Netflix’s Shadow and Bone Season One Review

Today I’m reviewing Netflix’s adaptation of Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. I’ve seen the show three times now, and these are my thoughts on it. I’ll start out with a spoiler-free discussion of the series, and then I will discuss some of spoilers. I will be reviewing the show in terms of its adaptation quality.

In terms of the worldbuilding and settings, I think the show does an amazing job of bringing the worlds of Ravka and Ketterdam to life. The sets, costumes, props, special effects, soundtrack, etc. all work together to make these places feel real. The show does not make any obvious changes to Bardugo’s already amazing worldbuilding and settings.

As for the plot, there are a lot of changes. For one, the show runners chose to interweave Shadow and Bone with Six of Crows characters when the book Six of Crows takes place several years after the end of Ruin and Rising, the third book in Shadow and Bone’s trilogy. Most Bardugo fans prefer Six of Crows, so I can understand why from a marketing perspective they would choose to do this. I am one of the minority who prefers Shadow and Bone; however, I don’t feel like including the Six of Crows characters detracted from the show. The plot of the show does not follow the book’s plot well at all. The overarching plot is the same, but many of the smaller events and details are changed, cut out, added, etc. From the beginning, the show runners and Bardugo said the show would not be an exact replica of Shadow and Bone, but would rather be a similar story that keeps the heart of the original. I think the aspects of the book they chose to keep are the important ones that do maintain the heart of the story. So despite the plot being quite different, I still think the overarching storyline is well-adapted, and I enjoy the plotline of the show.

There is, however, one thing I wanted to see more of in the plot, and that’s the changes Alina’s powers wrought in her. One of my favorite parts of the Shadow and Bone book is watching Alina grow and learn to use her powers, and her mind and body change in positive ways as a result of her using her powers. We don’t really see this in the show. I think there were opportunities for the show runners to include short conversations between Alina and others that clarify how her powers are changing her. It’s briefly mentioned in a conversation between Alina and Mal, but it isn’t a clear conversation, so viewers who haven’t read the books would not understand the full extent of what Alina has experienced as a result of using her powers.

In terms of the characters and their relationships, I think the show runners made some great decisions. All of the characters are well cast. My favorite is Ben Barnes as the Darkling, aka General Kirigan. At first I didn’t like that the show changed the Darkling’s name, but the reasoning behind it does make sense. It’s awkward to call someone the Darkling, and I like how they kept that name as more of an insult or slur for Barnes’s character. I also love Kit Young’s portrayal of Jesper. Jesper is my favorite character in Six of Crows, and I think Young did a great job bringing him to life. Zoe Wannamaker did a great job with Baghra as well, and I also love Nina’s quips.

I enjoyed some of the character changes the show makes. I know the addition of Miles the goat is a fan favorite, and I love how attached one of the characters becomes to Milo. Fedyor doesn’t get a lot of attention in the books as I recall them, and I like that he’s a recurring character in the show. He seems like a fun guy who’s also a hard-working soldier, and I love how he contrasts Ivan’s more serious personality. The show makes General Kirigan more sympathetic, which is a smart move, I think. It helps viewers better understand the motivations behind his actions. One character I strongly dislike in the books is Mal, but I actually like him in the show. I’m really impressed by the changes Archie Renaux and the show runners made to Mal’s character.

Another change the show makes that doesn’t really fall into any of the aforementioned categories is the inclusion of issues of race. I like that the show chooses to address the topic of racism. This is not something that occurred in the books, and it’s an important topic for people to address. However, I don’t like that they changed the character Zoya to be racist to support their agenda. Zoya isn’t racist in the books, and it makes me dislike her character. If the show runners really wanted a character to represent racism, I think they should have chosen a new or minor character rather than a major player like Zoya because they’ve negatively altered her character in my view.

Overall, I really enjoy this show. I’m one of those crazy people who watched it the second it became available on Netflix (which was 1:00 am in my time zone). It actually worked out nicely because I had to be up at 5:00 am to register for grad school classes that same day (there was only one spot left in one of the classes I wanted, and this show is the reason I was able to get it). I stayed up until 1:00, watched the first four episodes, registered for classes, and then watched the last four episodes. I finished before 8:00 am and then slept all day. I was so excited to see the show, and it was definitely worth staying up all night. I’m not quite as excited about it now that it’s been out for a while, but it was great the first time I watched it. If you like Shadow and Bone and/or Six of Crows, you should definitely watch the show. Episode 5 is my favorite if anyone’s wondering.

Now for my discussion of spoilery things. We’ll start with character-related things. One thing I really like is that General Kirigan uses Mal as a way to learn what Alina’s favorite flower is, so he can get them for her. If that’s not manipulative, I don’t know what is. Another comment I have about General Kirigan is that I don’t like the name drop in Episode 4. In the books, we don’t learn the Darkling’s real name until Ruin and Rising, yet in the show, we learn it’s Aleksander less than halfway through the first season. I think this ruins the significance of his name and the way Alina learns it in the books.

Another thing I like about the show is the change in Nina and Matthias’s relationship. The way it was framed in the books, it came across as toxic to me. However, the way it’s framed in the show makes it seem far less toxic. I think it’s hard to do enemies-to-lovers without some element of toxicity, so it would be really hard for their relationship to be 100% healthy. However, I really like that the show was able to frame it in a way that works for me because I’m sure that’s what Bardugo intended the relationship to be in the books, and it just didn’t come across that way to me. I’m still not a fan of the instalove in their relationship, though. They go from enemies to lovers rather quickly, and it’s hard for me to understand the shift in their attitudes toward each other because they don’t get a lot of screen time for us to see enough of that shift.

I have two final comments. One is that the show never clarifies that Alina asked Genya to send letters to Mal for her. People who have read the books know what’s going on, but new viewers may have a hard time picking up on it. This is something that could’ve easily been clarified with two lines of dialogue between Alina and Genya. My final comment is that I’m not a fan of the antler collar. That thing just grosses me out. I don’t understand why it had to be embedded in her skin rather than just placed around her neck with the ends fused together. I have a very hard time looking at Alina when she’s wearing the collar.

Those are all my thoughts on season 1 of Netflix’s Shadow and Bone adaptation. Have you seen it? Are you interested in seeing it? What’s your favorite episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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