Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo was adapted last year by Netflix for an 8 episode show by the same name. Shadow and Bone is the first in the trilogy and was Bardugo’s debut novel. The series got stronger with each book and the Grishaverse became more established as a world. Bardugo has gone on to write several more series in this universe, including TikTok sensation Six of Crows, which was also adapted into the television series. The show got renewed for a second season, which started filming in January of 2022. But, is the show worth watching? We dig into that question on our Shadow and Bone review here!
When it was first published, the book was met with generally favorable reviews. The New York Times said, “Some fantasy novels deal out the tropes of the genre like cards from a dog-eared deck. Others affirm the elemental power of these tropes, reminding us not only why we read fantasy, but also why we read at all.” Kirkus agrees that the trope-heavy story is a bit clunky, but that the storytelling is compelling enough to get the reader to the next book in the series.
In 2012 when it was first published, Shadow and Bone was at the height of the sci-fi and fantasy teens saving the world trend. Hunger Games was just before it in 2008, Divergent in 2011, Cinder in 2012, and The Selection, to name a few. If you notice, another thing these books have in common is that they are very straight and very white. In a 2016 interview Bardugo says, “My first book, Shadow and Bone, is a very straight, very white book, and I think that’s because I was a new author echoing a lot of the fantasy I’d read.” Bardugo corrects for this as she grows as an author and Six of Crows (2015), has disabled, LGBTQ, and characters of color in its main cast.
There are some key differences between the book and the show, but nothing that would be a deal breaker for true Stans, like myself. I do want to highlight some of the differences, because I think they are important to note. There will be some spoilers in this section.
Shadow and Bone: Show vs. Book
The biggest and most notable difference is that Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows are told on the same timeline in the TV adaptation, whereas in the Grishaverse, Six of Crows happens three years after Alina Starkov’s story.
The Crows don’t go to the Little Palace in the books. There’s no need, since Alina’s story has already played out, and they have a completely different mark. It’s kind of bonkers to even think about Kaz and his crew in the Little Palace, because their story is so separate. I imagine they would have schemed to steal a lot more, just in case, if the Little Palace was part of the plan all along.
Alina is part Shu in the series, making her interracial. In the book, she is from a Ravkan border town and described as white. The actress who plays Alina, Jessie Mei Li, talks explicitly about how she’s relieved that the Netflix show doesn’t shy away from race: “I appreciated that because it means that people can watch this show — whether you’re biracial or not — and see racism [against Alina] and, because it’s a fantasy, see how silly it is. If you are putting out a message, it should be one that is beneficial to everyone and is relatable in a positive way.” I agree that this was a good change for the show. It reminded me of the Hulu show Little Fires Everywhere, adapted from Celeste Ng’s book by the same name, which changed Mia’s race, giving more depth.
Mal plays a bigger role in the show than in the book because it is told by Alina in first person point of view. In the show, we get to see Mal and his tracker friends find Morozova’s stag. He’s a more complex, less moody character in the show because we get to see things from his point of view. The scenes that switch to Mal’s experience were some of my favorites.
The Darkling and Mal conversation wasn’t on page in the book. This scene adds so much characterization to Mal, who essentially blackmails the Darkling into seeing Alina. It never felt like he showed that much gumption in the book.
The Darkling’s origin story is different. Even though the timeline isn’t clear at first, it’s several hundred years before that the Shadow Fold is created. In the show, the Darkling’s lover, a Grisha named Luda, is murdered by soldiers, and he goes on a destructive magic rampage, which creates the Fold. In the book, he creates the Fold just because he wanted to.
The conductor is a character created exclusively for the show. There was no need for the conductor in either of the books because their stories never cross. He is a chemist the Crows meet who helps smuggle them across the Fold in a specialized locomotive. They are not the first people he has smuggled across the Shadow Fold, and he makes a lot of money getting people (relatively) safely across.
Milo the goat isn’t in the books. He brings much needed levity to a dark, serious scene. Milo also brings some humanity to Kaz. He’s the real G.O.A.T. of the show.
Our Shadow and Bone review
Now that you know a few of the main differences between the show and the books, let’s get into the review portion of the article. Is this show worth a watch?
Once again, let’s go to the experts. Shadow and Bone scores an 88% from both Tomatoers (critics) and audience (viewers) on Rotten Tomatoes. Not bad! This educator sees this as a B+, a more than passable score. Just like the book, overall people were happy with the show. It was praised as “perfectly cast, exquisitely constructed fantasy dream” and “a compelling world and characters that could help it become a fantasy favourite.” Some even went so far as to say it was “close to perfection.”
I agree that the show represents the idea of the books well. The casting is perfect. The Crows all look exactly how I pictured them in my head when reading the book, and places where the show did deviate, I think it was an improvement, like casting Jessie Mei Li as Alina. The production and special effects were superb, along with the costumes.
There are some things the critics and I didn’t like, though. Even having read all the books in each of the series represented, I felt like the world and plot was confusing: “Just don’t expect to immediately understand everything, and definitely don’t expect everything to come together by the end.” So much was jammed in a short amount of time. While I think bringing the Six of Crows plot into the show was a good idea, it led to information dumps and long scenes of exposition: “Packing more than one book’s worth of history, context and mythology into an eight episode season was always going to be unwieldy.”
Another criticism of the show was that it was a “checklist of tropes” and melodramatic. These points are true, but for me, they aren’t negatives. The reason I love YA is for the melodrama. As a reader (and viewer), I want every trope. They are delicious, and as many as a writer can skillfully put into a story is as many as I want.
Shadow and Bone is a true adaptation of book to screen that has every visually pleasing element. Even the places where it is weak are traits I find endearing. While I wish that there were more than 8 episodes in a season so there could be less confusion, the show was such a good-time adventure I was happy to suspend disbelief and lean into the whimsy.
If you want even more time in worlds like the one created by Leigh Bardugo, check out these books like Shadow and Bone! You can also find out your Shadow and Bone character and stock up on some Grishaverse goodies.