Even before the 2021 Netflix adaptation of Shadow and Bone, the Grishaverse books written by Leigh Bardugo were steeped in popularity and continue to delight readers old and new. The original trilogy was released in 2012, 2013, and 2014, and the sequel duo following the Crows gang was released in 2015 and 2016, giving hungry readers a new book every year. But which book is best? Now is the perfect time to rank the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows pair, from worst to best. (As a side note, this list will not include the newest Grishaverse duo, King of Scars.)
5. Shadow and Bone
The book that started it all. Shadow and Bone sees Alina Starkov as a normal Ravkan, just an average girl. But when her best friend is injured during a crossing of the Shadow Fold, she unleashes a power she never knew she had. Not only is Alina a Grisha, possessing magical powers, but her power far surpasses the average, making her the most important Grisha in Ravka and catching the eye of the mysterious Darkling. Bardugo paints a vivid world set in an alternate, magical Russia, but that’s not where the creativity ends. The inclusion of the Grisha, and the Darkling especially, make each chapter a page-turner. And for fans of romance, there’s plenty to go around. As nostalgic as it is, the only reason Shadow and Bone is placed so early on this list is that other books in the series go above and beyond, but there is no question that this first installment of the Grishaverse books is beautifully crafted and passionately realized.
4. Siege and Storm
As Alina and Mal’s adventure continues, they run from the Darkling in search of the second amplifier, only to be met with the Darkling’s dangerous new powers and a new plan for the Sun Summoner. As Alina and Mal struggle to stop the Darkling, Ravka begins to worship their Sun Summoner as a saint, and things get even more complicated when a notorious privateer joins the fray. Alina must dig deeper into the depths of her magic, but doing so could cut her off from Mal and everyone she loves, and bring her closer to the Darkling.
In YA fantasy, the second installment of a trilogy can tend to drag a bit, just because it’s the midpoint of the story. But Siege and Storm bypasses the second-book drag by including strong character development for Alina as she grows from being a victim of the Darkling to one of his most dangerous enemies. While the drama between her and Mal can seem drawn-out at times, the inclusion of Stormhond, the privateer, brings enough levity and adventure to tip the scales of the book from good to great.
3. Ruin and Rising
Injured but not defeated, Alina Starkov returns for a thrilling conclusion to the Shadow and Bone trilogy. Now that the Darkling has stolen the throne of Ravka, Alina can only seek refuge in the untrustworthy hands of the Apparat and search for the third amplifier, hoping to enlist the help of Ravka’s missing prince and help him retake his throne. But as her search brings her nearer and nearer to the third amplifier, she begins to unravel the secrets of the past, realizing that claiming the amplifier could destroy everything she’s worked so hard to protect.
The relationships between characters are especially intriguing in Ruin and Rising, as the romance between her and Mal is at the heart of the story. Alina has also become her strongest self in her efforts to defeat the Darkling, and Nikolai’s storyline is as unpredictable as it is thrilling. As far as the original Shadow and Bones trilogy, the story just keeps getting better with every book, and this exciting finale is a fitting way to end the spellbinding story of Alina Starkov the Sun Summoner. And yet, an even more engaging story is yet to come.
2. Crooked Kingdom
Following the explosive and devastating ending of Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom picks up where the first book left off, with the team in shambles, betrayed, and hopeless. Back to fighting for their lives, the Crows are forced to get involved in the international scramble for the powerful Grisha drug, "jurda parem". As Kaz and the crew struggle to survive, they must pull off a major scam in order to escape the situation with their lives—and their revenge. As the conclusion to the Six of Crows duo, Crooked Kingdom fulfills the promises made by its predecessor, complete with storylines that come to a satisfying end. In addition, fans of the original Shadow and Bones trilogy are given a treat when characters from that series get cameos in this one. Action-packed, emotional, and adventurous, Crooked Kingdom is a fitting end for the Crows crew and for Kaz Brekker.
1. Six of Crows
Kaz Brekker, an up-and-coming criminal mastermind on the streets of Ketterdam, is given an opportunity to complete a deadly heist that offers vast riches in return. However, the mission would take him into enemy territory, and he can’t pull it off alone. Kaz enlists the help of a carefully-chosen team comprised of Inej, a gifted spy; Jesper, a sharpshooter with a taste for gambling; Nina, a Grisha Heartrender; Matthias, a prisoner seeking vengeance, and Wylan, a runaway new to the slums. Together, this ragtag group of criminals must pull off the most ambitious and daring heist imaginable, amid the clashing personalities of the team and an endless stream of dangers.
Six of Crows is the perfect action-packed, character-driven heist story with an added layer of YA fantasy that matches well with the young but determined characters and their interactions with each other. Witty, quippy, and powerful, this collection of assorted oddballs become a close-knit team. Set in the world of Shadow and Bone, Six of Crows is nonetheless its own separate story with a completely different tone, less of a fantasy epic and more of a smaller-scale found-family story. And it is, undoubtedly, the most tightly-written and satisfying book in the world of Shadow and Bone.
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