The faults and successes of the new series.
BY MEGHAN BEERY, ’21
While books such as “The Hunger Games,” the Divergent trilogy and classics like “The Great Gatsby” and “Pride and Prejudice” have made fairly successful movie adaptations, there has been a recent push to develop novels, particularly young adult books, into TV series. Earlier this year, Rick Riordan announced that a Percy Jackson and the Olympians show will be coming to Disney+ in the next few years. Sally Rooney’s “Normal People” was developed into a successful Hulu drama, as was Celeste Ng’s “Little Fires Everywhere.” The stage is set for the next experiment: adapting the popular Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo.
“Shadow and Bone” is the first book in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, taking place before “Siege and Storm” and “Ruin and Rising.” After finishing the trilogy, Bardugo went on to write two more duologies: the Six of Crows duology and the King of Scars duology. Each book takes place in the Grishaverse, a magical medieval Russia-inspired world where Grisha, those born with the innate ability to master the elements, navigate war, politics and the prejudices of their non- magical counterparts.
The first season, developed by Eric Heisserer, combines the first book in the trilogy with characters from the Six of Crows duology, which takes place two years after the end of “Ruin and Rising.” It is truly a screenwriting feat: maintaining the plot of the original trilogy while adding prequels to the following duology.
The series focuses on Alina Starkov (played by Jessie Mei Li), an orphaned cartographer in the First Army of Ravka, a country ravaged by border wars and a mysterious swath of darkness called the Shadow Fold that cuts the country down the middle.
Alongside Alina is her childhood best friend, Mal (Archie Renaux). Throughout the series, the bond between the two is a tether that pulls the story along. When Mal must cross the Fold on a supply run, Alina risks her life to join him. As monsters circle and disaster strikes, Alina is revealed to be far more important than she or Mal could’ve expected.
Suddenly plunged into a world of powerful Grisha, monarchial politics and religious followers, Alina must reconcile the girl she used to be with the power she has now.
The story structure itself closely resembles that of Game of Thrones: very different characters, motivations and settings that link together at various points throughout the show. Also similar to Game of Thrones is the level of detail in clothes, settings and languages.
Part of the show’s multiple storylines comes from the gap in source material. Alina’s story comes from “Shadow and Bone,” while the characters of Nina Zenik, Matthias Helvar, Kaz Brekker, Inej Ghafa and Jesper Fahey are from Bardugo’s later duologies. For those not familiar with the source material, the mixing and matching of series can be confusing at times.
For those who have read the books, the show simultaneously improves upon and downplays Bardugo’s prose. “Shadow and Bone” was Bardugo’s first foray into novels, which is evident when reading it. The book contains all the YA tropes: love triangles, the “Chosen One,” handsome stranger, etc. The show drastically improves upon the characters, giving them motivations and backstories that are not present in the book.
However, the show underdevelops the characters from the Six of Crows duology, one of Bardugo’s later and best works. While withholding certain information may be part of a strategic move to provide more information in the later seasons, the characters on the screen are merely shadows of their written selves.
I would be remiss, however, if I did not mention the excellent casting and acting from the show’s main characters. Li and Renaux’s scenes are extremely natural and believable. Ben Barnes’ General Kirigan manages to nail the perfect ambiguity that his character represents. Freddy Carter (Kaz), Amita Suman (Inej) and Kit Young (Jesper) set a very firm foundation for the group that will later become “The Crows.”
Despite some character hiccups, Shadow and Bone is a very enjoyable watch and has great potential for the future. If it’s anything like the rest of Bardugo’s work, it will only get better from here.