With the release of Netflix’s new fantasy series, Shadow and Bone, I utter words that I never thought would come out of my mouth “The screen adaptation was better than the book.”
While the Netflix adaptation did change some things in the book, they actually enhanced the story. All while adding a richness to the world. It kept with the integrity of the book, and met my extremely high expectations as a massive fan of the Grishaverse. But what did they change from the books? What changes were better, or fell flat? Here’s my spoiler-abundant review of Shadow and Bone.
Adaptation: Which books were included?
Shadow and Bone is based on a book trilogy by the same name written by Leigh Bardugo. She was also an executive producer and writer for the show. It tells the story of the mythical country Ravka which has been split in two by a mysterious swath of darkness populated by monsters called the Shadow Fold. It’s foretold that someone with the ability to summon light, the Sun Summoner, will one day destroy the Fold. When her best friend is in danger, Alina Starkov reveals the ability to summon light. This puts her on a collision course with some of the most powerful people in Ravka.
The show also included a prequel story to the Six of Crows duology, which is a series that takes place in the same world. But in a different country with different characters two years after the last Shadow and Bone book. Where Shadow and Bone is an epic story of good vs. evil, literal light vs. dark, Six of Crows is about a group of teenage gangsters committing felonies. It’s grittier, darker, and objectively better and has a large fan base. The show took three of the principal Six of Crows characters. It sent them after Alina Starkov for a cool million kruge.
The Sun Summoner
Let’s discuss our principal Sun Saint, played by Jessie Mei-Li. Alina feels as though she stepped right out of the book. Mei-Li did a fantastic job portraying her. The way that she feels lost and out of place in her world, her sense of humour, her charming dumb decisions. She’s earnest and kind, while subtly foreshadowing the greed for more power that comes into play in the later books.
One major difference from the show to the book is the anti-Shu (East Asian) racism at play in the show. In the mythical world of the Grishaverse, Alina’s country Ravka is at war with Fjerda in the north and Shu Han in the south. While Ravka is inspired by Russia, Fjerda by Germany/Scandinavia, Shu Han is inspired by East Asian cultures. Mei-Li is half Chinese, and therefore show Alina’s mother was Shu and her father was Ravkan. It makes sense that Ravkans would be hostile towards someone who looks like they come from a country they’ve been at war with for over a century. The change works well in the story’s favour. In the books, Alina always felt lonely and out of place. Adding this extra level of isolation drives home the feeling that she doesn’t know where she belongs.
Another major change comes in the way the story ended. At the end of the story, General Kirigan uses Alina’s power against her will to expand the Shadow Fold and use it as a weapon, killing hundreds of people. In the show, Alina is able to escape the Fold on their skiff with the help of several other characters. But in the book, Alina realizes her power in the same way she does in the show. But she uses it to jump off their skiff and run away with Mal, leaving everyone on the skiff to die. Living with the knowledge that she caused about a dozen deaths is definitely something Alina deals with in later books. The fact that she didn’t do that in the show might affect her character’s development moving forward.
But all in all, Jessie Mei-Li’s portrayal of Alina was perfect.
Alina’s best friend, Mal Oretsev, played by Archie Renaux, is disliked by a lot of book readers. Renaux’s portrayal of Mal, however, flipped a lot of people’s opinion on the talented tracker. In this fictional world, there are people known as Grisha who have the ability to manipulate things around them. In Ravka they are treated very well, and before Alina was discovered to be one, both of them had a certain level of disdain for Grisha. Mal and Alina are orphans who grew up together, in the show they call each other their “true north;” their home. He’s one of Alina’s prominent love interest’s and they have a close relationship.
In the book, Mal preferred Alina weak and without her power. He was more of a playboy, a little more selfish and arrogant, and less understanding. In the show, he spends a great deal of time being beat up and shot at in an attempt to get back to Alina. Seeing him track down the Stag for her, listening to letters he wrote to her that never got delivered really helped in understanding Mal’s character. And making him more likeable. In the show, he is principally concerned with protecting her and getting back to her, and Mei-Li and Renaux’s chemistry is off the charts. Renaux took a character that a lot of people have mixed feelings about, and made him into a fan favourite.
The Darkling, or General Kirigan, played by Ben Barnes, faced the most book to screen changes. The biggest being that in the book, he is referred to as only the Darkling. Whereas in the show he’s referred to as General Kirgian and “Darkling” is used as a slur. For reference, Kirgan is a powerful Grisha who has the ability to summon darkness and use it as a weapon.
It was a strange change, and I’m not sure why they did it, but it didn’t bother me too much. It took the mystery of his character away a little bit, but it’s something I can overlook. But there is one change to Kirigan’s name that truly bothers me. Kirigan’s back story and real name was revealed way too early. In the books that doesn’t happen until book three, Reign and Ruin. But we get his real name as an offhand comment in Episode Four and then his backstory in Episode Seven. General Kirigan is a fantastic villain but revealing his backstory this early waters down his character.
However, Ben Barnes understood the assignment. He portrayed Kirigan perfectly, really driving home how manipulative a villain he is. You want to like him, you want to trust him. The twist that he is the man who created the Shadow Fold and has no intention of destroying it stung even for book readers who knew it would happen. He’s likeable and hateable at the same time, and fans of the show are in the same boat as Alina. As in they have no idea whether to kiss him or kill him.
By far the best addition to this show was including the Crows; our principal criminals from Six of Crows. The Six of Crows book follows Kaz Brekker, a rising star in the criminal underworld of Ketterdam, as he is hired to break a man out of a high security Fjerdan prison. He establishes a crew of Inej, Jesper, Matthias, Nina, and Wylan and they go have a heist.
The Crows have a lot of fans, so show-runners decided to twist the plot a little bit to include them. Six of Crows does do some groundwork in explaining where these characters are during the events of Shadow and Bone. From there it was finding ways for these two books to bump into each other. And they did it perfectly without making as many major plot changes as I thought they would.
Wylan is the only Crow missing from the line up in the show. But it should be noted that show-runners have said that he will be in Season Two.
Six of Crows outlines how star-crossed lovers Matthias and Nina meet each other, and the show follows that plot for the pair. Nina (Dannielle Galligan) is a powerful Heartrender, which is a Grisha who can control the body. Matthias (Calahan Skogman) is a Druskelle, a witch-hunter from Fjerda who had dedicated his life to hunting down and burning Grisha.
After fate pulls Nina and Matthias together through a shipwreck, they have to rely on each other to survive. They fall in love in spite of their differences. But to save Matthias from her Grisha comrades, Nina gets Matthias arrested, claiming he’s a Kerch slaver. This destroys Matthias’ trust in her despite Nina still loving him and sets them on a course for Ketterdam. Both actors do a great job setting up their relationship in only a few short scenes. And showrunners set them up to join Kaz’s crew in the next season.
But the real stars are Kaz (Freddy Carter), Inej (Amita Suman), and Jesper (Kit Young). The three of them get just as much screen time as Alina, Kirigan, and Mal. Their story begins when they get a hit on a job to go to Ravka, cross the Fold, and bring back the woman who claims to be the Sun Summoner.
Six of Crows
Reading Six of Crows definitely makes the Crow plot more enjoyable, as it is teeming in Easter Eggs. But everything with the Crows in this show is prequel and therefore new. Kaz is still building a reputation in Ketterdam, Inej still belongs to the Menagerie, and Jesper is pretty much the same.
One complaint I’ve seen fans have is that Kaz is not violent enough. In the books, we’re talking about a man who ripped a guy’s eyes out. And convinced a man that he buried his toddler alive. He’s also smarter in the books, always has a plan, and is maybe the most intelligent character in the Grishaverse. Yet, in the show, he doesn’t win many fights and pushes himself into a corner. But I still think that Freddy Carter was the perfect Kaz.
Fans of the book should note that this story is two years before Six of Crows. He’s not the Kaz we know and love yet. He definitely lays crumbs down for him to become that, and there are scenes in the show where Kaz shows just how ruthless he can be. There were also complaints that he was too outward with his emotion. But everything that makes Kaz sympathetic in the book comes from that we can read his internal monologue.
If Carter and script writers portrayed Kaz like how he is in the book to a fault, we would have no reason to sympathize with him. In my opinion, Carter, who is openly a massive fan of Kaz Brekker, did a fantastic job with the character. Portraying a younger, less experienced Kaz.
They also did a fabulous job of setting up Kaz’s heart-wrenching back story without spoiling it too early (take notes Kirigan). They put emphasis on his cane, his gloves, his relationship with Barrel King Pekka Rollins, and his inability to touch people. Kaz is a disabled character, having to walk with cane, and suffers from extreme PTSD and touch aversion. Carter did an amazing job of portraying those things and how they make Kaz stronger. Kaz embraces every part of himself to the point that they truly do make him a force to be reckoned with, and the show did an excellent job with that.
Another thing to note is his relationship to Inej. Inej was kidnapped from her home when she was fourteen and illegally sold to a brothel in Ketterdam. But Inej has some skills in terms of espionage as she was trained as an acrobat as a child.
So Kaz buys her indenture, setting up a payment plan to pay for the massive sum, and Inej works for Kaz. Inej can’t leave Ketterdam without her previous owner’s permission, so Kaz puts up his gambling hall as collateral and a promise to pay off her indenture in full when they return. Inej has also expressed that she has never killed anyone and doesn’t want to, but when Kaz is in mortal danger, Inej makes her fist kill. These two characters are never going to admit that they love each other, but they repeatedly show that they do through their actions, and in the end, Kaz begrudgingly admits that he needs her. Inej is also the most religious character in the show, and going after the Sun Saint definitely provides some conflict in her heart.
She’s an assassin who is full of compassion and is incredibly pious and complex. Suman did an amazing job bringing this complicated character to life, and Carter and Suman have wonderful tension in their scenes.
And here to steal the show is Kit Young as Jesper Fahey. He does a great job as comic relief, releasing tension in high-stress scenes and being the comedic break-out of the show. But even through that, he alludes to Jesper’s crippling gambling addiction, his desire to be validated by Kaz, and his tender friendship with Inej.
All three of these actors embody the Crows perfectly. They simply stepped off the pages, and seeing them cross paths with Shadow and Bone characters feels natural and exciting. They definitely stole the show and my heart.
All in all, there is way too much to discuss in this series vs. the book, so I’ll boil it down to this, Shadow and Bone was perfect. The casting was phenomenal, the plot changes were natural and bettered the story, the inclusion of the Crows was genius, and everything about it was incredible. It set up the Crows to be united as the six of them and set them up for future heists, and it propped up the Shadow and Bone arc for book two. The show has not been announced for another season yet, but Bardugo has stated that she wants five, and I’ll be praying to the Saints for as much as I can get.
What did you think of Shadow and Bone the series vs. the book? Let us know in the comments below.
Whilst on Netflix check out the best of British movies HERE.
Read IMDb information on Shadow and Bone HERE.
I’ve Never Seen Lord Of The Rings
A Very Unexpected Journey
How would you react to someone who has never seen the Lord of The Rings? Would you exile them as outcasts? Or would you wrap them up in a blanket and welcome them into a world of Tolkien mythology?
Don’t judge me too harshly. I haven’t been living under a rock for the past 20 years. But have I had the viewing pleasure of following Frodo as he journeys across Middle-earth? Not until very recently. And I have to admit, I do feel like I’ve missed out on a vital part of my childhood.
I still remember the buzz of the first film’s release back in 2001. The adaptation had been a huge success, raking in $870 million. It appeared, no matter where you turned you couldn’t escape the Fellowship. Perhaps that’s why I never gathered enough interest to watch it.
The problem with this came with a lack of understanding. Which first bubbled to the surface when I began studying for an English degree. Of course, I knew the name J. R.R. Tolkien well. In fact, I was well-rehearsed in his early life. Still, I persisted with my lack of knowledge of the books, maybe out of pure stubbornness… “Why should I watch or read them now when I’ve gotten through life fine without them so far?”
Taking the plunge
Well, my stubbornness finally dispelled, and I took the time to watch The Fellowship of the Ring. 3 hours and 48 whole minutes, to be exact. So, am I now a Tolkienite? Have I succumbed to the cultural revolution of Peter Jackson’s live-action movie? Do I wish I had a hobbit sitting in my pocket? The answer to the last question is a definite yes, but as for the others? Let’s have a look at my verdict.
To start with, the opening scenes confused me. Don’t get me wrong, the initial blackness and elvish whispers put me on the edge of my seat. But Sauron being defeated by dismembering his finger? It seems a little over-kill. Especially when hordes of armies take part in such a fierce battle. Still, the cinematography is pretty insane. And the opening does give a great back-story.
Next, my thoughts turn towards the rolling landscapes of Hobbiton. First, this corner of the Shire is exquisitely named. Second, I felt like I had stepped into a child’s fairy garden. Who wouldn’t want to roam the picturesque, small houses embedded into the hills? With round doors and each beautifully framed in forna. It’s no wonder fans flock to the New Zealand set every year to catch a glimpse of it.
Though, I do have a small issue with this onscreen perfect corner of Middle-earth. Tolkien seems to have gifted Hobbits with qualities that can’t be visualised. In my mind, hobbits are good-natured, busy little creatures who live in burrow-like houses. They dress like they have stepped off the set of Robin Hood as merry men extras, in mini size. They eat eight or nine times a day. Enjoy naps at short intervals, have never been far from home and have eyes that grow wide at the sounds of the night. They are like wildlife prey, it takes true heroism, for they are timid by nature and would rather avoid a fight. Though, this kind of timid-turns-hero innocence belongs to an earlier, gentler time. Perhaps this is why the portrayal of Hobbits seems to be missing something.
I also find myself contemplating how different The Fellowship would have been. Had it been adapted many years earlier, in a time such as the 1950s where movies began to branch out.
So, Frodo Baggins begins his journey to the fire of the Cracks of Doom… I admit I love nothing more than an underdog to hero epic. The minute Frodo set forth on his quest, I practically ‘whooped’ at my screen. And when one becomes nine to form a Company of the Ring? It’s almost like magic. I remember a similar feeling when watching Suicide Squad for the first time. Unexpected underdog becomes a hero – a storyline that will never grow old.
On a separate note. I would also like to point out, the sheer terror the Black Riders would have bestowed on me all those years ago. I found myself holding my breath with Frodo and his comrades as the Black Rider is almost upon them in the woods. That scene alone should count for a higher PG rating.
As members come together, it feels as though good will prevail over evil. That is, until the ring’s power becomes too much to contain. Que the fall of the Company of the Ring. Wait? The ring begins to corrupt members? The group splits? Surely even in Middle-earth the ‘safer together’ rule stands! The comradery was short-lived, leaving Frodo and Sam continue their journey to Mordor.
Now, despite my concerns over the on-screen adaptation. I have to admit that having read a great deal on Tolkien, he is a master at his craft. Watching the movie has opened my eyes to the sheer imagination of the author. The Fellowship is as much about war as it is about power and greed, innocence and enlightenment. Tolkien combined both his personal experiences of war and his passion for mythology. I do have to praise the production of the adaptation trying to do such an epic story justice. The scenery is fantastic, and the whole production screams ‘Epic’.
I have to conclude with the statement that after some deliberation. And many sleeping hours lost, I have read the first LOTR novel. Although it was a long, one-sided battle of wills, I have to state that for me, the book far outweighs the live-action. The detail in the writing is irreproducible.
It’s a journey
Reviewer and Lord of the Rings superfan, Roger Ebert put in beautifully. He said, “The written trilogy is about leaving places, going places, being places, and going to other places.” Which couldn’t sum up the first book better, it seems so much more visually aesthetic. Landscapes are described with the ever-faithful detail of a Victorian travel writer. Characters are given life through intricate specifics which don’t always seem that specific. You feel the realness through the art of imagination.
The journey becomes a quest, and the timid hobbit becomes the hero, but not until many, many hours later. If you haven’t yet taken yourself on this journey to Mordor, grab your espresso and snacks, it’s going to be a long ride!
Thanks for reading about what is was like for someone who had never seen Lord of the Rings to break that fact. Are there any famous flicks that have passed you by? Let us know in the comments below.
Read why Samwise Gamgee is the most underrated Lord of the Rings character HERE.
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