Review: Netflix’s New Adaptation "Shadow And Bone"

Netflix is aiming high with adaptations. After Bridgerton and Lupin, the streaming platform released Shadow and Bone, an eight-episode show inspired by the fictional universe created by author Leigh Bardugo. The “Grishaverse”, as the fans call it, is the union of two series of books, the original Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology. Even though the stories' narratives were changed a bit to fit the screen, it’s safe to say that the writers, producers and actors did a good job of maintaining the essence of the characters and the world around them.

  1. 1. Storyline and plot division

    Shadow and Bone tells the story of Alina Starkov, an orphan that works as a cartographer for the first army. When she has to cross the Fold, a huge strip of darkness that divides the country of Ravka, she discovers that she has the power to summon light. With that, the protagonist is taken from her comfort zone to train with the Grisha, people with the ability to manipulate matter and that compose the second army. Meanwhile, her childhood best friend Mal is on a mission to find a way to her. 

    This is the base plot for the show, but as it was decided that the characters from Six of Crows would be included - in which the original story is set two years after the first trilogy one - we have two more subplots that were created and adapted for this part of the cast. The first one follows the heist of  Kaz, Inej and Jasper to kidnap Alina and the other goes on a survival journey with Nina and Matthias, a Grisha and a druskelle (a Grisha hunter). 

    It seems like too much information, but it actually works, at least for the rhythm of the show. With very well-divided episodes, they manage to give the audience a very intriguing story with many points of view, without making it confusing or forgettable. Therefore, the strategy of having many plotlines that somehow connect works very well when we are watching Shadow and Bone because it never gets tiring. Some episodes are more than 50 minutes, but they feel way shorter than that. The fast-pace of the narrative makes it perfect for a binge-watch. 

  2. 2. Worldbuilding and post-production

    Although the quick rhythm works for the narrative, sometimes it harms the worldbuilding. To someone who is familiar with the Grishaverse from the books, everything is very well put. But if you’re not, it will probably take a few episodes to comprehend the world of Shadow and Bone. Some of the rules of the universe aren’t verbally explained, such as the difference between the orders of the Grisha (Corporalki, Etherealki and Materialki) and the functioning of the amplifiers, an essential subject for the understanding of the plot. 

    Of course, it isn't easy to develop such a complex world as the one created by Bardugo. There are countries in war, magical beings, lots of different locations that the characters go through and a whole summary of words created only for this story. However, there are basic things that could have been more explored and that would be fixed with the addition of one or two episodes. 

    On the other hand, the scenarios, costumes and visual effects are all incredibly well done. To someone who had previous contact with it only in their imagination, it’s amazing to actually watch Ravka, the Fold and the powers of the Grisha on screen. When the fans were waiting for the show, there was some anticipation regarding the visuals of the magical stuff, since Netflix has disappointed in other adaptations before. However, Netflix managed to create a very satisfying result. 

  3. 3. Character development and actors

    When the adaptation was first announced, Leigh Bardugo promised fans that even if the narrative was changed, they would keep the essence of the characters alive. As an executive producer of the show, she didn’t disappoint. Not only are they extremely faithful to how they were originally portrayed, they also made some improvements. 

    Mal, who is very well played by Archie Renaux, is the biggest proof of that, as many fans who didn't like the character’s development in the books started to love him after watching the show. Another right call was choosing an Asian actress to play Alina (Jessie Mei Li). This made it possible for her to be characterized as half-shu, making it clear for the ones watching that there is a big scenario of rivalry and discrimination between the countries at war: Ravka, Shu-Han and Fjerda

    Ben Barnes is incredible as General Kirigan (or The Darkling). Everything is better done in his storyline: his intriguing relationship with Alina, the backstory that gave way more depth to his actions and, of course, the compelling charm of a villain that many people love. 

    Besides that, fans' biggest worry was the Six of Crows crew, since their story would be very different from the original one. However, Freddy Carter, Amita Suman and Kit Young did an amazing job in the roles of Kaz, Inej and Jesper, respectively. Their chemistry is very much on point and, most importantly, nothing is changed about them. It could make some fans upset to see that Jesper is used mostly as a comic relief during the show though, since he is a much more complex character.

    The only thing that is actually disappointing is the development of Nina and Matthias. Their plot is the exact same as the original one written by Bardugo, but the adaptation for the screen did not do them justice. It seemed too fast and there wasn’t enough information for the people watching to understand their personal motivations. Their story has a connection to the other characters. Yet, that isn't clear until the ending, which made their plot seem a bit random throughout the show. 

Regardless, Shadow and Bone successfully adapted the Grishaverse while achieving something that producers have huge difficulty on: improving what could be better on screen and still maintaining the heart of the story. Now, we can only hope season two is on its way to deliver more of that. 

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The article above was edited by Laura Okida.

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