My thoughts on Shadow & Bone

Hello my lovely readers. I’m sorry for the late posting for May; as a teacher, the end of the school year is always hectic. I wish I could say I’ve made more progress on editing The Enduring Flame, but all of my time went to dealing with last-minute preparations for end-of-year activities. I also didn’t complete the sewing I wanted to do, so that exploration into my other main hobby will have to wait as I feverishly spend this week sewing outfits for my honeymoon.

What did I do this month? I managed to find time to read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom so that I could watch the Netflix show Shadow and Bone. I had read the Shadow & Bone trilogy in 2020 right at the start of the pandemic, and mostly enjoyed it. I loved the world, the magic, and the villain, but was lukewarm on Alina and Mal, our main protagonists. I rated each book a 7/10. The Six of Crows duology succeeded in some ways for me, but fell flat in others; I also rated it a 7/10.

Spoiler warning for the show and books.

Before I delve into the show, let me say what I enjoyed about the books and what fell flat for me. For S&B, all those things I mentioned above were the highlights. I absolutely loved the Darkling, and honestly, I wanted Alina to go with him, then proceed to thwart him via manipulation of his loneliness and odd vulnerability toward her. Fighting darkness with darkness, if you will. I also enjoyed some of the side characters, like Nikolai and Zoya, and the creative use of the world’s elements. However, Mal was not a character I enjoyed at all. He was rude to Alina and seemed to serve no other purpose than as a half-baked love interest. To be fair, Alina wasn’t a very active protagonist, so I also struggled to like her as much as I did the other characters.

For the duology, I still loved the world and seeing new parts of it. I liked the politics within Ketterdam as well as the other countries, being shown Fjerda and having glimpses of the Zemeni and Shu peoples. I enjoyed the twists and turns of the various heists. But, just like S&B, I struggled a lot with the characters. I enjoyed the main PoV characters, but I had trouble connecting to them. This is a critique I often see: the characters are supposedly teenagers, and act that way in some regards (especially romance), but are then hyper-competent in the heist. That disconnect never really went away for me, and it soured the reading a bit.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I still enjoyed these books. I’ll reread them at some point, probably before Season 2 of the show. I’ll recommend them to fans of YA Fantasy. The flaws were not enough to make me stop reading or dislike the experience, and only took away from what could have been 8/10 or even 9/10 ratings.

With such neutral feelings toward the books, I was intrigued by the show. I’ve grown from a child who despised any changes in an adaptation into a person who understands the necessities of the transition from page to screen. I enjoyed the books, but I’m not a Grishaverse die-hard fan. I watched with an open mind, curious to see what changes would be made.

I wasn’t disappointed. The show managed to thread a fine line between honoring the source material, radically changing backstories and interactions, and making subtle changes. The world came to life with incredible sets, costumes, and effects, the actors all did an incredible job (especially Jessie Mei Li and Ben Barnes), and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching it. The creators also had a great eye for detail, bringing in elements of the books with a subtle wink and nod instead of drawing attention to them.

But did the show correct the flaws of the books? In some ways, yes. In others, no. Alina became a more active protagonist, even driving her own romance with the Darkling. Certain elements, like the “mean girls” of the Little Palace, were toned down or glossed over completely, which was fine by me. I work in a middle school, I don’t need to see that drama in my entertainment.

Yet even with showing us Mal’s PoV – his friends, his hurt at Alina’s leaving, his hunt for the stag – I found myself still disinterested in his relationship with Alina. We had more glimpses into his character, but I realized that he had no motivation other than finding and helping Alina. The reason I like the Darkling so much, other than having a fondness for villains who seduce heroines, is that he’s motivated. He wants something, and he’ll stop at nothing to get it. If Alina is gone, what does Mal want? It’s unclear, even in the show, and I hope that we get more development for him in later seasons.

On the other side of the coin, we have the Crows interfering with S&B’s plot. The characters are much the same, though their circumstances are different. However, all of them are aged up: Kaz is a few years older than Alina, while Inej and Jesper appear about Alina’s age (early to mid twenties). This helps resolve the competency issue while still allowing for them to be immature in their relationships.

I really enjoyed how the Crows were brought into the show. I kept guessing how their heist might align with Alina’s plot and how they would be brought into the climax. This is a massive change to both source materials that I found extremely well done. I was rooting for them and their one million kruge job, while also wanting Alina to find her way out of her bad situations. The ending, where the crew helps Alina to escape Ravka, sets up more interactions in the future while still adhering to character motivations.

One element that was extremely rushed in the show was Alina’s training: we have one scene of her fighting Zoya in physical combat, but that’s it. One montage of her preparing to train with Baghra. I wanted more. I wanted to see Alina hone both her body and her magic, and I felt that this area was sorely lacking. We also don’t have a great idea of the other Grisha and their various alliances and perspectives. Fyodor and Ivan are fun, but not seen often. Genya and Zoya receive some development, but not David. We also have less of a sense of the greater politics with the Apparat and the king, which are vital later on in the story.

Is the show perfect? No. It has its flaws, but overall, it’s clear that the writers gave a lot of thought to how they would move this story onto the screen. I don’t know if I would rate the show higher than the books (7/10, maybe an 8/10 depending on how they adapt later on), but it certainly matches its source material.

What are your thoughts?

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