Netflix's Shadow and Bone is out, and audiences may be curious to go back and read the original books but in need of a beginner's guide and wondering where to start. The first book by author Leigh Bardugo (and the book that gives the Netflix series its name), Shadow and Bone, was first released in 2012. Since then, the series has grown by six more books, two companion books, and a number of short stories. It's sold over 3 million copies in the English language alone, not including the most recent two books, and translated into 38 languages around the world to date.
Set in a fictional world that readers refer to as the Grishaverse, it first starts out following the story of Alina Starkov, a teenage orphan in war-torn Ravka who discovers she has extraordinary powers that could help save her kingdom. Subsequent books branched out to focus on other characters that originally had supporting roles in the original trilogy, and other books that follow characters who weren't in the original trilogy at all. Through it all, Bardugo's fanbase has only grown to keep pace with the Grishaverse.
The Netflix adaptation of Shadow & Bone has garnered great reviews. Still, while the vast and varied world offers something for everyone, it may leave those new to the books feeling a bit daunted. Many people wonder if they should start with the original Grisha trilogy or skip ahead to the Six of Crows duology first, and whether they'll be lost if they choose the latter approach. Either way is fine, but it's almost always best to start with the first books in the series, so that's how this guide will tackle it.
The first books in the Grishaverse form the Grisha trilogy and are the best place to start as they clearly lay out the Grishaverse. In order, the books are Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising. They follow Alina Starkov, who discovers she has the rare powers of a Sun Summoner, long-rumored but thought to be a myth. With her newfound abilities, she has the potential to destroy the Shadow Fold, a swath of near-impenetrable darkness that bisects the kingdom of Ravka and has been slowly strangling the country for over a century thanks to it being populated with ravenous creatures.
The trilogy sets up the concept of the Grisha, the equivalent of the world's magic casters, along with explaining its system of magic, its kingdoms and people, and the general state of the world. It's an intensely fun and engaging fantasy series and a quick read. However, Bardugo herself has publicly stated more than once that they were the first books she ever wrote and heavily influenced by the fantasy she grew up with, and there are perhaps a few things she'd do differently now. There are a few YA genre tropes, such as the Chosen One narrative and the love triangle (thankfully resolved quickly) that feel a bit dated. Thanks to the richness of Bardugo's world-building, however, it's still a tremendously entertaining read.
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