For lovers of fantasy series and tremendous world-building, the Shadow and Bone trilogy is something I seriously recommend you read. I have mentioned this series before in my first article (Books! So Much More Than Just Ink On Paper, published April 12th 2023), and today I will be discussing the recently released Netflix Shadow and Bone TV show compared to the much loved book series of the same name by Leigh Bardugo. So, this is your official spoiler warning!
Leigh Bardugo is an Israeli-born American author who graduated from Yale University and brought us the Grishaverse. This contains not only the three books from the Shadow and Bone series, but also the Six of Crows and King of Scars duologies, short story collection The Language of Thorns, and a graphic novel called Demon in the Wood. All these series are separate stories told in the same universe and sometimes, much to the delight of Bardugo’s loyal readers, have character crossovers. The Grishaverse is a brilliantly written fantasy world loosely based on cultures found around the globe, where science and magic collide to bring you the beautiful, heroic, dangerous, and wonderful stories of characters whom you are bound to fall in love with. Whilst all Bardugo’s current books in the Grishaverse are classed as young adult, she also has an adult fantasy series Ninth House, which she is still writing!
Now, I should probably warn you that as an avid reader and lover of the series myself, I may present this information from a slightly biassed standpoint. But I want to be as brutally honest as I can and convey my thoughts about the tv-show openly.
The much anticipated first season of Shadow and Bone was released back in April 2021, and received an 89% Rotten Tomatoes score. The show incorporated the characters from Six of Crows, building a storyline that was similar to the one in their own series to work alongside Shadow and Bone. As someone who prefers Six of Crows, the inclusion of my favourite characters, their personalities, and stories was what I was most excited about. Characters from King of Scars mostly originated from the Shadow and Bone series so of course we get to see them too!
Season one followed much of the same storyline as the first book, styling the written medium for one suited to TV which I thought worked well but unfortunately, not every slice of original content from the book can be explored. The casting was also amazing! The show stars many famous actors, with some new faces coming into the mix. Ben Barnes, Jessie Mei Li, Daisy Head, and Zoë Wanamaker are some of the amazing talents that helped bring the book to life. Each cast member clearly loves their role and cares about bringing these cherished characters to life as best they can to please book-readers around the globe.
Because the first season ended much like the first book of the trilogy, this led viewers to assume that Shadow and Bone would be a three-season-show at minimum, with the next seasons following the next two books, perhaps with some original storylines from Six of Crows included. However, when season two arrived, airing on March 21st 2023 with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 79%, this wasn’t what viewers discovered. Producers had cut out large parts of book two, Siege and Storm, to create a storyline that finished the trilogy at the end of season two.
I actually thought this worked really well. Acknowledging that plot points in a book may not always work for television, the showrunners did a marvellous job at tying off the storyline succinctly. They stuck to enough original content that readers would be satisfied with the result, whilst removing all of the tedious, wishy-washy, filler stuff that may have shown character hardship and development in the book, but would not have gone over well for viewers of the show.
Another issue lovers of the series seemed to have was the involvement of the Crows. Though I absolutely loved them, even I was a little confused as to why they were included in the Shadow and Bone series when their timeline and storylines don’t cross over that much. It was certainly nice to see them brought to life with Freddy Carter doing a wonderful job as the cunning, ruthless and complex character that is Kaz Brekker, Amita Shuman as the badass knife-wielding Inej Ghafa, and Kit Young playing the witty, sharp-shooter Jesper Fahey. In the second season, Wylan Van Eck made his entrance, after being notably absent from season one, with Jack Wolfe playing him. He came onto the scene and stole not only Jesper’s heart, but all of ours too. However, it would be nice in future to see these characters continue their storylines from the books, which were written so well by Bardugo and brings the six Crows all together. After all, who wouldn’t want to watch a show full of danger, heists, hidden feels, found family and amazing characters?!
Some of you may be wondering, but Sarah you’ve only mentioned four members out of the six that make up the Crow Gang?! Why yes, I have, so let me introduce to you… Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar, played by Danielle Galligan and Calahan Skogman, the last remaining members of the Six of Crows. Their storyline in the book begins with them already in Ketterdam, the city that the Crows live in, and we see through flashbacks how the couple met and fell in love and ended up in their predicament. In the show, however, we watch this introduction between characters, which happens in a different continent to everything else that is going on, and makes their storyline seem really detached from the main show. Even when Nina finally joins up with the other crows in season two, Matthias is still separated from them the entire time. It would be really nice to see them finally come together as a team and a family, and let their characters and storylines develop.
One thing I thought the show did exceptionally well through diverting from original content, was Malyen’s character, or more fondly known as Mal. Played by Archie Renaux who took this character above and beyond how he was written, did a superb job in changing my mind from a ‘Darklina (Darkling and Alina) shipper’ to a ‘Malina (Mal and Alina) shipper’. In the book, his character goes from a protective, rogue-type best friend of Alina’s to eventually her true love, but he is often bland, uninteresting, and did not make me fall in love with him at all. In the show, Mal is more involved and courageous, romantic, and deeply loyal opposed to toxic possessiveness. Renaux and producers did an amazing job rewriting his character and making everyone ship him and Alina together. It may have helped that the actor Archie isn’t too bad looking either.
At the time of writing this article, Netflix has not renewed Shadow and Bone for season three but I refuse to be dismayed. The ending of season two may have tied up the Shadow and Bone trilogy, but it also opened up the possibility of continuing the King of Scars duology storyline. There are plenty of rumours flying around that there may also be a spin-off tv-series just for the Crows! How exciting!
Overall, I was super excited to see the announcement that the Shadow and Bone book series would be brought to screens. It’s rare for fantasy series to succeed in film and be done so well, such as Eragon and The Golden Compass, with notable exceptions being Harry Potter series and The Lord of the Rings, but this genre seems to be volatile in the box office. I thought the casting was fantastic, the acting outstanding and the show’s storyline fit the medium and the overall story of the characters and books.
I give it a rating of 4.5/5 stars.