A Reflection on Endings

It has been a long time since I last updated this blog. In that time, my life has shifted in new but not wholly unexpected ways. I have moved cross-country, completed a graduate certificate program, shifted careers, and finalized my divorce.

In this time, I have received feedback on the ending to The Enduring Flame: some good, some critical. I regret to say that, though the ending is not completely satisfactory to all readers, it is not something I wish to revisit—at least not for a long time to come.

“Death of the Author” is a perfectly fine analysis in theory, but it discounts the reality of every artist being heavily influenced by their life and experiences. In my case, I wrote the ending to my trilogy while in a personal spiral. In the span of a few short months, I had lost my marriage, given up my teaching career and house, and watched the dreams for my future go up in flames. Despite all this, I was determined to finish the trilogy and publish the book a year after The Fading Glow, as I had promised to do.

Perhaps this was a poor choice. Perhaps I should have waited to complete it until I was in a better place. Well over a year later, though, I am still in a writing slump (I have written a grand total of twenty to thirty pages in the past calendar year) and so I would have had to keep pushing back the publication date. Really, it was a choice between a rushed and emotionally compromised ending, or no ending at all.

A few readers have told me that the series ended too cleanly and happily, even for monsters like Cara. I don’t disagree. I had always intended for Cara to realize her wrongdoings and seek redemption for the rest of her days; though not realistic for the monsters of our own world, in my fantasy I imagined that true remorse could be found even in the darkest of hearts. Death is an easy way out for villains; it would be far more difficult, yet satisfactory, for them to come to terms with their own evil. Could I have executed it better? Absolutely. But the gist of Cara’s ending would still have been the same.

Many modern readers expect a bloodbath in the final book of a series. Frankly, I didn’t have the heart to kill off other major characters, nor to bring more tragedy for those like Sandu and Seanna who had already suffered so much. Because I was in such a dark place myself, I think I was trying to gain some control by giving my characters a chance at happiness. When looking at each one individually, I felt that they all had earned their respective endings.

So I hope you, my readers, can forgive this human impulse to grant happy endings where it is in my power to do so.

If you are someone who enjoys epilogues, below are short summaries of the lives of each important character. If you prefer to imagine your own endings, you can stop reading here (or even tell me what you imagine for your favorite characters).

I don’t know when I’ll begin writing or updating this blog again, but I wish you all the best.




The rest of Cara’s life was not easy. She never again experienced true friendship, though she did occasionally visit her parents before their deaths. She spent the rest of her days traveling with Jagger, attempting to gain redemption through a life of selflessness. When Jagger eventually passed on, Cara continued without companionship. She did not marry, did not settle down—no village would want her in their community—and died alone and unmourned. I don’t think she would have done enough to escape Purgatory, and so would have continued her pursuit of redemption into death.


Like Cara, Jagger spent his life seeking redemption. Unlike Cara, Jagger’s deal with Autorus meant that he would pass on once his debts were paid. One night, he felt a sense of peacefulness in his soul, and said his goodbyes to Cara. He passed on in the night and finally rejoined his beloved Raven in the afterlife.


Like the Witches before her, Gwen became less and less human. Druam dwelled happily with her until his natural death, and Gwen continued on as a caretaker of the Woods for time immemorial. She raised Lintem’s cubs, then their cubs, and so on, and soon came to know every creature, tree, and stone within her Woods. Like the Witches before her, she became a myth herself.


Though he spent much of his time in the Woods with Gwen, Druam traveled often to see Verdon. Never content to lay about, he took on multiple projects over the years: aiding Ropaz to create a parliamentary system for the kingdom; building villages and roads within the Woods for those people who chose to stay; learning to craft new glass lanterns, which he hung all around Gwen’s little hut. Like many former fampir, he experienced melancholy about growing old and passing on. However, as all mortals must, he eventually made peace with his own death.


Though he never sought leadership roles, Sandu found himself as a sort of mediator between the ruling class and the rustic folk. His skills of reading and writing earned him respect, and his ability to hear the Songs of Humanity granted him great compassion and empathy. He lived in a modest home in Con Salur with his father and the twins. Frederick opened a smithy nearby and helped to raise Eaton and Elvy. Sandu died surrounded by grandchildren and great-grandchildren, having lived a quiet, peaceful life.


With Portia at her side, Seanna returned to her home city of Brin. Rather than keeping the ancestral family manor for herself, she made it into an orphanage. Little Landin was raised along with a cohort of children, laughing and playing in the city streets. He was later told that he was the son of a king, and so felt a need to honor his father’s memory. With Seanna’s blessing, Landin joined Brin’s parliament and faithfully served the city for many years. Seanna found contentment in her simple life, and did all she could to help the children in her care learn from her many mistakes.


Eventually, Mavian’s resentment at sacrificing his life faded, and he became a caring guide for the dead. Like Gwen, he lost track of the passage of time, and his mortal memories dissipated into the Song of Death. He warmly greeted Cara, Druam, Sandu, Seanna, and Jagger when each of their times came.

The Enduring Flame and Other News

The day has finally come: The Enduring Flame is now available as an ebook and paperback here. Leaving a review on Amazon and Goodreads will help immensely.

Now that the trilogy is finished, I will be taking a hiatus from writing. I have been struggling with my mental health since the events in my personal life last year, and I don’t currently have the energy to pour into creative works. I will also be taking a hiatus from this blog, so it may be months or over a year until my next update. I may occasionally post photos on my author Instagram, but that will be the extent of my online interaction for the foreseeable future.

Thank you to all my readers, and I hope you enjoy the ending of the series.

The Enduring Flame: Cover Reveal and Preorder!

It’s finally here! A few months later than I was hoping, but we can’t always plan for life’s ups and downs. I am sorry that I broke the promises I made for the release, so thank you for your patience.

Without further ado, here is the cover for the third and final book in The Sovereigns of the Dead trilogy, The Enduring Flame:

I’m so thankful for my artist and the fine work he’s done on all three covers. This one, though, might be my favorite! The characters all look amazing – can you guess who’s who? – and the scene represented is a pivotal one within the book.

The eBook is available for preorder here and will launch on April 2nd. The print book will be available on the same date.

Happy Spring!

An Update for the Holidays

My lovely readers, I am so excited to announce that the text for The Enduring Flame, the final book in the trilogy, has been fully edited and is ready for publication! Unfortunately, the cover artist is still working diligently on making amazing art, so the book will not release before 2022. My fingers are crossed for January or February, though!

I have been busy these past couple of months on a new novel for NaNoWriMo, edits for this book, and other personal projects, so I also apologize for no blog post in November. Next time I post, though, I should have a cover reveal for you.

Happy Holidays!

Blog and Short Reviews

Hello lovely readers, I hope your October treated you well. This blog post may be a week late, but better late than never, right?

I am still waiting to hear back from my beta readers. Hopefully there won’t be too many edits to complete this month, and so the release should be on track.

While I haven’t read as much as I’ve been hoping to (I did buy a new book this weekend and have three on hold at the library), I do have two short reviews that I feel would be good to visit now.

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

This is marketed as a YA book – or at least, that’s how it’s labeled at my local library – but it didn’t feel super young to me. The main characters are all young women, but they don’t read particularly angsty or juvenile, which is a bonus for me.

A retelling of the story “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” this book follows five sisters who live in Transylvania in the 16th Century. The second eldest, Jena, is the main protagonist and point-of-view character. The story begins when the girls’ father leaves for the winter due to his health, leaving the manor in the girls’ care. However, things go wrong after a family member’s death, and their cousin Cezar begins to take over the manor.

One of the girls’ main escapes throughout their lives has been a monthly trip into the fae Other Kingdom on the night of the full moon, where they dance the night away. They always take care not to eat or make deals with the fae, and are successful until the eldest sister, Tati, starts to spend much of her time with a dangerous member of the Night People.

With winter and Cezar to contend with in the real world, and Tati’s mysterious amore in the Other Kingdom, Jena has much to figure out before she loses everything she loves.

This book captures the “fairytale” feeling that I enjoy, including some dark elements reminiscent of earlier folktales. The setting is cold and immersive, with the winter ever held at bay, and I would put it alongside The Winternight Trilogy and Spinning Silver as an excellent read for those chilly nights. The characters, while young, are intelligent and resourceful, and the plot moves at just the right pace. The prose is florid and beautiful without being distracting. If you enjoy romances with a happy ending and just the right dose of adventure, you’ll love this story.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi is a darling of the year, taking awards and garnering a lot of praise. I picked it up expecting to read something like Madeline Miller’s Circe, and while the prose and general hazy atmosphere are certainly similar, the plot and characters are vastly different.

Set in the House, a strange world apart from ours filled with rooms upon rooms stretching for an unknown number, and a floor touching the sky and a floor touching the tides with a middle floor in between, readers are instantly met with Piranesi, a scholar whose goal is to map the vast House. He does not keep a calendar recognizable to us, nor does he behave as a normal man might, but we gain a sense of kinship with him through his curiosity and love for the House.

Other than Piranesi, there are very few people in the house. The Other is the only person Piranesi interacts with, besides the various skeletons strewn around the place. As the story progresses, Piranesi begins to doubt his work with the Other, and learn there are perhaps more people in the world than the two of them and the bones.

Piranesi is perhaps one of the strangest, yet most beautiful books I’ve ever read. It does not have a “plot” so much as it has an “atmosphere,” with the characters and setting being more important than the story being told. Yet, the writing is so lovely that I couldn’t put it down, and I came away immensely satisfied with the experience. For something a little new, yet somehow nostalgic, this is the read for you.

It’s finally ready!

Hello my lovely readers, I have some excellent news on this fine fall day. I’m a bit late with this blog post because I’ve been working over the weekend to polish up Draft Two of The Enduring Flame for beta readers. I am so glad to say that it is finally ready!

I have some excellent readers already, but if you’re interested in trying your hand at critique, please email me at vistamcdowall@gmail.com. In exchange for your honest thoughts and timeliness – I am asking readers to be finished by the end of October – I would send you either a signed copy of The Lantern-Lit City or The Fading Glow, OR a free epub of the finished version of The Enduring Flame once it’s ready. Your choice!

As a thank-you for your patience as I deal with my personal issues, here is the very first scene of The Enduring Flame.

*Please note that this scene is not the final, polished version, and is subject to changes made during the last editing phases.

The Enduring Flame, Chapter One: Seanna

Snow fell continuously. It would have been peaceful, had Seanna been able to watch it from the warmth and safety of the keep in Con Salur. She held baby Landin close, her hands bundled in whatever cloth she could find to cover them. Her breath steamed in the winter air, and shivers passed over her. After days of walking, her feet ached and her still-healing body burned with pain. A hidden root caught her shoe, and she stumbled in the snow. Portia was by her in moment, her strong hands helping Seanna to right herself.

“Thank you,” Seanna said through chattering teeth.

Ahead of them, Dyle Belrose and Gavriel Ropaz pushed doggedly through the snow, leading the way to some unknown destination. The wizard and predicant walked side-by-side, their forms identical in the blizzard. Behind Seanna came a small group of straggling people: rustics, nobles, and servants from Con Salur, all that were left of the mighty city. Barely a hundred had managed to escape the siege. Seanna gritted her teeth. It won’t matter if we all die in the cold.

Belrose and Ropaz stopped, their heads bent together. Belrose turned to Seanna. “Your Grace, we think we’re near the borders of Lord Felder’s estate. The town of Larthearth is a few miles past it.”

“Lord Felder is obligated to help us,” Seanna said, her shivering making it hard for her to think. “We’ll go there first.”

Belrose nodded. He and Ropaz continued to plunge through the swirling white, and Seanna followed, hoping for a hot meal and a blazing fire. She blinked away the snowflakes on her eyelashes. When she glanced behind her, she saw that some of her people struggled as much as her. Though it was hard to pick them out in the storm, she thought that the nobles stumbled and straggled the most, while the rustics looked forward with determined gazes. We nobles have been spoiled our whole lives. We’ve never had to brave a storm, yet these rustics have known such hardship every winter. She bit her lip and adjusted her grip on Landin. The baby’s face was pale, his lips turning blue. If they didn’t find shelter soon…her heart clutched at the thought.

Wrought iron gates loomed out of the white. No one manned them. Ropaz pushed them open, and the refugees slowly moved up the long drive to the manor house. Seanna could already imagine the meat and wine and her feet drying by the fire.

A few lights shone from the manor’s windows. Seanna surged forward, ready for the warmth. The rest of the refugees huddled in the yard as she, Belrose, and Ropaz made their way to the doors. Belrose pounded as hard as he could on the fine timbers.

After a few moments, a servant carefully opened the door. He stared out at the bedraggled group.

“Rustics are not welcome here,” the servant said frostily.

Ropaz stepped forward. “I am the High Predicant, Gavriel Ropaz, and I escort Her Grace Queen Seanna Bergfalk and His Grace King Landin the Third, heir to the throne of Dotschar.”

The servant paled. He stepped aside, and the three entered. Though the stone halls were chilly, Seanna was grateful for the reprieve from the wind and snow. She and the others followed the servant through a set of rooms to a cozy dining hall where a great fire roared. Seanna edged toward the fire as the servant bowed and went to find his master.

Just as Seanna began to thaw, Lord Felder entered. His gaze darted between his guests, and he licked his lips nervously.

“Your…Your Grace,” he muttered, giving a perfunctory bow. He didn’t even address Ropaz. “I-I’m afraid…I mean, I didn’t–”

“We need food and shelter,” Seanna said. “Our people are freezing outside. And whatever furs and cloaks you can spare for the road ahead.”

Lord Felder licked his lips again. “Ah. Well, I-I-I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

Seanna drew herself up, though she was still shorter than every man in the room. She turned so that Felder could see the infant’s face. “This is your king, Lord Felder. Would you really–”

“Shh!” Felder put a finger over his lips. He turned frightened eyes to the doorway. “They could hear you!”

Ropaz and Belrose glanced at the door. Seanna stared at Felder. “You don’t mean…?”

“Yes!” Felder spoke in a low, furtive voice. “The elves are here! Why do you think I’m still alive? I surrendered the moment they came through. They left a few of their own to keep an eye on me.”

He tried to shoo Seanna and the others back to the door, but she didn’t budge. “Lord Felder–”

Seanna’s objection spluttered to silence as three elves ducked into the room, looking cold despite the many furs slung over their shoulders. The air in the room dropped to an icy tension.

“Felder, who are these people?” asked the first elf in a lilting accent. His eyes lingered on Seanna.

“R-r-rustics begging for some food and shelter,” Felder stuttered. “I was just sending them away.”

“And where do these rustics come from?”

Felder sputtered, but Ropaz stepped in. The polished edges of his words dropped into a slur, rounding into any rustic’s speech. “From Haverly, sir. West o’ the capital. We’ve been walkin’ for quinns and deshes, an’ with the snows–”

“Enough.” The elf waved him into silence. “Give them some food and send them on their way.” He swept from the room, the other elves following him. Lord Felder let out a deep breath.

“I’ll give what we can spare,” he said. “You may have better luck in Larthearth. The elves don’t care to guard the rustics.”

He looked at little Landin. “And I’ll provide something warmer for the child.”

He scurried from the room before Seanna could ask for more. When he disappeared, she slumped into a chair in front of the fire. Her vision blurred, and she angrily wiped away her tears. Ropaz put a hand on her shoulder.

“We’re still close to the city,” he said. “I doubt any nobles in this region could help us. Be grateful for what he can give us.”

“I know,” Seanna said. “At least we weren’t recognized.”

“We’ll have to be more careful,” Belrose said. “They’ll send word to all their soldiers once they realize our escape. It’ll take days to search the whole city, but they’ll come into the countryside eventually.”

Seanna nodded. “Distribute the food to the children and elderly. We’ll see if the village can give us shelter for the night.”

“Of course,” Ropaz said. “And you need to eat, too. You must keep your strength if the child has a chance.”

“I know.” Seanna looked to Belrose. “You sent word to the prince in Rengu Forest, yes?”

Belrose nodded. “I used my fastest messaging spell. I’ve received no word in return.”

They went quiet as servants bustled in with packages of food: bread, dried meats and fruits, and cheeses. One of them brought a fur to Seanna, which she wrapped around Landin. She nibbled on some cheese and meat as they went back out into the cold. Her belly ached with hunger, and the skies were beginning to darken, but they had to make it to the village before they could rest again.

The weary band pushed back out into the storm.


August was a strange month for me. The mental/emotional turmoil lessened, but only because its cause was resolved, though not necessarily the way I wished it would. With that resolution came a cascade of other changes: I have left my teaching position; I recently started a new, part-time job at the local library; and I’ve moved out of my shared home into a small apartment (the cats came with me). With all that busy-ness, I’ve still left The Enduring Flame on the back burner.

I am optimistic for September. Living on my own again will mean a quiet, dedicated writing space. A part-time, low stress job means I have more energy to pursue my own passions. While I am still healing from the summer’s difficulties and coping with my new life circumstances, I feel good about moving forward. I am ready to tackle the trilogy’s end, and I still think I can get it out there by December.

Looking past the end of The Sovereigns of the Dead, I have some standalone novels, a novella, and a few short stories kicking around in my head. I love the idea of retelling classic literature through a fantasy lens, as well as exploring folklore-based fantasy.

My TBR for this month includes Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier and Piranesi by Suzanna Clarke. With more time to write, I’m also hoping for more time to read. My new apartment has a perfect nook for cozying up with a book and a cup of tea.

Sorry it’s another month with no fun blog content. But things are looking up, and I’m sure I’ll bring something interesting for September’s end-of-month blog.

Short Update

Hello my lovely readers,

I wish I had better things to share this month: a complete second draft, more sewing, a fantasy review, or something fun. Unfortunately, it’s been all I can do to stay afloat these last couple of months.

This summer, I was blindsided with a heavy, life-altering situation. Nearly every day for the past two months has been emotionally taxing and mentally draining, and I don’t know when these personal issues will be resolved. I have desperately tried to throw myself into writing as a distraction, and some days I’m successful in editing or rewriting chapters. Others, it’s all I can do to get out of bed.

I am still hoping to have the book out before the end of 2021, but I do have to put my mental health and emotional wellbeing first. The characters are in rough positions right now, and sometimes it’s difficult for me to write their conflicts without bringing up my own pain.

I hope to have some more done by the end of August, as well as a more interesting blog post, but I won’t make any promises at this point in time.

For now, I’ll recommend a few books that I’ll be rereading soon that always make me feel warm and happy by the end:

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden

Any of the Redwall books by Brian Jacques

Stay safe out there, and I hope you all have a wonderful rest of your summer.

My writing assistants, Tish and Ricki, who are also on duty in helping me get back to a better place.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Happy (belated) Pride Month! For all my LGBTQIA+ readers, I hope you find love and joy not just in June, but every day. You are beautiful and wonderful.

I had a fairly eventful June, including a two-week honeymoon during which our car broke down (but hey, we saw whales, so everything’s fine really), and I participated in my first author event! Last weekend, I was one of 16 authors that was part of the Art Walk in Salida, CO. It was a blast meeting some other local authors, talking with readers, and even selling a few books!

I am still working hard on making edits for The Enduring Flame, and will hopefully have a call out for beta readers in late July or August.

Now, I promised a couple of months ago that I’d talk about my other main hobby: sewing. I thought it would be fun to reflect on some of the outfits I’ve made over the years, both cosplay and everyday. Instead of going chronologically, I’m going to go in order of my favorites (either to construct, wear, or both). I have more outfits and pieces that I’ve made, but I think I’ll just focus on the best of the best.

Outfit #7: ’70s Jumpsuit (2021)

This jumpsuit was made to wear on my honeymoon. I used a vintage pattern I found in a thrift shop, but modified it to not have a collar. The fabric was also thrifted (lucky find), and was a stretchy knit that was easy to sew, but didn’t quite have the drape I was hoping for. I’ll probably make the pattern again sometime with cotton or linen.

Outfit #6: Modern Jumpsuit (2020)

This jumpsuit I made last summer from a pattern purchased online. It was very simple, and the printed cotton fabric was super easy to sew. I didn’t have a long enough zipper, but improvised with a tie-back between my shoulder blades. Unfortunately, I gained a little pandemic weight, and it’s a bit tight now! Hopefully I’ll be able to fit back into it after some biking and hiking.

Outfit #5: Greek Island Dress (2021)

The other of my main honeymoon outfits, this was made from a Folklore pattern that I fell in love with. I adore the flowing sleeves on the tunic and the simple dress underneath. The tunic is made from a light rayon while the dress is a white muslin, both purchased at a local fabric shop. This was another quick and easy project, with the only time-consuming part being the hemming of the tunic sleeves.

Outfit #4: BBC Maid Marian Cosplay (2013)

This cosplay holds a special place in my heart, as it was my first real foray into cosplay using a combination of pre-made patterns and draped patterns. It was also my first project on my sewing machine. The design is based on my favorite dress of Maid Marian’s from the BBC Robin Hood show that ran back in 2006-2009 (and was one of my first obsessions).

Through this project, I met the costuming director for my university’s theater program. She taught me how to drape, which is the process of making a 2D pattern from the 3D dress form by marking seam lines on the form and draping fabric on it. After this, she hired me, and I worked for the rest of my university years in the costume shop! Though I don’t wear this dress often, I remember it fondly because of how much I learned from this project and the connection I made with my mentor.

Outfit #3: Kahlan Amnell Cosplay from Legend of the Seeker (2016)

I know, I know, Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series is pretty derided now (and rightfully so), and the show made from the book series wasn’t exactly Game of Thrones, but I adored them both as a high schooler. My best friend and I had always talked about doing a cosplay of Kahlan and Cara (you see, I loved the series so much I used that name), and my friend ended up gifting me the actual prop knives that were used on set, so how could I not make the outfit? The knives came with the metal accents featured on the actress’s costume, and so I incorporated those as well.

By this time, I was fairly comfortable with modifying patterns and draping my own. I made this entire ensemble in about two weeks, just in time for Denver Comic Con. It’s still fun to wear at Renaissance festivals!

Outfit #2: Historical “Wishing Gown” from The Phantom of the Opera (2015)

During my last semester in college, I asked my costume shop mentor if she could lead me in a costuming independent study. She agreed, with the caveat that I record and reflect on all steps of the process. I’ve always loved the costumes in The Phantom of the Opera (also my favorite nostalgia musical), and so I chose Christine’s “Wishing Gown.” I researched real gowns from the early 1880s and modified the show’s costume to have some more historical elements.

Nearly every pattern piece for this project was draped. It took four months with biweekly work times, and includes a petticoat, pillow bustle, underskirt, aprons, panniers, train, and bodice, most of which are lined and with hand-sewn accents. I made the cape after graduation, though by comparison it was the simplest part of the whole ensemble.

Though I don’t wear it often – it’s hard to find an excuse to pull out a Victorian gown – I do fondly remember this project as the one that truly taught me the most about sewing. It gave me the courage to do the next, and final, project on this list.

Outfit #1: My Wedding Dress (2020)

This is it. The big one. The most ambitious and stressful solo project I’ll probably ever take on: my wedding dress. Many amateur seamstresses want to make their dress, but it’s daunting even for those with a lot of experience. Having made the Wishing Gown, I felt confident in undergoing this process.

It…did not go so well at first. My initial ideas proved too difficult for me to drape, and I went back-and-forth on many design choices. The fabric shop ran out of the purple floral silk I was using and only sent 12 yards instead of 18, forcing me to rethink my entire design. I even redesigned and reconstructed the bodice entirely after it was finished, as I was so unsatisfied with the first one!

I thought I knew a lot about sewing after my previous outfits, but I learned so much about couture sewing, hand-stitching, draping, sizing, fitting, and more after this beast of an ensemble. It ended up being three separate pieces: bodice, skirt, and train, the latter being removable for ease of movement after the ceremony. The skirt had pockets (of course) and the bodice had a total of four layers of fabric, including hidden boning and corset laces.

Would I do it again? Maybe I’d choose a simpler design, but I would still tackle this project again, because there’s nothing like spending 160+ hours on your own wedding dress and getting to see your husband’s expression.

Thank you for indulging my non-writing hobby! I won’t make posts like this often, but I thought it would be fun for you to see what else I get up to in my spare time.

And who knows, maybe someday I’ll write a book about a tailor weaving magic into their clothes, and this will all turn out to be completely relevant research.

My thoughts on Shadow & Bone

Hello my lovely readers. I’m sorry for the late posting for May; as a teacher, the end of the school year is always hectic. I wish I could say I’ve made more progress on editing The Enduring Flame, but all of my time went to dealing with last-minute preparations for end-of-year activities. I also didn’t complete the sewing I wanted to do, so that exploration into my other main hobby will have to wait as I feverishly spend this week sewing outfits for my honeymoon.

What did I do this month? I managed to find time to read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom so that I could watch the Netflix show Shadow and Bone. I had read the Shadow & Bone trilogy in 2020 right at the start of the pandemic, and mostly enjoyed it. I loved the world, the magic, and the villain, but was lukewarm on Alina and Mal, our main protagonists. I rated each book a 7/10. The Six of Crows duology succeeded in some ways for me, but fell flat in others; I also rated it a 7/10.

Spoiler warning for the show and books.

Before I delve into the show, let me say what I enjoyed about the books and what fell flat for me. For S&B, all those things I mentioned above were the highlights. I absolutely loved the Darkling, and honestly, I wanted Alina to go with him, then proceed to thwart him via manipulation of his loneliness and odd vulnerability toward her. Fighting darkness with darkness, if you will. I also enjoyed some of the side characters, like Nikolai and Zoya, and the creative use of the world’s elements. However, Mal was not a character I enjoyed at all. He was rude to Alina and seemed to serve no other purpose than as a half-baked love interest. To be fair, Alina wasn’t a very active protagonist, so I also struggled to like her as much as I did the other characters.

For the duology, I still loved the world and seeing new parts of it. I liked the politics within Ketterdam as well as the other countries, being shown Fjerda and having glimpses of the Zemeni and Shu peoples. I enjoyed the twists and turns of the various heists. But, just like S&B, I struggled a lot with the characters. I enjoyed the main PoV characters, but I had trouble connecting to them. This is a critique I often see: the characters are supposedly teenagers, and act that way in some regards (especially romance), but are then hyper-competent in the heist. That disconnect never really went away for me, and it soured the reading a bit.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I still enjoyed these books. I’ll reread them at some point, probably before Season 2 of the show. I’ll recommend them to fans of YA Fantasy. The flaws were not enough to make me stop reading or dislike the experience, and only took away from what could have been 8/10 or even 9/10 ratings.

With such neutral feelings toward the books, I was intrigued by the show. I’ve grown from a child who despised any changes in an adaptation into a person who understands the necessities of the transition from page to screen. I enjoyed the books, but I’m not a Grishaverse die-hard fan. I watched with an open mind, curious to see what changes would be made.

I wasn’t disappointed. The show managed to thread a fine line between honoring the source material, radically changing backstories and interactions, and making subtle changes. The world came to life with incredible sets, costumes, and effects, the actors all did an incredible job (especially Jessie Mei Li and Ben Barnes), and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching it. The creators also had a great eye for detail, bringing in elements of the books with a subtle wink and nod instead of drawing attention to them.

But did the show correct the flaws of the books? In some ways, yes. In others, no. Alina became a more active protagonist, even driving her own romance with the Darkling. Certain elements, like the “mean girls” of the Little Palace, were toned down or glossed over completely, which was fine by me. I work in a middle school, I don’t need to see that drama in my entertainment.

Yet even with showing us Mal’s PoV – his friends, his hurt at Alina’s leaving, his hunt for the stag – I found myself still disinterested in his relationship with Alina. We had more glimpses into his character, but I realized that he had no motivation other than finding and helping Alina. The reason I like the Darkling so much, other than having a fondness for villains who seduce heroines, is that he’s motivated. He wants something, and he’ll stop at nothing to get it. If Alina is gone, what does Mal want? It’s unclear, even in the show, and I hope that we get more development for him in later seasons.

On the other side of the coin, we have the Crows interfering with S&B’s plot. The characters are much the same, though their circumstances are different. However, all of them are aged up: Kaz is a few years older than Alina, while Inej and Jesper appear about Alina’s age (early to mid twenties). This helps resolve the competency issue while still allowing for them to be immature in their relationships.

I really enjoyed how the Crows were brought into the show. I kept guessing how their heist might align with Alina’s plot and how they would be brought into the climax. This is a massive change to both source materials that I found extremely well done. I was rooting for them and their one million kruge job, while also wanting Alina to find her way out of her bad situations. The ending, where the crew helps Alina to escape Ravka, sets up more interactions in the future while still adhering to character motivations.

One element that was extremely rushed in the show was Alina’s training: we have one scene of her fighting Zoya in physical combat, but that’s it. One montage of her preparing to train with Baghra. I wanted more. I wanted to see Alina hone both her body and her magic, and I felt that this area was sorely lacking. We also don’t have a great idea of the other Grisha and their various alliances and perspectives. Fyodor and Ivan are fun, but not seen often. Genya and Zoya receive some development, but not David. We also have less of a sense of the greater politics with the Apparat and the king, which are vital later on in the story.

Is the show perfect? No. It has its flaws, but overall, it’s clear that the writers gave a lot of thought to how they would move this story onto the screen. I don’t know if I would rate the show higher than the books (7/10, maybe an 8/10 depending on how they adapt later on), but it certainly matches its source material.

What are your thoughts?