Have you watched Netflix’s Shadow and Bone? I wasn’t going to. The truth is, the original trilogy left a bad taste in my mouth and when I realised they were merging two properties (the Six of Crows duology with the Grisha series) I was really on the fence.
But let’s hold on a moment. What am I talking about?
If you don’t know, the Grisha trilogy is the hugely popular young adult fantasy fiction series by author Leigh Bardugo. Very generally, it’s about magical folk called Grisha who can control various elements, and a Chosen One character, Alina, who can manipulate sunlight. The series itself did not work for me. I disliked the main characters, and as a result, found the story excruciating. I almost didn’t finish the books.
This wasn’t my experience with the Six of Crows duology, though. Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are set in the same world as the Grisha trilogy, but later in the timeline, with completely new characters. These stories are about criminals and heisting. They’re fun and smart, and every character is a delight. Honestly, there’s not a single main character (and there are six) that I dislike.
So I was hesitant when Netflix revealed that the two properties were going to be merged into one single 8-episode show called Shadow and Bone. Here’s the trailer:
My big fear with this show was that the Grisha trilogy storyline was going to destroy the Six of Crows duology storyline and ruin something I really love. And I think this fear is justified. In the past, book adaptations have not always gone well (hello, Percy Jackson and the Olympians). But fundamentally, the Grisha series had two of the most irritating main characters I’ve ever come across. Alina Starkov, the Sun Summoner, and Malyen “Mal” Oretsev, the tracker.
I’m not going to get into a rant about them, but both these characters were boring and had no internal motivations beyond wanting to bone each other. Plus, Mal was toxic, controlling, and jealous. I hated how his behaviour was never called out for what it was, and that he was positioned as the romantic lead.
To my pleasant surprise, Netflix was able to address this problem while elevating the story to something far more exciting. It blended the strengths of the two storylines without diluting either. The writing was crisp and supported by spectacular casting.
What I liked
The two book series have completely different tones. Six of Crows is a fast-paced, often humorous pair of action novels with tight plotting and unscrupulous characters committing crimes. The scope of the stories themselves is quite small: everyone just wants to get rich in the end. The Grisha trilogy is an epic story about good versus evil and righting the wrongs of the past. The main character is literally a saint.
But they managed to combine these two stories without at once ruining the pacing or the tone. In season one, we meet five of the titular six of crows: Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Nina, and Matthias. Kaz, Inej, and Jesper are on a heist: to kidnap the Sun Summoner, Alina Starkov. Nina and Matthias are on a journey of their own, to get over their internalised cultural biases and become friends as they traipse across a freezing tundra and fight for survival. (This was actually very clever–in the books, Nina and Matthias’s relationship is revealed as backstory. In the show, we see it happening concurrent to the rest of the plot.)
Meanwhile, we meet Alina Starkov and Malyen Oretsev, whose personalities have gone through some chopping and fixing in the writers’ room. I actually liked them. I didn’t want to burn them on sight. I found Alina’s understated sarcasm rather endearing. Their protectiveness towards each other came off as sweet instead of co-dependent. And most pleasantly, Mal was no longer a toxic jerk. I can’t say more without spoiling it, but I was genuinely impressed. The changes were subtle, too. These weren’t brand new characters; they were the same, just improved.
What I think worked was that the writers didn’t change the heart of either story. Alina’s story is an epic battle of good versus evil. The Crows’ story is about a heist. It’s just that they merge, and do so well, without detracting from each other. The show has really rescued the Grisha books for me. While I’ll never read them again, I’ll at least remember the characters more fondly. As for the Six of Crows duology, the books are brilliant, and they’ll always be. But the show has given me a new way to enjoy these wonderful characters.
I’m glad I gave Shadow and Bone a chance. I eagerly await season 2!