it’s based on, you might want to consider trying the main trilogy that adapts the show.

Here’s some unsolicited advice: don’t start with the first novel, Shadow and bones. Or even the first trilogy.

But wait, you might ask yourself, isn’t that the book the show is based on? Isn’t it the first book in the series? The one that sets the stage for everything else? The one who introduces the Grisha, Sun Summoner Alina Starkov, and the sliver of sentient darkness that rips Ravka in half? Won’t season 2 adapt the second book?

Well, yes. But you know how some Star Wars fans have a non-intuitive sequence watching movies? I’m about to propose a similar strategy for diving into the Grishaverse books. It’s not a particularly controversial method by any means, but for those unfamiliar with the books, I’m here to be your Grisha guide.

And with that: Start with Six of crows.

But why?

Photo: Netflix

Six of crows is the first book in Bardugo’s spin-off duology. It focuses on a gang of criminals led by the scheming Kaz Brekker as they pull off a major heist. The duology takes place two years after the events of the first trilogy, but the first book doesn’t really hold any spoilers for what happens next. Shadow and bones‘s Alina, the Darkling and the rest of the Ravka crew. I have no hard empirical data on this, but I’ll take a guess Six of crows is more popular than the main trilogy. Why else would the Crows characters be roped into the show, even if they don’t appear canonically in the first books?

Newcomers start reading the series with Six of crows after watching the show will not be lost, because of the six “Crows” there are five – Kaz, his right-knife-wielding spy Inej, sharpshooter Jesper, Ravkan spy Nina and Fjerdan soldier (and Grisha’s hunter) Matthias – appeared in season 1 of the TV series. Their characters will make more sense on the show with the background of the book, and the chance to see their future adventures in the existing books makes their storyline in the series more interesting. Additionally, Six of crows steps into the world beyond Ravka. Shadow and bones deals mainly with Ravkan politics and what it means to be a Grisha which is interesting in itself but Six of crows expands across the universe and Bardugo’s world building gets a chance to shine.

But starting with Six of crows also makes sense because the Crows duology is just objectively better to write. Shadow and bones has all the hallmarks of a debut novel. The first-person perspective does the other characters a disservice, and it follows a typical Chosen One setup. Even Bardugo admits there are things she wish she would have done differently, like more character diversity and fleshing out the character of Mal. The main trilogy gets better with each subsequent book, as Bardugo grows into the potential of her own world. But if you want to be attracted from the start, Six of crows is the right way.

nina and matthias in the snow

Photo: Attila Szvacsek/Netflix

My recommended order – even if you haven’t seen the show – is to start with Six of crowsthat aptly lures readers into a new world and features a cast of vibrant, dynamic characters. Six of crows admittedly ends on a cliffhanger, but the stakes it raises will make the conflict in the main series even richer.

If you’re curious enough, you should switch to the main trilogy (Shadow and bones, Siege and stormAnd Ruin and rise), since the second Crows book, crooked kingdom, contains some spoilers for the big central Grishaverse plot and some appearances from characters who appear in the first trilogy. Then proceed to crooked kingdom. Then you can dive into the follow-up series (King of scars And Rule of wolves), which brings in Nina, Squaller Zoya Nazyalensky, and Prince Nikolai Lantsov (my favorite character in the franchise) as they deal with the aftermath of the Ravka unrest.

Wait – I just finished the second season and there’s a plot I don’t recognize

(Ed. remark: This section contains some major spoilers for season 2 of Shadow and bones)

inej wields a sword in a desert.  beside her, Zoya looks up

Photo: David Lukacs/Netflix

The recently released second season of Shadow and bones does not fit just one two books, which complete the original trilogy. As a result, some storylines are sanded to keep the momentum going. In addition, the second season fleshes out a Six of Crows storyline crooked kingdom and then throws the Crows on a quest for Shu Han to retrieve a legendary sword that can cut through shadow – the perfect weapon for Alina to use against Kirigan.

It’s that last storyline that doesn’t seem to have book precedence. Aside from some flashbacks, the Crows books mostly keep the Crows in their hometown of Ketterdam. But they are already on their way to Ravka, so what’s another journey?

While the robbery itself isn’t from a book, the story behind the sword appears in Bardugo’s collection of Grishaverse short stories called The lives of saints. It is a fully illustrated supplement to the main books, detailing the stories behind some of the legendary Grisha who have, in effect, become mythical figures. The sword, known as Neshyenyercomes from the story of Sankt Kho en Sankt Neyar. Neyar, a Durast, forged a sword to fight the clockwork soldiers created by Kho. It’s not Crows anymore, but it does expand on that storyline.

inej fights a woman in Chinese-inspired clothing in an open courtyard

Girl Boss
Photo: David Lukacs/Netflix

The lives of saints isn’t the only companion book in the Grishaverse. The language of thorns is another collection of fairy tales set in the Grishaverse. There is also a prequel graphic novel called Darkling Demon in the forest.

The Grishaverse books are an exciting fantasy series that ushered in a whole wave of high-fantasy YA who stepped outside the typical medieval English setting. If you haven’t paid much attention to the young adult genre since it stopped dominating culture with series like the Twilight and Hunger Games novels, you may not realize the impact Bardugo’s series has had on the genre since then. The world is rich, but it’s the dynamic characters that capture the fans’ hearts. And judging by Season 2, the Netflix series isn’t just drawing on the main books anymore – it’s rapidly expanding the story, changing the order of events, and delving into the larger Grishaverse.

Both seasons of Shadow and bones streaming on Netflix.