Since the release of its whole first season on Netflix on 23 April, Shadow and Bone has stayed on the platform’s Top List. An achievement that I decided to comment on, with a little precious help.
If you haven’t heard about Shadow and Bone, adapted from Leigh Bardugo’s books, it’s either because you don’t subscribe to Netflix or you truly hate fantasy. No one can blame you, but maybe you’ll want to check it after reading this review.
Warning: this article may contain a few spoilers from both the TV show and the books.
As someone who hadn’t read the books before watching the show (although this book has since made its appearance on my shelf), I needed some help to talk about the adaptation. I asked Smilla (Germany), Adeline (England), and Camille (France), who have all read the Grishaverse books, to give me their opinions, and Lou (France), who has watched the show without having read the books.
The story and the adaptation
“I was very excited about the books being adapted, especially once the cast was confirmed,” Smilla tells me, mentioning that Ben Barnes was a long-time fan cast for the Darkling. Adeline was also excited but “cautious, because most times adaptations don’t end up being as accurate as they should be”.
Camille’s opinion is a bit different because she didn’t enjoy the Grisha trilogy but loved the Six of Crows duology (that comes after it). However, she mostly shares Adeline’s point of view on how book adaptations “can easily be disappointing”.
As someone who didn’t know anything about the books, I couldn’t be afraid of the adaptation, even if I’ve been used to being disappointed since Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and The Maze Runner series. The trailer alone was enough to hype me.
Shadow and Bone takes place in a world with humans and Grisha, people who can manipulate matter. Ravka is at war and cut in half by a mysterious Shadow Fold in which monsters live. It tells the story of Alina, a mapmaker in the army who discovers she is a Sun Summoner, whose power could destroy the Fold.
Some characters from Six of Crows are introduced in the story of Shadow and Bone, when they aren’t in the same books. “I think it’s a smart move,” Smilla comments. Camille disagrees: “Even before the show came out I was curious of how they would include them into the storyline, and I’m not very satisfied with how they did it”.
Adeline says that she “saw a lot of people who hadn’t read the books complain about the world building not being comprehensive enough”, and I agree that some parts could have been more developed. The show is eight episodes, it could have been ten, in order to develop the world.
If she thinks “they followed the plot as accurately as they could”, Smilla points to changes made in the show: “It has its weaknesses, but overall, I actually think it is better than the books.”
Based only on the show, Lou says that “the universe is incredible but the story is too cliché.” Once again, I can’t disagree: Shadow and Bone use tropes that have already appeared in other fantasy pieces: the villain in a long black coat; the simple opposition between light and darkness; or the young orphan hero who got mistreated, reminiscent of Harry Potter; or even (spoilers!) the common love story between the villain and the hero. Nevertheless, the world remains very well imagined.
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The characters (this section may contain spoilers about the characters’ development)
When you hear that a book is about to be adapted on screen, the first thing you think about is usually the cast. A book’s fandom generally have their “dream cast” – and the Grishaverse fandom was pleased to see one of theirs on screen with Ben Barnes as the Darkling.
“They closely resemble the characters of the book, though they were modernised and given more depth, which I liked,” Smilla explains. On the contrary, even if Adeline mentions that she thinks “Ben Barnes portrayed the Darkling amazingly”, she “feel[s] like we were robbed of how powerful and how much of a villain he actually is.” She also mentions how Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows “felt more as a Shadow and Bone character”.
If Camille thinks the characters were good and mostly faithful to the book, she has some issues: “Jesper is supposed to be a black dark-skinned man and they went for a light skinned actor, although I’m very satisfied with the way he played Jesper. Same for Nina, I was expecting a fat actress and I was ready for some fat representation on screen, but I guess we’ll have to wait some more for that”.
She also mentions how Alina is not Shu in the original book. “They changed it to add the racist element to the story and seeing the increase in hate towards Asian people, I’m not sure it was a very smart move,” she opines.
I couldn’t resist asking them who was their favourite character. Smilla, Camille, and Adeline all mention Inej, “with her past, her carrying 20 knifes all the time and kicking ass”, Smilla comments, while Camille says that she has always been her favourite and Amita Suman did a perfect job at portraying her. “Who wouldn’t love a woman who knows how to use knives and daggers of all sizes?”, she adds.
Smilla also talks about the Darkling: “he is hot, and evil, and conflicted, what can I say?” Just like Adeline, for who it was obvious “since we all adore a dark haired attractive morally grey villain”. She also mentions Alina’s strength but also her “not being afraid to seem vulnerable when it is expected”; while Lou prefers Kaz, mostly for his cleverness.
An ongoing development
With the show’s success, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Netflix renew it. Smilla, Camille, and Adeline say that they are impatient for season two. “Mostly because I want to see the events of the Six of Crows duology happen, and see the characters we haven’t seen yet,” Camille says, an opinion Smilla shares.
Adeline says that she “feel[s] like Kaz’s past is going to be a big part of it”. Even if she isn’t impatient for season two, Lou would also like to see more about some characters: “I want a show on the Golden Trio [Kaz, Jesper and Inej]”. “We’re still in lockdown here in Germany,” Smilla adds, “and there is only so much fanfiction one can read”.
Beside some specific points, the three readers enjoy the show. I must say I did too, even if I would have appreciated deeper characters. On the recommendation of the show, Lou says that it depends on the person you talk to and whether they like fantasy or not. Camille agrees: “I think anyone who likes fantasy would enjoy the show.”
Adeline and Smilla also recommend it. “It’s so much easier than reading all the books, but I would also advise them to at least read the Grisha trilogy,” Adeline explains. Smilla also recommends reading the book first. Camille adds that it is “a good way to be introduced to the Grishaverse, but they might enjoy the books more as everything is explained in greater detail.” I like the idea of the show as an introduction before discovering more in the books.
For people who have read the books, Camille mentions that it’s better “if they enjoyed the Grisha trilogy,” because “if it’s someone who’s more into Six of Crows then they could be disappointed”. Adeline would warn people of the changes, while Smilla prefers to recommend it “to see these characters and this world come to life, to experience the excitement of a good adaptation, and fall in love with the story again.”
Shadow and Bone has strengths and weaknesses, but if you were wondering whether you should watch it or not, you have all the information needed to make up your mind. Maybe, just like me, you will then want to read the books yourself. And you, have you watched the show? What do you think about it? Let us know in the comment section!
Images from the Shadow and Bone trailer (March 30 2021)