Netflix has made changes to “Shadow & Bone”, filmed in Hungary, that makes the series better than the book.
When you read a large-scale fantasy, you essentially have to build a whole new world in your head. You have to imagine the landscape, the buildings, the colors and last but not least the characters. This is quite easy in today’s world, especially if there is a series or a movie of the book.
Generally speaking, we say that a book is better than a film. This is not to denigrate the film, of course, but it is simply difficult to have something better, something richer in a few-part series or an hour-and-a-half long film than in hundreds of pages.
Of course, there are always exceptions, because they reinforce the rule. “Ready Player One” was critically acclaimed as a much better film than the book, “Bridgerton” season 1, which is Julia Quinn‘s adaptation of “The Duke and I” which has been a Netflix record-breaker, is also a bigger hit than the novel, and we could say that “Shadow & Bone” is also on the list. Why?
Leigh Bardugo‘s book has won the world over. And not without reason. She builds a world for us from which we are reluctant to break away. When we talk about contemporary young adult – or YA – fantasy books, everyone thinks of American literature, with English names for people and places. Even when we’re faced with a world that’s actually fictional. Leigh Bardugo has turned her back on this by giving her readers a rather strongly Russian style.
Grishaverse loyalists might stick by the source material, but Netflix‘s adaptation of “Shadow & Bone” makes significant improvements to the story.
Released in 2012, “Shadow and Bone” was Bardugo‘s first entry into the world of publishing, and it shows. Even some book fans agree that Bardugo‘s later works, such as the “Six of Crows” duology and the adult dark fantasy novel “Ninth House”, are better written. Bardugo herself has admitted in interviews that she relied too heavily on young adult fantasy tropes in the “Shadow and Bone” trilogy, such as the idea of a “Chosen One” saving the world.
The novel is a comfortable and entertaining read, but one reason for that is that there are a fair number of cliches, whether it’s individual phrases or story elements. Although “Shadow and Bone” explore some surprising themes and builds a fascinating world, Bardugo doesn’t reach her full potential as a writer until later in the books, but in the series, everything has been replaced, and we see things on the “screen” that we don’t see in the novel.
- The “Six of Crows” Origin
One of the biggest and most striking change is the appearance of Six of Crows. Granted, we haven’t got all six in the series yet – hopefully, we will in the next one – but the “Six of Crows” duology is originally set three years after “Shadow and Bone”. Still, bringing in Kaz, Inej, Jasper, Nina, and Matthias is one of the best things they could have done. Another thing that belongs to the Crows and is quite striking to those who have read “Six of Crows” is the duo of Nina and Matthias. It’s one thing that the book says Nina is 14 when she first meets the handsome Drüskelle, but what we see between the two characters in the series we learn in the book after long chapters and shifts of perspective.
- The Darkling’s name
In the “Shadow and Bone” book, Alina knows the Darkling as the Darkling right away. Later, of course, she learns that he is the Black Heretic, the one who created the Shadow Fold. We also learn in the book that the Darkling was known by many names, but Kirigan was not one of them. Ben Barnes‘s character in the series first appears as General Kirigan, then becomes Darkling and at the very end, we learn that he is the Black Heretic. Another big difference between the book and the series is that if we want to know the first name of the Darkling, we have to read through three books. In the series, we find out pretty quickly.
- Alina’s race
In the book, Alina is one hundred percent Ravkan. A thin, sickly-looking, pale girl with brown hair and brown eyes, who has insomnia and who will become more beautiful and healthier as she gets to know herself better and better during Grisha training. The creators of the series came up with the Shu line, which surprised fans, but in a good way. For the series, it was decided to make Alina half-Shu, which means mixed-raced Asian in the Grishaverse. Alina having a more complicated background adds some depth to her character. The Shu’s are often thought of as the enemy, so there’s an added conflict within Alina of not feeling like she belongs even further and confronting racism alongside her journey. It’s actually a clever addition to Alina‘s backstory, which only helps tell the protagonist’s established story.
- Alina and Mal‘s relationship
In the book, Alina has a huge crush on Mal. This is revealed in the first chapter, as she describes how her heart almost skips a beat every time she sees him. The couple has a few key romantic moments in the book and there’s some clear jealousy and tension between Mal and the Darkling. But, in the series, Mal is treated much more deeply and balanced than as a romantic interest. The series establishes why he’s been important to Alina since childhood, and while it’s clear they care for each other and there’s love there, Mal is not driving the story, Alina is. It’s an improvement from the book that still respects the source material.
- Alina and the Darkling’s relationship
Another improvement for Alina and her relationship with her romantic interests is through her arc with the Darkling in the series. In the books, Alina is attracted to him, and the pair begins to get physically involved before she learns of his plans to control her, after which, she escapes from him. As the book reaches its climax, the Darkling completes his plan to put the Stag collar on her and amplify her powers under his control. The book makes it seem like she was only a pawn in his game and the moments they shared were manipulation, though the pair do have electric chemistry. However, in the Netflix show, the Darkling actually believes Alina to be his match; they seem to have mutual deep feelings for each other aside from the Darkling controlling her powers for his own plans.
Of course, there are plenty of other differences. We don’t read Mal‘s letters until the very end of the limited edition books, the hunt for Morozova‘s stag is not in the book, there is much more emphasis on the scenes in Little Palace,– which were also shot in Hungary like the other parts of the show –, in the Festetics Castle.