Shadow and Bone: A Spoiler-Free Review of the New Netflix Show (…in Which I Scream about a Goat)

This year I’ve fallen in love with Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology for the very first time, a pair of novels that have stuck within my daydreams. I found Bardugo’s other books set in the same universe and quickly grew obsessed. I may have joined the fandom a bit later than some of its long-term lovers, but despite that, I think I joined at the perfect time—ever since the start of this year, I’ve been eating up every tiny little detail that Netflix would release about Shadow and Bone, an adaptation of the Grisha Trilogy and Six of Crows Duology.

It’s been a whole week since the show was released into the world. I admit, my expectations were filled with the typical nervousness of a loyal reader…the excitement to see my favourite characters and scenes come to life and the dread that some loveable details might be altered. I spent last weekend devouring every minute of the eight episodes. To all readers and non-readers alike, here are my spoiler-free thoughts on this first season.

What You Need to Know

Here’s the plot description from Netflix:

Dark forces conspire against orphan mapmaker Alina Starkov when she unleashes an extraordinary power that could change the fate of her war-torn world.

That doesn’t tell you much. Basically, Alina Starkov’s “war-torn world” centers around her country, Ravka, which is torn in two by a large expanse of darkness known as the “Shadow Fold.” And…why is that bad? Well, the Shadow Fold is full of bloodthirsty monsters, and in order to get from East Ravka to West Ravka, soldiers are forced to risk their lives cross over to the other side…many of which don’t come back. The fold was created by an evil Grisha from Ravka’s history known as the Black Heretic. (“Grisha” are people with a genetic gift for the “small sciences”—superheroes, basically?)

The only way to destroy this abomination is through a Sun Summoner: a rare, rumored type of Grisha with the ability to summon sunlight. Alina Starkov, an orphan mapmaker, discovers that she is, in fact, a sun summoner.

Meanwhile, outside of Ravka, members of a criminal gang in the foreign city of Ketterdam take on the challenge to cross over the shadow fold themselves to attempt a dangerous mission with the leadership of criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. To kidnap Alina Starkov.

Content Warnings: There is nudity, but it’s very slight—a minor glimpse during a bathing scene. A bit of non-graphic sexual content. Being a fantasy show, there is, of course, violence. Those who may wish to avoid triggering content should know that two characters have experience of sex trafficking and abuse, one of which is enslaved in a brothel, and so those topics are brought up a lot concerning them. There’s a minor character death that resembled a jump scare in episode two. Racism is a large theme and Alina is called different racially charged insults throughout the show.

If you haven’t read the books, you should know that the Shadow and Bone Trilogy only features the story of Alina Starkov. The Six of Crows Duology is where the Ketterdam criminals come in, but those books don’t actually include Alina Starkov. In adapting the show, the books were combined and a prequel storyline in order to include them. Leigh Bardugo, who wrote the books, worked alongside Netflix in this adaptation and was there to bring the story to life.

The Show vs. the Books: What are the Differences?

I was very pleasantly surprised with the added Crows storyline—while the plot itself had some minor changes, the character’s personalities remained the same. Kaz, Jesper, and Inej are the only Crows who are in the Dregs yet at this point. I felt like Inej’s character seemed a little different, but that was probably because I didn’t have actual access to her thoughts in the way I did in the book—most people loved her.

In terms of the plot, the major changes in Ketterdam are that Per Haskell either doesn’t exist or isn’t mentioned, Inej still partially works at the Menagerie as Kaz pays for her through installments to afford the price. Because it’s before the plot of the books, Wylan van Eck is not part of the story at all. Nina and Matthias’s part of the story was pretty much word-for-word what it was in the books…and I lived for it.

There were some minor changes to the plot of Shadow and Bone. In the book, Alina’s race is never mentioned or described. In the show, she’s half Shu, and it’s a major aspect of the story. Also, the Darkling isn’t really called the Darkling; they call him General Aleksander Kirigan. Other plot changes worked to make room for the Crows to come in and didn’t change the heart of the story. I felt that most changes for the trilogy actually made the story a lot better.

Let’s Talk about the Characters

Whoever thinks “perfect casting doesn’t exist” should just take a look at these lovely people. The acting and portrayals were outstanding. Ben Barnes gave me chills as The Darkling/Aleksander.

Freddy Carter did great with Kaz, emulating his character in even the small details…like being physically isolating in his movements, always leaving a slight gap between himself and others…though it hasn’t explored it too much in the show yet, his character Kaz has touch aversion from trauma, and wears gloves in order to avoid skin contact. As a fellow cane-user, I was also happy with the show’s successful portrayal of Kaz’s disability.

Jesper, especially, was SO GREAT. He made me laugh so many times—his character was perfect and hilarious. I didn’t think I could possibly love Jesper more than I already did but somehow Kit Young proved me wrong.

I feel like, while the characters are great in the show, it would be difficult to understand the depth of their personalities without reading the books—especially with the Crows. Some of the scenes were extremely powerful because I understood the characters, their pasts, and their motivations, but if I hadn’t read the books, there wouldn’t be that element. (Like when Kaz said, “have we made a deal before?”)

And…Milo.

This is Milo. He’s a new character and the star of the show. And I love him.

Funny enough, my family adopted a dog a few months back. And we named him…Milo! I don’t know if I somehow subconsciously predicted the future, but now I’m SO happy that we chose that name.

I love both Milos with all my heart.

Did It Meet My Expectations?

It exceeded my expectations. The cast had such devotion to the original books and characters, and Queen Leigh Bardugo’s creation was respected and reflected in the episodes. I loved it.

Anything I didn’t like? A certain fling with Jesper felt unnecessary, and I felt like Zoya’s placement in some scenes was a bit awkward. I do wish they hadn’t made some of the adjustments to Inej’s backstory. Otherwise, I wasn’t disappointed. I’d give it five stars.

★★★★★

If you haven’t read the books yet, I would recommend reading Six of Crows before watching it, even though this show starts chronically before the novel. As I mentioned, there’s a lot of depth in certain scenes that stem from an understanding of the characters and their personalities. Reading it would give you a grasp of that.

The Shadow and Bone Trilogy is not as well-loved as the duology; it’s Bardugo’s first published series, and definitely has a different atmosphere. If you don’t want to be spoiled for the book, you would have to read the first novel in the series before watching the show. But know that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea—you might like the show better, depending on your preferences.

I’m excited and hopeful for Season Two! And hoping to see finally Nikolai and Wylan.

No mourners, no funerals,

TALK TO ME! Comments make my day. Are you a fan of the Grishaverse? Have you seen the show yet—and if not, are you planning to? What are your thoughts?

1 comment / Add your comment below

  1. I love this post and agree with your thoughts! It was fun to see Kaz, Jesper, and Inej – characters we already know and love – in new-to-us situations (although, while I hadn’t necessarily thought about it before, I can definitely see what you mean with Inej’s character in the show seeming different). And the CASTING… such perfection, especially Freddy Carter and Kit Young!!! I also 100% agree that in order to fully appreciate how well the actors portrayed their characters, you’d need to have read the book first and be going into the show knowing the full backstories. (A friend of mine watched the show before reading any of the books and said she enjoyed it, but was kind of lost.) Also, that’s hilarious that your dog is named Milo… I love it!

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