Shadow and Bone: An Adaptation Done Right

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.

The Grisha trilogy was not my cup of coffee!

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.

These books are etched into my heart

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.

A perfectly healthy and happy couple that would be welcome at any self-respecting suburban brunch

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!

10 Comments

  1. I watched Shadow and Bone, and loved it. I’ve been trying to read the book, but it’s been such a struggle. Your discussion of the book’s weaknesses has me leaning toward giving up on the trilogy. I think I’m looking for something in the writing that’s not there which is unfortunate because of Six of Crows has great writing. I’ve never finished it but the prose was exceptional.

    It’s been interesting seeing reviews of the series by readers of the Grishaverse who felt the show improved on what the book had to offer. While some felt the series did the books justice. Other reviewers, like yourself, felt that the series surpassed the Shadow and Bone book because it made characters they had issues with better and more fleshed out.

    I enjoyed reading your perspective. I’m eagerly awaiting season 2 as well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First of all thank you for your comment!

      If you don’t want to read the Grisha trilogy, honestly, it’s very skippable. It has some good characters (I liked Nikolai and the Darkling, actually. I also liked Genya and Zoya), but for the most part, I found it a slog. I do encourage you to finish the Six of Crows duology, though, because the books are honestly fantastic. There’s nothing I don’t like about them. I’m sure the show will do interesting things in season 2 as they combine both plots, but the SOC plot on its own is also really exciting.

      Who are your favourite characters from the show?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My copy of Six of Crows is staring at me as I write this, so I’m sure another attempt at finishing the book is in my future lol.

        My favorite character is Alina. I was rooting for her every step of the way in the series. I also really enjoyed Mal and Inej. Personally, it’s kind of a given that the Darkling is compelling considering Ben Barnes is excellent at adding complexity to the antagonists he plays. And I’m hoping to see more of Genya at some point.

        Who were your favorite characters in the show? And did any take you by surprise (besides Mal considering what you said about his personality fix lol)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oooh, I love Inej! But I have to say, in the books as well as the show, I LOVED JESPER ❤ ❤ He's SO funny. He keeps things light. And the casting was *perfection*

        Yeah I'm excited for Genya too! She's a very interesting character, and I can't help but sympathise for her.

        I think I was a bit surprised to know more about the Darkling's backstory? I don't remember, but it's not the same in the books. But anyway, it worked well. I was also really happy with Matthias lol. He was exactly how I pictured him.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I feel like the majority of people walked away loving the Crows. The excitement has been so nice to see online.

        Yeah, you’re right. The Darkling’s backstory is different. They said they wanted to take a different approach in the flashback instead of showing him as a child like they did in one of the books, they chose to show him as a younger man right on the cusp of creating The Fold. I think it did an excellent job of explaining how he came to create The Fold and how his initial motivations were different. The scene definitely helped showcase why his perspective is the way it is.

        Like

      4. I think the Crows are honestly stronger characters than Mal and Alina (in the books, anyway). That’s why I think they’re just inherently more popular in the fandom.

        Also I don’t remember the Darkling’s original backstory completely lol. So I was a little thrown by the change but not too much. I’m happy to get his POV though. He’s one of those villains who is the hero of his own story.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to DK Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s