“Shadow and Bone”: worth the hype or failed adaptation?

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Image provided by IMDb

by Maya Berhane, Reporter

My expectations for this adaptation were so high that it was almost a guarantee that I would be sorely disappointed, however, I was not. Hurrah. (Sorry Percy Jackson, your movie adaptions still take the cake for the most disappointing adaptations ever. They were blasphemous.)

The “Shadow and Bone” adaptation combined elements from the original Grisha trilogy, the first book being “Shadow and Bone”—from where the adaptation derives its name— and the “Six of Crows” duology. Both of these series were written by New York Times bestselling author Leigh Bardugo. 

The adaptation takes the general outline of the original plot and characters from the Grisha trilogy and introduces the characters from the “Six of Crows” series into the mix. I have read every book within these two series and was hesitant to hear of their merging together for the adaption. 

I loved the “Six of Crows” duology but was overall dissatisfied with the Grisha trilogy. I found the characters irritating and bland and was generally uninterested in where the plot was going. The plot of the Grisha trilogy was predictable especially for those as well read in the YA (young adult) fantasy genre as myself. Once you know the beats of generic YA fantasy it becomes less and less gripping to consume. Truly I just wanted a “Six of Crows” adaption but nevertheless my expectations for this adaption were high. 

For this adaption, I both wanted something new and fresh to consume and yet also wanted to see my favorite books get an accurate and well done adaptation. Basically, I am practically impossible to please. Some would call me too picky; I would say that I just know what I want.

But surprisingly I actually quite enjoyed “Shadow and Bone”.

“Shadow and Bone” is set in the fictional setting of the GrishaVerse. There are many countries mentioned within this universe: There is Ravka, a land occupied by the Grisha, people with the ability to manipulate matter. Ravka is split by the Shadow Fold, a mass of darkness swarming with monsters created by an ancient Grisha long ago. There is Ketterdam, a hub for international trade located on the island of Kerch. There is also Shu Han, a country south of Ravka which is often the victim of racist and xenophobic stereotyping within Ravka, and Fjerda, a country north of Ravka occupied by an elite force called the Druskelle who hunt the Grisha.

The show begins by introducing us to our main character Alina Starkov, a half Shu orphan mapmaker who finds out that she is a Grisha. However, her Grisha power—Sun Summoning, the ability to summon and manipulate light— was regarded as a myth before the discovery of her abilities. Her abilities elevated her to the status of Saint, which grants her power, adoration, and great responsibility. She must train and hone her skill with the end goal of someday dispelling the Shadow Fold and creating unity within Ravka again. 

There are three main story lines: Alina and her journey to the Little Palace, a place where Grisha reside and train and her journey to dispelling the fold; Kaz, Jesper, and Inej, a criminal crew from Ketterdam, as they track Alina’s movements in an attempt to kidnap and deliver her for enough money to guarantee them all comfortable lives; and Nina, a Grisha, and Matthias, a Druskelle as they journey to Fjerda for Nina’s execution under the court of Fjerdan law. 

First things first, this show is multilayered. We follow multiple plotlines that all center around Grisha, the fold, and Alina. While the journey of Alina and Kaz and his crew overlap pretty obviously, Nina and Matthias’s connection to the two other plotlines isn’t presented until the end and even then felt like it was rushed. Without the added knowledge of the characters from the books the plotline with Nina and Matthias falls flat and seems pointless throughout most of the show. 

The relationship between Alina and her childhood friend and love interest, Mal, was an aspect of the show that I thought was done beautifully and actually better than the books. While the original books did not build enough on their shared history and love for one another, the show created a couple that I couldn’t help but root for. Mal’s character was developed and the actors’ performances made the relationship feel perfectly believable. 

Jesper was hands down the best part of this show. The delivery of his jokes and quips was so well done by the actor that I could truly believe he was the character realized in full force on screen. This is something that occurred with not only Jesper but all other characters on this show. Alina remains my least favorite character but even her personality was improved upon from its original appearance in the novels. 

Another change that was made to the adaptation was the race/ethnicity of Alina Starkov, our main character. Alina was initially described in the books as a brown haired white girl. However, a half Asian actress was cast to play the part and Alina was rewritten as half Shu. The added layer of racism was clumsy and a little strange. While I will always advocate for diversity in representation within film, I think this instance was not handled with the care and patience that it should have been. Nonetheless it was nice seeing not only an Asian actress take the forefront in an adaption of a popular book series on Netflix but also many other BIPOC (Black, Indingeonous, People of Color) people within the main cast.  

And now to discuss everyone’s favorite attractive brooding dark haired white man: General Kirigan. I feel pretty ambivalent towards Kirigan. He was there. He brooded. 

While there are many adamant shippers of Kirigan and Alina I have never cared for their dynamic even within the books. I have never cared for his—oh how do I say this politely without spoilers?— type

While in the books I rooted for Alina to be by herself because every single man around her wasn’t worth anything (I jokingly referred to this desired outcome as the Alina x Therapy ship). The show has converted me into a strong Mal and Alina shipper. Malina forever. (They should all still go to therapy though.) 

While I overall enjoyed my experience watching the first season of this show, I still had my gripes. There were several instances where shots in the film were too difficult to see on my computer screen even at full brightness which is rather minor, but still rather irritating. I was also annoyed at the pace of the show. I would have liked it if the plot had more spaces in which it could breathe and simmer. Sometimes it’s just nice to sit with the characters and let the plot marinate and the tension build. 

Adaptations will never be good enough for fans of the original text. I, as a lover of the books, will always prefer the books to the show. However, it takes a lot to please me so in the case of this adaption I must give credit where credit is due. This adaptation was good. It was entertaining and added interesting things to a story I love and I hope it gets renewed for another season. I would recommend checking it out if you’re curious. Overall it’s getting a 4 out of 5 therapy sessions from me.