Netflix's Shadow and Bone | Show Review
On Friday, we finally got Netflix's long-awaited adaptation of the Grishaverse books, Shadow and Bone. And like most of the people on the book community, I watched it immediately. In case you missed it, last week I reviewed the entire Grisha trilogy (you can read my spoiler-free review right here) after reading it for the first time in preparation for the show. But I also read the Six of Crows duology years ago and reviewed each of the books on Goodreads (my Six of Crows review is completely spoiler-free but my Crooked Kingdom review has a spoiler – it's hidden if you don't want to see it though).
It only felt natural to review the TV show, not only as a piece of entertainment but especially as an adaptation. And that's why this will include details about the books, so if you haven't read them, you might want to skip this one. I always aim to make my reviews completely free of details so they can reach more people, but I wouldn't be able to review this show in the depth I want without giving some details from the books.
I want to start talking about the casting, because every single one of the actors truly embodied their characters. This was the most well done casting I think I've ever seen, and I don't think I'll ever get over that. They all fully captured their characters' personalities and brought them to life. However, I need to highlight not only the crows, but especially Kit Young's Jesper. He truly stole the show and I can't stop thinking about his wonderful performance. The sets, the cinematography, the costumes, and the soundtrack were also incredible and they perfectly brought Ravka to life. You knew that everything was completely thought of and handled with incredible care.
I really liked how they merged the Six of Crows and Shadow and Bone storylines. I was worried it'd feel forced or wouldn't make much sense, considering SoC is set after the events of the Grisha trilogy. But the heist the crows go on is completely aligned with who they are as characters and I loved that they made the crows fit into plotlines that were already part of Shadow and Bone, not changing the original timeline too much. That allowed us to get a glimpse into the crows' dynamic when there were only three of them and gave us more of Inej's faith, which I adored. I also loved that we got to see Nina and Matthias' history as that's only a flashback on the books. Even if their storyline was separate, I was truly engrossed in it and loved seeing them both interact and eat waffles together (if you know, you know).
One thing I didn't really understand was the whole General Kirigan thing. In the books, we're only told the Darkling's name on the third one, and that's integral to his characterisation. He's only given a title, to make him less human and affirm him more as an entity. The Darkling is such a well-known character in the book community (everyone's probably heard of him even if they haven't read the series) and to basically strip him of his book name made absolutely no sense. His original name reveal is also a huge point in Darklina's relationship and how the Darkling thinks of Alina. His manipulation is part of his character, even if he believes that's the right thing to do. And while I appreciated that in the Netflix series they tried to make him more human, I feel like it strayed from the essence he has in the original story. The Darkling's supposed to be an icon to everyone but he "opens himself up" for Alina, no matter if it's genuine or simply an act to get her to work with him.
He's also made much less badass in the series, and I thought that was quite strange. Never in a million years would book Darkling struggle that much to fight Mal. Never. I get that it was a showdown between Alina's love interests, but that was completely unrealistic. Also, they attempted to make Mal less of a prick in the series, and I loved that they gave him a bigger spotlight. In the books, Alina is constantly thinking about him and I enjoyed that they brought Mal's perspective into the series. As much as I don't really like the guy, he is the love interest that makes the most sense and I think it was important to see their mutual pining on the screen. I do wish we'd gotten more of their journey to find Morozova's stag. That's when Alina realises that Mal loves her the way she loves him and that's one of their best moments in the books. After spending months apart thinking that the other didn't care anymore, they see that their feelings never left.
Now, I can't really carry on without addressing the most problematic thing about this series. In the books, Alina's never told to be anything other than Ravkan, but in the series, she's half Shu. That leads to constant name calling and racism towards her, however, that is never addressed in any way. I get Grisha hating on Fjerdans, they've been hunting them down for years. But why do Ravkans hate the Shu so much? Is it only because of the war? That prejudice was never given a reason to exist and it was never treated the way it should.
Had that been given more depth, we might've seen the purpose of showcasing all that hatred, but the way it was done felt like it was simply perpetrating more hate towards asian people. Instead of shining a light on the problem (which I'd assume was the intention) it felt like it was an unnecessary plot point, and I can't think of what it must've been like for asian audience members to have to watch that. It's an attempt to show why Alina doesn't fit in, but in the books she's always felt that way without race being a part of it.
I think this could've been handled better if we'd gotten more of Botkin in the series. The biggest part of book one is set in the Little Palace, with Alina struggling to train as a Grisha, especially compared to people who've been training their whole lives. Her lessons with Botkin and Bahgra were some of my favourite scenes and we never get to truly see them in the show. That was also a missed opportunity considering they made Alina half Shu and Botkin himself is Shu. It would've been a brilliant bonding moment for them and it might've made the anti-Shu plot have more of a place in the story.
The Little Palace scenes are also the moment we get to see the Darklina relationship develop. In the books, we get the pining, we see Alina start trusting him, getting to rely on him. That's what makes the reality of what Bahgra tells her much worse. In the show she feels betrayed but we don't get to see how deep her connection to the Darkling had become and how hurtful that betrayal actually is. Alina's relationship with the Darkling represents her connection to being Grisha, and when she discovers the truth, she feels lost once again.
Something else I also think was handled better in the books was the history of Morozova's amplifiers. The Darkling confides the idea of the stag in Alina and makes her believe that she'll never be as powerful as they need unless she has them. Finding the stag isn't a decision she makes in an attempt to spite the Darkling. It's something she grows to believe throughout the course of the book, so when the time comes for her to escape the Little Palace, she knows she'll never be able to defeat the Darkling and destroy the Fold unless she has that stag. In the series, the knowledge of Morozova's amplifiers is something known to Alina even as an otkazat'sya child. Not only that, but she's been dreaming of the stag her whole life. I think this connection to the amplifiers was much more straightforward in the books, and it was yet another link they removed between Alina and the Darkling, another way in which he manipulated her.
Overall, I absolutely loved the show. Since they brought in some plot points that only happen much later, I'm excited to see how they'll handle the story of the next books. I'm also interested to see if they'll jump straight into the original Six of Crows storyline or if they'll give them another extra plot, since the heist they go into on the first book is set after the destruction of the Fold. I think this adaptation was brilliantly done, even if there were some things I didn't particularly enjoy. It felt like we were in Ravka, and some of my favourite characters had come alive (honestly, have you ever seen better casting? Because I have never). I can't wait to see who'll give life to my one true love, Nikolai, and I'm crossing my fingers to have him and the crows meeting. Imagine the banter, the sarcasm and the wit. I can't wait.
I'm now going to reread the Six of Crows duology (finally) and jump straight into King of Scars afterwards. And I completely see myself rewatching season one over and over, until we get enough seasons to complete the entire storyline. Have you watched Shadow and Bone? What did you enjoy and what did you think was done better in the books? I'm curious to know how everyone feels! I also want to know if I was the only one that got emotional with Leigh Bardugo's little cameo. I can't imagine what it must've been like to hug your first main character a decade after you brought it to life. Truly iconic.