When the highly anticipated Netflix show Shadow and Bone came out, very few were dissatisfied. The show is worth watching whether or not you’ve read Leigh Bardugo’s YA series. But what if you didn’t like the Shadow and Bone book? Well, you might still want to give the show a chance, because it fixes a lot of things Grishaverse fans weren’t exactly happy with.
Shadow and Bone is everything a good adaptation should be: faithful to the heart and soul of the source material, but aware of the times and of what works best for the screen. Plus, the author was involved, so what could really go wrong? If you haven’t read the books and are curious about the ways Netflix’s Shadow and Bone is different, here’s what you need to know. Obviously, if you haven’t watched the show, you might want to return when you do, as there will be spoilers below.
Leigh Bardugo is one of my favorite writers and many fans agree that she has written some of the most well-loved characters in contemporary YA literature. However, few fans count Alina Starkov as such a character. In The Grisha Trilogy – to which Shadow and Bone is the first installment – Alina has been criticized for being too passive and boring, while there is unnecessary focus on her love life. Apart from vague heroism, and unique powers – both characteristics found in many YA heroines in the late 2000s and early 2010s – there’s not much to say about her.
Netflix’s Alina is more proactive. Her storyline is similar, but at least she doesn’t wait for others to determine her fate. She first finds herself in the Fold due to a bad choice – but it was her choice and it allowed her to discover her Grisha powers. She doesn’t wait for Baghra to save her, but sets off alone; this gets her kidnapped, but also gives her future allies. She is much more in control of her love life, initiating the romantic relationship with Kirigan, and while their power dynamic is still pretty uneven, he is never fully able to control her.
Her being half Shu – part of a population coming from a country based on Asian and Mongolian cultures – adds nuance to her character, showing us what prior experiences led her to make certain choices, but this isn’t all about her. She’s funny, heroic, not extremely smart like the Crows, for instance, but she has more personality than her book counterpart and actively tries to be in charge of her fate.
Almost a decade later, many fans still wonder why Mal was ever a love interest in The Grisha Trilogy. He is not exactly bad, but he’s brooding and bitter about not being as special as Alina, plus, when he hears she’s been romantically involved with the Darkling, his reaction isn’t great. Show Mal is a character we actually get to know through his letters to Alina, even though she never receives said letters.
In the show, Mal is really there to support Alina, rather than hinder her further and he never shames her; when she bemoans her naivete to fall in love with the Darkling, Mal cuts her off, saying she doesn’t own him any explanation. Their relationship is tender and true. They might have made mistakes with one another but you can see that by the end they both put equal effort to help and protect each other.
Not a ton was changed in the Darkling’s character and there was little need to. For many fans, he is the best part of The Grisha Trilogy. What changes the show does make, are to make him an even better, more nuanced villain who is still human with motives you can at least understand.
The Darkling, originally named Aleksander, is known as General Kirigan in the show. This isn’t really important, but let’s be fair, calling someone “Darkling” all the time seemed slightly unrealistic, while his alias makes him appear a bit more human. He’s still a villain, and entertainingly so, but he’s not a monster. The show seems conscious of its social responsibility towards younger audiences, and their idolization of the book’s Darkling – even though the author herself never really romanticized him – wasn’t ideal.
In the book, the Darkling’s power dynamic with Alina is extremely uneven. He’s older, more experienced, and he initiates their physical relationship very abruptly. While Alina initially wants him as well, she’s a bit put off by his underlying violence. In the show, not only does Alina initiate their first kiss, but when the relationship is about to become sexual, Kirigan asks for her consent.
Moreover, the show expands much more on his backstory and the reasons that drove him to create the Fold. Sure, he is power-hungry and wants to control everything, but he also wanted to save the Grisha, at least initially. Eventually, he became corrupt and not really worth our pity, but the show paints a clearer picture of him as a human.
Kaz, Jesper, Inej, Nina, and Matthias are great characters from Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows a duology that was much more well-received than The Grisha Trilogy. These characters never appear in their original trilogy, making the showrunners decide to include them a bit risky. Yet, it paid off really well. For many viewers, the Crows were the best part of the show.
Kaz, Jesper, and Inej have all been forced into a criminal life from a young age, and they have each other’s backs no matter what. Their presence in the main plot was welcomed by those who don’t love Alina’s story. Nothing that happened in Netflix’s Shadow and Bone would prevent their bigger adventure from happening and it might be good that non-readers already know them and love them.
My only worry is that if Season 2 continues with Alina’s story, it will be too hard to stretch more side adventures for the Crows, and their heist in Six of Crows might feel slightly repetitive by then, but it’s too early to worry about that. After all, they’re adorable and you can never have too much of their adventures.