How Netflix’s ‘Shadow and Bone’ Functions as an Adaptation

The highly anticipated adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling book, ‘Shadow and Bone’ was recently released on Netflix.


Katrina Tablang

Sarah Chen ’24 read ‘Shadow and Bone’ before seeing the Netflix adaptation. “I think that being familiar with the characters made it easier to follow the story and made me look forward to seeing certain parts adapted,” Chen said.

When I first heard that Shadow and Bone would be adapted into a Netflix series, I did not intend to watch it. Good adaptations of books to film are difficult to come by, and I was hesitant to risk watching a world I loved conceived poorly on film. All of my fears were assuaged once I saw the trailer, which managed to capture the universe’s distinct ambiance in less than three minutes. 

‘Shadow and Bone’ is mainly based on Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling novel of the same name. The book follows a fairly straightforward fantasy plot; an orphan named Alina Starkov is plucked from her life as a cartographer in the Ravkan army after she discovers she is a sun summoner with the power to control light and the potential to destroy the Fold, a strip of darkness inhabited by monstrous volcra that divides her country. She is quickly whisked away to the Ravkan Palace, where she grapples with the feeling of displacement and is pressured to live up to a destiny she does not want, all while trying to sort out her feelings for her childhood best friend Mal and the mysterious and powerful Darkling.

However, the Netflix series also goes a step further and puts a new spin on the story by introducing characters from Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology, another series that takes place in the same universe as Shadow and Bone. In contrast to Shadow and Bone, which is mainly a story of self-discovery with a hefty dose of romance and magical intrigue, Six of Crows follows six outcasts — the Crows — as they embark on the heist of a lifetime while coping with the skeletons in the closet. 

The Netflix series features five of these six — Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Matthias, and Nina — and acts as somewhat of a prequel to Six of Crows. This is presumably to lay the groundwork for another possible adaptation, but the melding of plotlines is done well enough that it does not feel forced. I found this to be a welcome change, since while I thoroughly enjoyed Shadow and Bone, Six of Crows is by far my favorite of Bardugo’s books. 

The show follows three main plotlines. Each of the eight episodes is about an hour long. The episodes alternate between scenes revolving around Alina and her journey to becoming a full-fledged sun summoner, Kaz’s crew on a job that takes them across the Fold and into the Little Palace, and Nina and Matthias learning to trust each other despite having been raised to see each other as mortal enemies. 

In general, the integration of the Crows into the story is handled well; each plotline appeals to the audience in different ways but are all engaging nonetheless. The snappy action of Kaz’s perspective allows Alina’s story to unfold more gradually, which lets the show explore Alina’s time adjusting to the palace in more depth. In addition, the interactions between Nina and Matthias are entertaining and serve to better establish the complex dynamic between the powerful Grisha and those who seek to eradicate them. Of the three plotlines, Nina and Matthias’s plotline is the weakest and feels a bit out of place at times, but it is necessary if the producers intend to later adapt Six of Crows into its own season.

As a show, ‘Shadow and Bone’ does stand on its own, but some of the world-building may be lost on audience members who have not read any of the Grishaverse books. “I think having read the books definitely made watching the series more enjoyable and added to the experience, but the show still works without prior knowledge of the books,” said Sarah Chen ’24. The show spends little time explaining the intricacies of the world, opting to plunge viewers headfirst into the story under the assumption that they are already familiar with the world or will figure it out as they make their way through the show. It is certainly possible to watch the show without any prior knowledge of the books, but the show is clearly targeted at viewers who have already read at least one of the books. 

Whether the series succeeds as an adaptation depends on the particular viewer — those looking for a straightforward adaptation of Shadow and Bone may be disappointed by the inclusion of the Crows, as a good portion of time is spent on their perspective, and their presence does cause some events to unfold differently. However, those who simply want more content from their favorite characters in Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows will be delighted to know that the characterization and ambiance of the show stay true to the books. “I think overall, Shadow and Bone is a good adaptation of the book, and tays faithful to the pre-established information about the world and characters, for the most part. Most of the changes are minor or were made to flesh out the story or to better connect it with the Six of Crows plotline, so I wasn’t too bothered by them,” Chen said. 

If you have read Shadow and Bone or Six of Crows and enjoyed it, chances are, you will also enjoy the show. If you have not read either of the books but are still intrigued by fantasy shows with both action and romance, you should definitely give ‘Shadow and Bone’ a watch; there is a good chance you will end up enjoying it! 

To watch ‘Shadow and Bone’ on Netflix (subscription required), click HERE.

“I think having read the books definitely made watching the series more enjoyable and added to the experience, but the show still works without prior knowledge of the books,” said Sarah Chen ’24.