If you’ve discovered Shadow and Bone thanks to Netflix, you might be thinking to yourself, “Maybe I’ll pick up the books, this seems like a fun series!” And while you wouldn’t be wrong, you also wouldn’t be starting in the best place.
Leigh Bardugo’s original Grishaverse Trilogy—Alina’s trilogy—is comprised of Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising. It’s a very good, if very predictable, YA fantasy series. It’s also nearly a decade old, and some of the choices it makes that were innovative at the time are no longer as exciting. With incisive worldbuilding and deliberate attempts to subvert YA tropes, the Grisha Trilogy is good. But (especially if you’re not a YA reader) the series isn’t phenomenal.
You know which books are phenomenal? Bardugo’s Six of Crows Duology. Start there instead! It’s set in the same universe as the Grisha trilogy, but in a different country and with a new set of characters. Six of Crows and its sequel, Crooked Kingdom, are frankly wonderful books. Bardugo improved over the course of writing the Grisha Trilogy, and when it came time to return to the Grishaverse, she delivered an epic gaslamp fantasy series full of incredible characters, exciting heists, and stakes that were both personal and world-altering. The balances the duology pulls off are not to be underestimated. There are some tropes, but this time around they are fully subverted, and as a result the series appeals to both adult fantasy and YA fantasy readers. (I will not call this “New Adult” fantasy, I’m sorry. I refuse to acknowledge that term as I find it personally condescending and I don’t like it.)
The point is that Bardugo’s glow up from the Grisha Trilogy (already a good series) to the Crows Duology is unmatched. I have never read a set like this where the author so obviously improved, grew, learned, and then leaned into the best parts of her old works in her next series. The reason people are so thrilled about the Crows, the characters, the plots, and the future promises of a Six of Crows TV series is that the Crows are the best part of the Grishaverse, and have been since they first swaggered, schemed, and backflipped onto the page.
The main characters of Six of Crows start with Kaz Brekker, a vicious and ambitious young man whose dreams are made of gold and his reality far less impressive; Inej Ghafa, a trafficked sex worker whose faith is only matched by her abilities as an assassin; and Jesper Fahey, a ne’er-do-well rogue and sharpshooter with big bisexual disaster energy. When Kaz takes advantage of the criminal gig economy, he recruits the remaining three members of the team: Nina Zenik, an ex-spy and heartrender who can’t get over her first love; Wylan Van Eck, a chemist of mysterious parentage and a musician’s heart; and Matthias Helvar, a former witch hunter who also happens to be the love of Nina’s life… too bad he still wants to kill her.
It’s this rag-tag group of highly skilled fuckups that galavant across countries and continents in search of Jura Parem—a highly addictive drug that increases a Grisha’s power tenfold, but also leaves them weak, sick, and unable to function without the drug. The setup, the characters, and the much more refined worldbuilding of this series is so good, so satisfying, so worthy of your time, that I still consider these two books among my all-time favorites. The Grisha trilogy might have introduced us to this world, but Six of Crows perfected it.
So it’s no surprise that Eric Heisserer, the showrunner of Shadow and Bone season one (and co-showrunner of season two), originally passed on the project when Netflix said that it didn’t have rights to the Crows. It was only after securing the Duology that he came onto the series, knowing that he had access and permission to kitbash the five books together in order to feature his favorites. And, frankly, it’s paid off. While Shadow and Bone suffers from Big Bad Evil Guy syndrome, Six of Crows allows systems and political ambition to become the villain. The addition of the Crows elevates Shadow and Bone into a show that has more nuance, more ambition, and more meaty plot hooks. Sure, the result is a little unwieldy, and the pacing of season two is, frankly, a bit of a mess, but the Crows are so good. I’m a viewer that is willing to forgive a lot of narrative sins if I’m enjoying the characters, and the way the Crows have been handled in the series makes the rest of the show worth watching. They’re scheming, backstabbing, horrible little shits and I love them.
So when I learned that Heisserer is hoping to spin off a Six of Crows-centric show, not a Shadow and Bone show with a few birds sprinkled on top, I couldn’t be happier. With the way that Netflix is and the way that the show has been underperforming during its first week, at least by Netflix standards (according to a Deadline report), who knows if we’ll even get a season three, much less a spinoff. But the truth is that the Crows deserve their own show, and even if season three of Shadow and Bone doesn’t come around, having only bits and pieces of their story on the screen would be a massive shame and a disservice to the novels, the fans, and Bardugo herself. The Crows have always been the best part of the Grishaverse. It’s time they get the focus.
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