It’s a pretty good time to be a fan of epic fantasy and Sci-Fi. Thanks to viewer-hungry streaming services looking for the next Big Thing, adaptations of all kinds are finally hitting the screens. Of course, if you’re a reader more than a watcher, you may have already hit the biggest problem with these kinds of series – getting to the end of them. After all, ask a Game of Thrones reader how it all turns out in Westeros, and they’ll likely groan and mutter that George Martin always takes his time with books. Or mention the KingKiller Chronicles at a Convention and see who moves to defend Patrick Rothfuss, and who curses his name.
The point I’m trying to make is, when the “Shadow and Bone” tv show appeared on Netflix, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tackle the books, in case I was committing myself to another unfinished epic. But I found the first trilogy of books in a nice box set and bought them for Mrs Dim for Christmas. After a week, she still hadn’t started them, so I borrowed it back and read them myself. Then I bought the audio book of “Six of Crows”, one of a “duology” set in the same world, but a different part with (mostly) different characters, and then I borrowed the second book “Crooked Kingdom” from the library. Once I had got through those, I went back to the library for “King of Scars” and “Rule of Wolves” which is ANOTHER duology that follows on from where both the trilogy and other duology leave off. They don’t END the story, as such, but they do tie up a lot of threads from all the earlier books. It’s safe to start is what I’m saying.
The first trilogy is the story that the tv show is telling, about Alina Starkov, who starts out as an orphan in the army of Ravka, working as a Mapmaker and trying to stay close to her childhood friend and fellow orphan Mal. But Alina is, unknown to herself, a Grisha, someone who can manipulate matter through what looks like magic. More than that, she’s a rare “Sun Summoner” , who may be able to undo the damage done to her country by the Heretic, hundreds of years ago. He performed such evil magic that he released “The Fold”, dividing the country in two and making travel from East to West deadly dangerous.
I won’t go into the story much further, because it is built of twists and turns and reversals. Leigh Bardugo has NO qualms about letting her characters get out of danger, recover, make plans and then get thrown to the wolves, or have the floor fall out from under them. It can be hard on the heart, but it guarantees an exciting story, even across three books.
“Six of Crows” and “Crooked Kingdom” focus on the Ketterdam crew, Kaz Brekker and his associates from The Barrel, the roughest part of Ketterdam. While these characters also appear in the tv show, the story runs a little differently in the books. Here, Kaz and his crew are hired for an impossible job – to get into the Ice Palace in Fjerda, where the Royal Family live, and also the headquarters of the fearsome Drüskelle (witch hunters). While getting in is impossible, they’ll also stand out from the blond, pale Fjerdans if they do get in, and they’ve been tasked with rescuing a high-value prisoner, which will be impossible. And then, even if they can get in, stay free, find and release the prisoner, they have to get out again.
It’s a huge heist adventure, with magic and thievery and romance and danger. And again, Leigh Bardugo is not gentle on her characters. They get hurt. Things go wrong.
In the final duology, both the strands of story have relevance, as the situation in Ravka comes to a head. The King must defend his throne from those trying to depose him, and he must defend his kingdom from Fjerda in the North and Shu Han in the South, and save his people from The Blight, a terrible phenomenon laying waste to land and people.
I loved being able to read all of these books in such a short span of time. The actual events are trying, and some of the losses are heartbreaking, but it’s a great story and a GRAND story. Seven books may seem like a lot, but they encompass the movements of entire nations. It’s well worth your time.