Shadow and Bone, written by Leigh Bardugo in 2012 was recently translated into a Netflix series back in April. The show closely follows the plot of the first book in the trilogy: the plot in which Alina Starkov discovers she has special powers and is taken away to the Grisha palace in order to realize her full potential and help destroy the darkness that has been plaguing her country. Or so she thinks.
If you tune into this show after reading only the first book in Bardugo’s trilogy expecting to see an exact play-by-play of the novel, you will definitely be in for a surprise. Thanks to showrunner and scriptwriter Eric Heisserer who wouldn’t create the show without both, Shadow and Bone meets Six of Crows in this crossover event of both books. Through this process of translation a fully new text was made, one that simultaneously has a strong relationship with its original source, yet is fully independent from it. For loyal fans of the books, it’s best to go into this show with the author’s words in mind. In an interview for the show Bardugo says, “When you write a book, you close the door on all the ‘what-ifs?’ Once it’s on the page there’s no way to revisit it, so the chance to see some of these characters interact in a way that they never interact on the page—the fact that Alina and Inej get to meet, the fact that General Kirigan, the Darkling, and Kaz face off in an alley—these are ‘what-ifs’ that I never would have gotten to explore in my books.” She added, “A lot of readers have asked me about over the years, so it was pretty spectacular to get to see them play out.”
With that being said, as a hardcore book lover, I was extremely skeptical of merging two series within the same universe but with completely different timelines. It just doesn’t feel right, I thought. There’s no way to have the characters in the same timeline without the world imploding, I thought. How is the integrity of Shadow and Bone going to be kept when it has to be intertwined with the Six of Crows plot? And vice versa. How wrong I was.
Before I get into how amazing this show was, I have to say that it’s taken me about two rewatches and a trip to the bookstore in order to buy the last books in the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology in order to find any thoughts other than “Squeeeeeeeeeee!” after my first viewing.
To start off, I have to discuss the element that hooked me right off the bat—the cast. The wonderful, lovely, diverse cast who seemed as if they were picked right out of the books themselves. The script and actors worked seamlessly to capture the characters in a way that brought the book to life, even with this new take on the Grishaverse. It’s one thing for actors to play their characters from the exact source material, it’s another to embody them so well that no matter what direction they go in, they’re able to know exactly what the characters in the book would do.
While Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov and Ben Barnes as General Kirigan, a.k.a. The Darkling, brought life and tension into their characters and relationships, all my doubts went away as soon as I first saw the Crows on screen. Freddy Carter as Kaz, Kit Young as Jesper, and Amita Suman as Inej took my breath away—and not just because Freddy Carter is now my phone wallpaper. The Crows righted the wrongs that I felt while reading the first book which eliminated my worries about how the show would work. During my Shadow and Bone read, I often found myself bored and needing action. There was too much exposition, too much of Alina learning about her powers and strength. I am positive that without the immersion of the action packed, heist-filled book about criminals, the show would have been dragged out in a way that left the viewers sleeping with the show on in the background. Six of Crows brought out what Shadow and Bone was missing and brought balance to the world that was originally built with the information and exposition in the first book.
The show also righted the wrong of Malyen Oretsev played by Archie Renaux. Mal in the book was portrayed as a one note character who wasn’t likable in the slightest. I didn’t root for him and Alina in the book at all. Although I’m still a Darklina shipper, I found myself believing in their relationship a lot more in the series. The show went into depth in showing Alina and Mal’s relationship as children and showed the lengths Mal was going to in order to reunite with Alina.
Though you can probably guess that my affection leans towards the Crows, I was still on the edge of my seat for how and when the characters from both series would finally cross paths. The more comfortable you get with the idea of creating an entirely different plot, the more excited you get watching your favorite characters interacting with each other in a way that was never possible before. It’s really something magical, and I feel like all book lovers can appreciate this new way to create and merge what they loved on the page, even though it might be different than what you imagined and were loyal to in the books.
My only qualm about this TV series is that our Sun Summoner, Alina Starkov, was a little bland. I was unimpressed by her character in the book as well since she spent the entire time writing letters and training. My only wish is to have her develop more in the next season, with more focus on her own character and who she is as a person, and less on her relationships.
Overall, readers and non-readers alike will find something to fall in love with with the new Shadow and Bone TV series. There was just so much care and detail brought into this show, which I believe everyone can appreciate. Details such as Ravkan money in the Crow Club, keftas intricately embroidered, Genya’s tailoring with things found in nature (which is a small detail in the book, and I was pleased that’s how they made her magic work in the show as well), and an entirely new made up language really immerse people into this world. Whether it’s the characters, exquisite costumes, beautiful scenery, ingenious scriptwriting, or the magical lore that Leigh Bardugo created, I have no doubts that this should be your next binge watch or read. Or both. And when you’ve finished, you can find me in my Ketterdam sweatshirt learning how to throw knives and sharpshoot so we can talk about it together.
“‘Shadow and Bone’ Cast Break Down New Netflix Series | Around the Table | Entertainment Weekly.” YouTube, uploaded by Entertainment Weekly, 30 April 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXSB5LyD4Q8&t=412s