Shadow & Bone Show vs Book: Netflix's Biggest Differences Explained
Shadow & Bone Show vs Book: Netflix's Biggest Differences Explained
on Apr 26, 2021
As with most page-to-screen adaptations, Netflix's Shadow and Bonehas some significant differences between the show and the books. However, Shadow and Bone was even more ambitious in its changes thanks to showrunner Eric Heisserer and his writing team, with book author Leigh Bardugo, combining the events of the first book with a number of characters from later books in order to make it a more well-rounded, fleshed-out world. Happily, the changes all work.
The main storyline of Shadow & Bone more or less follows the route the first book takes. The main protagonist, Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), is an orphan who grew up in the country of Ravka with her best friend, Malyen Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux). With the kingdom currently at war, both are conscripted into the First Army. During a dangerous mission with their military unit to cross the Shadow Fold, the swath of pure darkness that cleaves their kingdom in half, Alina discovers rare powers thought to be a myth. Her newly-discovered Sun Summoner powers mean she's a Grisha, someone with the ability to manipulate matter at the molecular level. It also means she's the only one who has the potential to destroy the Shadow Fold, making her a target for those who'd use her as a pawn – namely General Kirigan, a.k.a. the Darkling (Ben Barnes), leader of the Grisha Second Army and most powerful Grisha in the world.
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At the same time, there are three other significant storylines going, as well. Mal has his own story, both remaining in the First Army when Alina is taken away, and his quest to track down Morozova's Stag, a mythical creature with magical abilities. Then there are the Crows, led by mastermind Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), master spy Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), and sharpshooter Jesper Fahey (Kit Young). The scheming trio from the city of Ketterdam is on a mission to kidnap Alina for a payment greater than any job they'd ever pulled off. While the paths of all the above converge, there's yet a fourth storyline unfolding: Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan) is a Grisha Heartrender on a secret mission for the Darkling when she's kidnapped by Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman), a Fjerdan Drüskelle – witch-hunters who hate and fear the Grisha. After an unexpected disaster, their lot is thrown in with one another, and they have to learn to trust each other to survive.
That's a lot of story for eight episodes, and the writing would be impressive no matter what. But considering how skillfully the series wove together new storylines and, it could be argued, significantly improved upon the book in some ways, it becomes an even more impressive accomplishment. Here are all the major changes in the Netflix TV show from the books.
The Crows Are In It
The biggest and most significant change from the books is that the Crows are in the Netflix series. Not only do Kaz Brekker and his gang not show up in the first book, they don't show up in the Grisha trilogy at all. In fact, they aren't introduced until their own two books, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, a standalone duology. While it's set in the same world, Six of Crows unfolds in the city of Ketterdam and partly in the country of Fjerda, a place oft-mentioned in the trilogy but never visited. The Crows' adventure takes place after the events of the Grisha trilogy, so people and events are occasionally referenced in their books, but don't have any great impact on the story.
However, Heisserer and Bardugo wanted to get the Crows involved early in the Shadow and Bone Netflix show, and it was a wise decision. While the trilogy on its own is a lot of fun, working the Crows into the first season of the show significantly expands the world and makes for a much larger, more diverse, and more interesting cast thanks to all the distinct personalities and separate storylines. The series didn't just wind the Crows' story from the books into the main one, however; their story is entirely original for the show and what showrunner Eric Heisserer has said multiple times could be considered a prequel to their story in Six of Crows. Thus, every single bit of their storyline in the show doesn't exist in the books whatsoever.
Arken Visser Is A Brand-New Character
The Crows' story even got a brand-new character who isn't in the books at all in the form of Arken Visser (Howard Charles), otherwise known as the Conductor, a smuggler who gets passengers back and forth across the Fold undetected. Nor is he a reimagining of a different minor character from the books. Arken was an original character created for the show. While he met his end at the hands of the Darkling, Arken had a significant impact on the events of the series. Not only was he the one responsible for getting the Crows across the Fold and into Ravka, but he was also instrumental in their attempted plot to capture Alina – as well as taking the fall for them. On a secondary level, he also served to illustrate that there are people in the world who don't actually want the Shadow Fold destroyed as it serves their interests to keep it intact, giving on more layer of depth and complexity to the world.
So Is General Zlatan And The Entire Civil War Storyline
In the books, there is no civil war brewing, and no charismatic General Zlatan (Tom Weston-Jones) riling up the First Army troops and citizens of West Ravka to turn on the rest of the country to become its own independent nation. That was another storyline created specifically for the show and it served a few purposes. Like Arken, it helps flesh out the world and underscores just how unstable the kingdom of Ravka really is and how close to collapse it's getting. It also adds a sympathetic layer to the character of General Kirigan as the Darkling. He is the villain, and his actions are inexcusable. Yet one might see how he could be getting desperate enough to move beyond redemption after fighting a war on two fronts and then learning of the betrayal of the people of his own country turning against him and his army. It sets up a fantastic moment where he drops his guard and allows Alina to see just how exhausted and alone he feels, giving audiences another reason to understand his obsessive and toxic need for her.
Nina And Matthias Are Also In The Netflix Series
As with the Crows, Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar aren't introduced until Six of Crows in the books. Of all the characters in those books, Nina has the closest ties to the original trilogy as it's revealed she was on a mission for Ravka during the events of the Shadow and Bone trilogy when she was captured by Fjerdan Drüskelle, including Matthias. Interestingly, while the Crows' story is entirely original to the series and a prequel to the events of their own books, Nina and Matthias' story in the series is more or less their storyline in the Six of Crows book. Her capture, the shipwreck, them having to trust each other to survive, and her subsequently landing him in prison all happen in the books, but mostly in flashback. So, interestingly, the show is telling their story earlier than it's told in the books, but when it would have been actually unfolding in the real Shadow & Bone timeline in that universe. It's a neat and tidy way to get the last major storyline and characters involved. With it appearing that Nina will be part of the Crows and their next scheme heading into season 2, Shadow & Bone season 1 smartly got her and Matthias' backstory in Six of Crows out of the way early to focus on the main story in the show moving forward.
Alexei's Story Ends Far Differently
In the books, as in the series, Alexei (Antonín Masek) is a fellow cartographer and in Alina's unit. However, his story is considerably changed in the Netflix show. In the books, he gets killed and devoured by a volcra on their first fatal crossing of the Shadow Fold, so he is an incredibly minor character. In the Netflix series, he doesn't last much longer but his role is a pivotal one, setting the Crows' mission into motion. The show neatly weaves his new story into that of the Crows, making Alexei one of the only survivors of the initial volcra attack in the fold, with him jumping off the ship and running rather than being eaten. Unfortunately, he's caught and coerced into giving up Alina's identity as the rumored Sun Summoner. He shortly meets a swift end just as he does in the books, but the series makes him a crucial link in the plot chain.
Alina Is Half-Shu
In the books, Alina is a white, mousy-haired girl. The Netflix series changes that, however, by making Alina half-Shu with her mother hailing from Shu Han, a country based on Mongolia and China. From the start, Heisserer and Bardugo wanted to make their lead protagonist mixed-race instead of white like the books, and Shadow & Bone actress Jessie Mei Li, who is half-white and half-Chinese, said that she found it made the character of Alina much easier to relate to:
I think I was able to bring quite a lot of my own experiences to Alina given the fact that they decided to make her mixed-race. Which is something that, in my own life, has definitely shaped who I am, it’s definitely something that I think lots of mixed-race people understand is that you never really feel like you belong anywhere and that can really affect you and how you interact with people, so I could take that and give that to Alina. You know, she’s told every day that she looks like the enemy and she’s never really accepted and that’s going to affect who you are as a person.
Making Alina mixed-race in the show is a bold move, but with Li drawing upon her own experiences, it adds to Alina's sense of not belonging, of having one foot in two worlds without being firmly settled in either. It also provides a deeper reason for her not being immediately accepted by the Grisha or those around her; with the kingdom in a long and bitter war with Shu Han, it's hard for the people of Ravka to immediately trust her. There has been some criticism from fans about what they see as the anti-Asian racism thrown Alina's way. However, in the context of the series, and considering those moments were informed by Li's own experiences, it presents another complex layer to a character who can sometimes be quite flat and mousy in the books.
Mal's Character Is Far Better In The Show
The one character who has the greatest change from the books, inarguably a change for the better, is Mal. Fans of the books have long reviled Mal, with a number of them disliking that Alina ended up with him and not the Darkling. It says all it needs to that so many readers would rather have had Alina end up with the murderous villain or no one at all than end up with Mal. Mal spends a good portion of his time in the books bitter, resentful, and angry at Alina, not because she's done anything wrong but because she's becoming someone different and he doesn't like it, wanting her to be the old, non-Grisha girl he knew. Instead of talking to her about things, he often gives her the silent treatment or storms off in a huff to get drunk and fight, abandoning her when she needs him most. Leigh Bardugo has openly stated a few times that as Shadow & Bone was the first book she ever wrote, there are things she would do differently, and characters she would write differently if she could go back and do it all over again, Mal being one of them.
The Netflix series, however, strips Mal of his toxic masculinity and makes him a much more open, communicative, and accepting character than in the books. While he loves Alina and is fiercely protective of her, there is no longer the aggressively jealous edge he has in the books that makes it seem as though he views Alina as a possession to be kept from other men rather than simply the woman he finally realizes he's always loved. In no exchange is the change from the books to the show more notable than the conversation they have when she admits to him that she had a brief fling with the Darkling. In the books, despite the fact that he himself has fooled around and slept with multiple other women in his life, Mal reacts childishly upon learning Alina had a brief fling with the Darkling and lashes out, sneering at her and saying, He owns you. It's a big change in the series, where Mal simply responds, Hey, look, you don't owe me an explanation. I just want to keep you safe. The Mal of the books is an enormous hypocrite; the Mal of the series knows she's her own woman and he has no room to talk. It's a notable character upgrade.
The Darkling Gets An Entirely New Backstory
Also original for the series is the backstory of General Kirigan, a.k.a. the Darkling, told in a flashback. In the books, he doesn't actually get that much of a backstory, just glimpses here and there of the boy he used to be before he created the Shadow Fold and volcra and became the Black Heretic. The show makes him much more sympathetic. His desire for power and to vanquish his enemies is the same, but it gives him a backstory that does not exist in the books. In the show, he watches as the then-king's soldiers murder the woman he loves, named Luda, right in front of him in order to break him. He escapes, but in his grief and rage, he turns in desperation to using merzost as the king's forces close in on him and the dwindling Grisha he's trying to protect. In that moment, he accidentally creates the Shadow Fold and turns the king's men into the first volcra. While he has a sympathetic childhood story in the books, by the time he's of the age to command the king's forces and create the Shadow Fold, he's much further down the path of darkness than he was in the series.
In Shadow & Bone season 1, his reason for creating the Fold is much more sympathetic and he's not yet unfathomably cruel and power-hungry for the sake of power. In the books, the first people to become volcra are the people living in the settlement that became the Shadow Fold, including women and children. The series doesn't actively make this more sympathetic – turning humans into volcra is still horrible, even if it was an unintentional repercussion – but makes it slightly less horrific as it happened to the men who slaughtered Grisha and who had the Darkling surrounded, rather than to innocent children. It makes the Darkling a more complex character rather than a simple mustache-twirling villain.
Zoya Is Set Up To Be More Important Earlier
Another character who is given more prominence earlier is Zoya Nazyalensky (Sujaya Dasgupta). In the books, Zoya does eventually defect from the Darkling and joins Alina's side, but it doesn't happen until the second book. Likewise, her motivation for leaving the Darkling – that her relatives living in Novokribirsk were slaughtered when the Darkling expanded the Shadow Fold to swallow up the port town – is also the same in the show, but it's also not revealed until the second book and she reveals it after the fact. Zoya continues to be an important character through the third book of the trilogy, and later, one of the two main characters in the King of Scars duology.
The Netflix series brings Zoya's defection and her importance to the forefront earlier, setting the stage for her to be an important player in the second season much sooner than she is in the Shadow & Bone books. It also helps to make Zoya a more sympathetic character and one with more depth rather than the trope-ish Mean Girl stereotype she spends much of the time being in the books. Over the course of five books, Zoya went from a nasty, hated rival of Alina's to a heroine of her own story and a well-loved character in her own right. Wisely, the Netflix series appears to be setting this transformation into motion much earlier.
Fedyor Is More Important, Period
While Zoya is set up to be more important earlier than in the books, Fedyor (Julian Kostov) is made more important, period. He appears infrequently in the first Shadow and Bone book beyond being one of the two Heartrenders to escort Alina to Os Alta after it's discovered she's a Sun Summoner. He reappears in the second and has a slightly larger supporting role, but the Netflix series keeps him around and gives him an expanded role from the time he and Ivan serve as Alina's guards on the way to the Little Palace. In the books, he's still friendlier than Ivan, but the show draws upon this even further, with Fedyor displaying a downright jovial disposition and seeming to be one of the few Grisha who believe in Alina and what she can do from the start.
Likewise, the subplot of his mission to track down Nina Zenik in Shadow & Bone season 1 on the order of the Darkling is completely new to the series. Fedyor's increased presence in the show and the trust General Kirigan show in him elevate him from the books. In doing so, it also allows the character of Fedyor to help humanize the Grisha who, in the books, are mostly shown to either be wildly unfriendly if not outright hostile to Alina, or obsessed with status and hierarchy.
Marie Dies At The Winter Fete
The Winter Fete is far more dangerous and action-packed in the Netflix series than it is in the books. As with the books, the fete is the most lavish party of the year and serves as Alina's coming-out party as the Sun Summoner. It's also the night that Baghra (Zoë Wanamaker) informs her of the Darkling's deception and true nature, and Alina escapes the Little Palace. But the party itself is uneventful, a vast difference from Netflix's Shadow & Bone, which finds the Crows infiltrating the palace in disguise. Likewise, it adds the subplot of Marie (Jasmine Blackborow) serving as Alina's decoy and being assassinated by Arken. While Marie does die in the books, as well, it's in a vastly different way and doesn't come until the second book. Her death in the series, while shocking and sad, will not necessarily impact the show moving forward as she was not a particularly important character in the books.
Alina's Connection To Morozova's Stag & The Darkling Is Far More Gruesome
The Netflix series took quite a few liberties with the concept of amplifiers, namely Morozova's Stag. In the books, the antlers are as a fetter around her neck. David Kostyk (Luke Pasqualino) is the one who binds it to her, just as he does in the books. However, in the books, he simply melds the ends of the antlers together to make a collar around her neck. The Netflix show makes the binding and subsequent connection far more gruesome body horror, with the amplifier sinking partway into her flesh and bones so the tips of the antlers show just above the surface of her skin in bloody spikes.
The Shadow & Bone Netflix adaptation also adds the twist of the Darkling also embedding a piece of the stag's antler into his own hand in order to forge the connection between him and Alina. In the books, it's enough that he was the one to kill the stag but place its antlers around her collar; the Netflix series makes their connection a physical thing with both having pieces of the antler embedded in them. Thus, the show changes how she breaks her connection to him, as well, driving her knife into his hand to tear the embedded antler piece from his flesh, severing their connection. In the books, the connection is severed when the stag comes to her in a vision and she realizes the real wielder of an amplifier's power is not the one who kills it, but who the amplifier chooses and thus bestows its power to.
It makes sense that the show would change the nature of their connection. The books provide a largely spiritual, metaphysical reason for their connection but it doesn't necessarily translate that well to the screen. The collar being literally embedded in her flesh then her absorbing it all and claiming its power, along with the antler piece being knocked from the Darkling's hand all provide moments of visual storytelling a straight adaptation from the books wouldn't provide.
In all, the changes wrought by the team behind the Netflix adaptation greatly improve characters from the books who were either problematic or two-dimensional. It also brings other important characters into the story much earlier than they are in the books, making the world of Shadow & Bone and all its countries a much larger, richer, and more complex one. Despite all the story Shadow and Bone season 1 told, however, there are still four major characters who have yet to be introduced in the Netflix series: Sturmhond, a dashing privateer (and who may or may not be in disguise), who doesn't make his appearance until the second book of the trilogy, Siege and Storm;Shu twins Tamar Kir-Bataar and Tolya Yul-Bataar, fierce fighters and Heartrenders who are introduced with Sturmhond and become part of Alina's guard; and Wylan Van Eck, the son of a Kerch merchant who ends up joining Kaz Brekker's gang in Six of Crows and becomes one of the protagonists of the story with the rest of the gang. Both Heisserer and Bardugo have teased that a season 2 would feature all four characters. Hopefully, Netflix gives Shadow and Bone season 2 the official greenlight soon.