Six of Crows
A fresh take on fantasy, Leigh Bardugo’s "Six of Crows" is a must-read before the upcoming Netflix series releases. (Illustration by Katie Moss, University of Kentucky)

Leigh Bardugo’s best-selling series “Shadow and Bone” and “Six of Crows” are currently in production as a united series on Netflix under the name “Shadow and Bone,” much to the delight of thousands of her fans.

Unfortunately, these series have yet to generate enough traction to become household names,
but Netflix’s ability to take shows and turn them into pop-culture phenomena could quickly change that. The time is now for you to immerse yourself in Bardugo’s Grishaverse, the world in which her fictional series operate, before their story lines are released onto the small screen.

While you should read all of the books in the Grishaverse, it is entirely possible that curious Netflix viewers will only give one of Bardugo’s novels a chance. If this is the case for you, then Bardugo’s work “Six of Crows” is the perfect chance for you to discover the delights of the best-selling author’s talents.

But before you rush off to the nearest Barnes & Noble to pick up a copy or tune into the eventual first episode on Netflix, I’ve compiled a small study guide to help you along the way.

Bardugo’s Grishaverse is composed of a world that is entirely different from Earth. In it, five main lands operate and vie for power with each other: Novyi Zem, Fjerda, Ravka, Shu Han and Kerch, which is the home to several of the characters in “Six of Crows.”

Fans of Bardugo’s work might argue that her “Shadow and Bone” trilogy better introduces readers to the vastness and intricacies of her fantasy world, and this is a legitimate assertion. In “Shadow and Bone,” you are exposed to the Russian-inspired nation of Ravka and a rudimentary version of her magic system.

One of the most incredible aspects of Bardugo’s work is her unique mythology. One of the most prevalent examples of this is her Grisha, individuals with supernatural abilities from the land of Ravka. There are three different orders of Grisha: Etherealki, who have power over the body; Materialki, who have power over nonliving matter and Corporalki, who have power over the elements of air, water and fire.

Also important to understand is the existence of jurda, a caffeine-like substance widely used in the Grishaverse, and its illegally enhanced cousin, jurda parem. This drug becomes a key plot point in “Six of Crows” and its sequel, “Crooked Kingdom.” It is likely that the Netflix series will include this as a major component for the plot as well.

Despite fan-preferred “Six of Crows” technically taking place after the events of “Shadow and Bone,” the two series exist independently from each other and can be read out of order. Moreover, “Six of Crows” reveals to the reader other parts of the Grishaverse.

The first novel in the “Six of Crows” duology encapsulates the multifaceted world of Bardugo’s Grishaverse while displaying her best writing. The story follows six talented yet deeply troubled teens with a penchant for thieving and conniving, with none better than the limping mastermind Kaz Brekker. A combination of Sherlock Holmes’ level of intellect and the moral compass of a 1950s mobster, Brekker makes a fascinatingly fresh character that is sure to capture the reader’s imagination.

Brekker is introduced in the early goings of the novel as the teenaged leader of the Dregs, a gang in the fictional port of Ketterdam in Kerch, and is infamous for donning gloves and a cane at all times. Interestingly enough, Bardugo is known to frequently use a cane due to medical reasons.

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Okay, deep breath. If you've read the acknowledgments in #SixofCrows, you may know I have a degenerative condition that makes walking pretty painful. It's called avascular or osteonecrosis and it showed up in my 20s. Pretty unusual for someone my age and in good health, but there you have it. Some days are easy, some days every step hurts like hell. The hardest part is not being able to do things I used to really love in the same way. Dancing, exploring cities on foot, running— ok, I never loved running, but you get the idea. Anyway, I realized my (ableist) reluctance to use a cane has meant missing out on a lot of good things, and that is some serious bs. So for the last leg (hey o!) of the #magicandmayhem tour, you may see me with my @dellamorteco cane (technically a raven's skull, Kaz would not approve) or my @lekiusa hiking cane. I'm not great at talking about personal stuff on social media, but I'm trying to be more up front about the situation. It's part of the reason I wrote Kaz, and it's not something I'm interested in hiding. My plan is to acquire a lot of awesome walking sticks and to be as candid as possible about the good days and the bad days. Thanks for letting me share both. And my sweet new mani. #nomournersnofunerals

A post shared by Leigh Bardugo (@lbardugo) on

Brekker allies himself with his ever-faithful wraith Inej, sharpshooter Jesper, heartrender Nina (an Etherealki with the ability to alter peoples’ pulses), the Fjerdian prisoner Matthias and demolition expert Wylan. Together, this minacious band of teens is tasked with extracting a highly wanted individual from an unbreakable fortress in the icy land of Fjerda.

While the plot may seem rather straightforward, there are a number of surprises. The story is tightly written and presents intelligent decisions, departures from traditional character archetypes and a bevy of twists for even the keenest of readers. For this reason, “Six of Crows” stands tall as one of the few stories with villains playing heroes done well.

Coupled in with the fact that “Six of Crows” is Bardugo’s most popular work, reading the novel will help cement your place in the Grishaverse fandom. It will also help save you from any world-building confusion in the Netflix series, provided the adaptation stays faithful to the canon. Perhaps most important, however, is that the diverse cast of characters showcases an array of elements of the Grishaverse and allows for the reader to gain the most thorough understanding of Bardugo’s world a single novel can offer.

While the current details surrounding the production of the show are shrouded in secrecy, you can expect a shared universe between the “Six of Crows” characters and the “Shadow and Bone” characters. The story is expected to emphasize “Shadow and Bone” protagonist Alina Starkov’s storyline, but the fan favorites of “Six of Crows” are expected to play important roles.

How the writers of the show plan to integrate the various storylines across Bardugo’s novels, I can only speculate. However, I can tell you that reading a great introductory novel like “Six of Crows” will help prepare you for the multiplicitous characters and nuances Netflix is sure to introduce you to.

The show is said to be composed of eight episodic installments. Eric Heisserer, who has written projects for Netflix, such as “Bird Box,” and “Stranger Things” executive producer Shawn Levy are working with Bardugo to produce “Shadow and Bone.” Bardugo will serve as an executive producer for the show. With a talented team working to bring the Grishaverse to the small screen, fans are free to hold lofty expectations for the project.

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