My endless lists and rankings are coming to a close for 2021 with the topic I usually leave for the final day – new TV shows! Other than with the books and movies, the show actually has to be released in 2021 for the first time to qualify. I didn’t struggle with my picks as much as I thought I would though? Usually, I have a hard time narrowing it down to 20, but here we are … let’s check out my picks!
It has been no secret just how very excited I was for the Shadow and Bone series (as well as the Six of Crows duology) to be adapted by Netflix. While the streaming platform doesn’t always get it right, I was really optimistic early on and the trailers looked fantastic. Before I watched it, though, I caught up on all the books as to really know what I am talking about (only Rule of Wolves is missing for me now, but that’s irrelevant for the show at the moment) and even before going into details on my thoughts, I think they did a great job!
Obviously, the Grishaverse is huge and vast and has quite the fanbase because of the books series. But not everyone has read those and Netflix offers a platform that exposes the material to millions of people all over the world. Not everyone will be happy with everything, but I would like share my personal opinions in the following post.
*I could not do this without going into detail on some topics, so this might not be for you if you want to go into the show with as little knowledge as possible. SPOILERS ahead!!!*
THINGS/CHANGES I DIDN’T LIKE
I want to get the “bad” things out of the way, because some of it really irked me. It did not overshadow my enjoyment entirely, because I binged the show in a day, but I find it necessary to point them out regardless.
Casting Jessie Mei Li as Alina was a beautiful choice. Jessie is a ray of sunshine and hence amazing to watch as the sun summoner. They have great chemistry with on screen partners and I’m so very glad they got cast for this role. In the books, Alina wasn’t biracial though. This was a choice made to bring more diversity to the on screen adaptation, but where they went wrong (in my opinion) was by adding anti-Asian slurs and racism to portray the treatment of people from Shu Han. Nowhere in the books was this kind of racism ever present and we are dealing with a Fantasy world where Alina already faces enough struggles and could have dealt with a number of different circumstances that made her feel othered if that was what they wanted to portray so badly. Every time they inserted a slur such as “rice-eater” or “half-breed” it felt forced and unnecessary and I imagine hurtful to certain audiences. The problem is that they never contextualize this behavior, because they simply claim that being at war with Shu Han is enough to warrant the hostility, but that’s really not the take they thought it was.
Amplifiers in the books, while still kind of barbaric, are jewelry made out of bones/scales/claws/etc. and can be anything from a necklace to a bracelet or ring. Grisha can only have one amplifier in their lifetime (yeah, I know exceptions exist) and can never take it off. The Grisha who killed the animal the amplifier is from has the power over it. I think that’s all pretty cut and clear, so, why did the show change them into some kind of body horror?
When the Darkling puts the antlers on Alina, she does not get a badass necklace, but rather the antlers fuse into her collar bone, making it an extremely uncomfortable scene to watch. I worry about this change, not just because she eventually absorbs the antlers into her body entirely and they are not visible anymore at all, but also because it makes me feel that the producers thought putting a literal collar on a person was not horrific enough and they needed another violation of Alina’s body to showcase the Darkling’s evil nature. Apparently, people wouldn’t be put off enough by his disregard for consent and need to control everyone around him.
Speaking of the Darkling! Due to budget constraints and everyone adoring Ben Barnes (he is a great actor), they opted to not show the Demon in the Woods short story as part of a flashback, where the Darkling would have been only 10 years old, but rather showed a grown up Darkling. In that tidbit from the past, he seemed enamored with a Grisha called Luda, who did not exist in the books, but came across as a love interest in that scene. Her death causes the creation of the Fold, making it feel like fridging (where the girlfriend/wife/love interest of the male protagonist dies in order to propel his story). In an interview with Insider, the showrunner explicitly said they weren’t trying to do that and even actively tried to avoid it, but nothing in that scene told me they weren’t romantically involved. (You can read the interview here!)
Also, I keep calling him the Darkling, because that’s how I knew him for 7 books. Yes, his first name is Aleksander, but in the books that’s revealed very late. His name is a mystery and Alina is the only person in that world to know it, which felt special, but here he just throws his name around like it means nothing. The show really humanised him a lot.
GENRAL STUFF I ENJOYED OR NOTICED
The following points that I will mention were neither huge mistakes nor masterful choices. I just collected some of my thoughts that I found interesting or necessary to mention to give you all a complete picture.
As someone who has read all the books, short stories and anthologies (Language of Thorns and Lives of Saints), I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the Grishaverse. However, had I been someone who didn’t have that prior knowledge, I could have easily seen myself struggle with some of the concepts. They really barely explained anything to do with Grisha orders, amplifiers or something as simple but vital as the belief systems (Fjerdan god vs. Ravkan sainsts etc.). I doubt that anyone could understand some of the important components to their full extent having none of that knowledge and background info. Whereas I understand it’s difficult to include, a little more would have been appreciated from my side.
While waiting for the show to release, I always said that I did not care about the faithfulness of the story, but rather about the accurate representation of the characters and their personality and I still stand by that. Yes, Jesper should have been played by a dark-skinned actor, but Kit Younger has his personality DOWN. And not just him, EVERYONE either behaved exactly like I imagined they would (even if they didn’t all look like they had in my head) or even improved on the characters by playing them softer and with more nuance and vulnerability (e.g. Matthias Helvar). I cannot wait to see who they will bring in for the twins, Nikolai and Wylan next season.
The overall pacing and the amount of story they packed into this first season was well handled. From what I heard, the showrunner has a three-season-plan, which would correlate nicely with the three Shadow and Bone books. I really hope that the next season would also start implementing the Six of Crows plot, because this was a nice prequel to their characters, but I need to see the big heist happening. However, since everything is more interconnected, they might change things up further and I’d be excited to see what that looks like.
In some cases, I even think that the show did better than the book. Having the ability to show several points of view, whereas Shadow and Bone the book only offered Alina’s side really gave them the chance to explore the characters some more. Also, it probably helped that the producers already knew about all the later books Leigh Bardugo wrote as well. Here’s some changes I thought worked well:
When I first read Shadow and Bone, I hated Zoya. She literally broke Alina’s ribs and just treated her terribly, because she was jealous. Early on in the books, there are few redeeming qualities to Zoya and while she improves over time, I always felt a grudge until I got her side of things in King of Scars. While she starts out similarly in the show, I was grateful that they allowed an insight into her backstory earlier in the season than in the books. She is such an important character, but I think audiences would have struggled later on, just like I did while reading, if they hadn’t softened her up.
I think I am part of a small group of people who actually liked Mal in the books, but I think Archie and the writing on the show made the character so much better. They scratched unnecessary and childish jealousy scenes (which was annoying but fine in the books, because they were younger) and genuinely made his connection to Alina seem sweet and fated. I’m so happy people are now actually rooting for them.
I loved seeing some of my favorite characters brought to life on the screen. My expectations were high and I could have easily been disappointed but I was really pleased with how everything came together. Shadow and Bone is by no means flawless, but the effort they put into wanting to do the material justice came through. I honestly didn’t know if I would understand the involvement of the crows before watching, but it was integrated beautifully and they provided some of the best parts of the season. If you enjoyed the books, I think you will like this as well. Even if you weren’t a huge fan of the Shadow and Bone books, but only enjoyed Six of Crows, I can easily see you liking this better.
Previous Reviews from this books series and Leigh Bardugo’s work: