As you probably know if you’re here, the Shadow and Bone television series premiered in March. The first season of eight episodes is based on two books by Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows. They are both the first in series set in the “Grishaverse,” and the TV show follows the characters of both books simultaneously. Although the show aired a few months ago at this point, I was very busy during that time span. But I finally got some free time recently, and I ended up binging the entire show in just a couple of days! However, I also -gasp!- have never read any books in the Grishaverse.
I know what you’re thinking: how can you have read so many YA books and not read a single book by Leigh Bardugo, literally one of the most popular YA authors? The answer is: it’s complicated. But when I heard about the television show, I made a deal with myself: I would commit the book lovers’ sin of watching the show before reading the book. And if I liked the show, I would consider reading the books. Delve under the cut to discover how much I was swayed!
This review contains spoilers for the Shadow and Bone television series, and probably the books too but I wouldn’t know 🙂
One reason I haven’t read any of Bardugo’s books is because I generally do not read fantasy. It’s just a preference, but that preference stems from the fact that I find fantasy books hard to get into. I find high fantasy especially difficult to get into because you’re introduced to twenty new words and ten different countries and a whole lot of fictional politics and you have to remember all of them or else the plot doesn’t make sense. And as a result, the beginning tends to be slow and boring because it’s just a lot of worldbuilding. In fact, the four fantasy books I have read this year set in a world other than ours were all pretty weak on the worldbuilding I would say. I just don’t have the patience for it. I have always been someone who needs to be engaged in the first couple of chapters, and fantasy often doesn’t do that for me. Seriously, I picked up and put down H*rry P*tter so many times as a kid because even though my friends loved it, I could get past that snooze-fest of a first chapter.
Which brings me to the other reason I haven’t read any of Leigh Bardugo’s books: it’s not for a lack of trying. I love heist stories, and everyone and their mother tells me Six of Crows is such a great heist book! I have attempted to read Six of Crows twice, and I have DNFed it both times. And I truly did try: in my last attempt to read it in 2018 I read well over 100 pages. After that time, I really gave up. However, as I said, I told myself that if I liked the show, I would give the books another shot. So it was time for me to kick up my feet and watch some Netflix.
Since I haven’t read the books, I was going in completely blind. Okay, mostly blind. I have consumed enough book content on the internet to be familiar with a lot of the characters’ names and the most popular ships. But I was completely blind to the plot, which is important to remember since you will recall I don’t enjoy being confused about what’s going on.
Thankfully, I found I was able to catch on to most things pretty quickly. They toss around a lot of terms like “grisha” and “heartrender” but thankfully the visual cues allowed me to pick up their meanings. I will admit I felt very confused for the first 20 minutes where they were like “we’re gonna cross the fold, this is a death mission” and I was just sitting there like “what the heck is the fold?!” But once again, an advantage of the television format is that nobody has to outright explain things to the audience, but can instead tell the audience all they need to know through visuals. Something that is inconsequential but did bug me a bit was that I couldn’t exactly figure out the geography of Ravka and its neighboring countries. This is a time where I would have liked one of those fancy book maps.
Despite still having a bit of disorientation, that in no way turned me away from the show, because the first episode immediately drew me in. Not because of the plot necessarily, it was a pretty traditional hero’s journey storyline for Alina, but because of the characters. I immediately fell in love with nearly all of the characters. I loved the crows, I loved Mal and Alina and Genya, and I loved Nina and Mattias. And as I watched more of the series, I loved watching their character development, and how their relationships played out.
The characters ended up being my favorite part of the show, they made it compelling. They were all incredibly three-dimensional, flawed characters with strong motivations. Very few of the characters in Shadow and Bone could be classified as good people (probably just Alina and Mal, tbh), but all of the characters were interesting which is the important part. Despite it being a fantasy show, it was much more a character-driven story than an action-driven one. Since I tend to prefer character-driven pieces, this definitely helped my enjoyment of the show.
Overall, I definitely enjoyed the series. I wouldn’t say that the story is incredibly inventive, it is pretty standard fantasy I felt like, and pretty standard TV. It used a lot of familiar tropes, and although there were some cliffhangers and twists and turns, there wasn’t necessarily anything that surprised me. Like, I watched season 2 of Lupin at basically the same time as I watched Shadow and Bone, and it wasn’t Lupin. That being said, it was still good entertainment! It wasn’t the disastrous levels of cringe-worthy horrible that The Irregulars was. While it leaned toward the formulaic side, the writing and acting were well done.
In the end, I have one main issue. (Fair warning, this is where the spoilers start to kick in).
I didn’t like the progression of the relationship between Alina and General Kuragin. I want to be clear here: I very much do not ship them. Because I personally don’t find non-consensually violating the autonomy of another person to be sexy. And I mean, props to that one scene for how incredibly disgusting it felt, but before we as an audience learn that Kuragin is actually the darkling and also totally evil, we are supposed to believe that Alina has fallen for him romantically. Which is a plot point that makes sense in and of itself. She falls for the handsome stranger, and thus when she (and the audience) learn the truth, there is a sense of personal betrayal.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find their romance very convincing, and thus I didn’t get that sense of betrayal. During the scene where Alina and Kuragin kiss for the first time, my thought was basically, “I’m not necessarily opposed to this being the route the writers take, but this is way too rushed.” I thought that Genya’s eventual betrayal was much more meaningful, because I really believed in the bond of the relationship between Alina and Genya (side note: more people should ship them together).
Okay, spoilers are officially over. So, I will finally answer the question I’m sure you’ve been asking yourself since the beginning: am I going to read the books?
I frequently have a show hangover after I finish bingeing a series, and thus when they are based on books (like this one) my first thought usually is to try and get my hands on the book. But that is not always the wisest decision, and since the Bridgerton affair, I have decided it was a good idea to give myself a few days of headspace and see if I’m still interested. So I decided to sit with it for a few days.
I also wanted to see what my friends thought, so I looked up both Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows on Goodreads. Most of my friends on Goodreads have rated Six of Crows 5 stars. Meanwhile, most of them have rated Shadow and Bone only 3. So I came to what I believe to be a very logical conclusion: I am definitely going to read Six of Crows, and maybe someday I will pick up Shadow and Bone if I’m in the mood, but it’s not going to be a priority.
That’s it! You’ve done it! I have been peer pressured into once again picking up Six of Crows. Of course, since this is a this-was-already-a-popular-book-and-the-show-just-came-out situation, I am still about 5 weeks out on my library loan according to Libby (it started at about 9). However, I have committed to giving it another shot, so I will certainly be reading it when my hold comes in. Because even if I have decided to read it, I am not spending my hard-earned money on a book that I have DNFed twice, no matter how much I liked the tv show.
I hope you enjoyed this review! What did you think of the Shadow and Bone show? And let me know what you think my best course of action is re: tackling the Grishaverse. In a complete sidenote, I have a very ranty review of The Irregulars sitting on my computer that I wrote for my school’s newspaper, and although this is a book blog I would totally post it if people are interested in that? So if you were similarly disappointed by The Irregulars you should also let me know in the comments.
And that’s all for today, I hope you have a lovely day!