Shadow and Bone: Raising the bar for Book Adaptations

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Shadow and Bone took the Grishaverse fandom on a storm when it dropped on Netflix on April 23. Set in the fantasy world of Ravka, an accident makes orphaned cartographer Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) reveal her dormant yet, extraordinary Grisha powers to save her bestie Mal (Archie Renaux) from danger. Divided by the vicious Shadow Fold, Ravka has awaited the presence of the Sun Summoner for years to destroy the Fold and unite the nation. Wrenched from everything she knows, the Second Army whisks Alina away to the royal court to train her as a Grisha. But General Kirigan aka The Darkling (Ben Barnes) has a conspiracy running deeper, which Alina knows nothing about. Read on to know about what makes Shadow and Bone one of the best book adaptations ever.

Shadow and Bone: Raising the bar for book adaptations
Mal and Alina

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Being hailed as the next big fantasy hotshot after Game of Thrones and The Witcher, Shadow and Bone is based on the Shadow and Bone trilogy and Six of Crows duology, written by Leigh Bardugo. While the show stays true to the plot in the books, the production team – including Bardugo – has written a brand new prequel storyline for the Six of Crows characters. This parallel storyline welcomes the ingenious thugs of Ketterdam – Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman) and Jesper Fahey (Kit Young). Known as the Crows, they set out for Ravka to kidnap Alina for a million kruge. Whereas in the books, there is no face-off between Alina and the Crows. Though readers were sceptical about the plot alterations, the clever intersection of the timelines is garnering positive views from fans. The show owes a lot of this to Bardugo’s presence in the production team. She said the following in an interview with Collider. 

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Shadow and Bone: Raising the bar for book adaptations
Jesper and Kaz

“Alina’s story is very much a chosen one story. And Six of Crows, I think I wrote, in part, in response to finishing that trilogy and thinking, “Okay, well that’s all well and good, but what happens to the people who don’t have royal blood, or great magic, or grand destinies? How do the people who are caught in the crossfire, how did those people carry on and exist in this world where all these epic things are happening?” So, it felt very organic to bring these two stories together, to provide those different perspectives.”

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Thus, as opposed to regular book adaptations, the plot deviations in Shadow and Bone DO NOT DISAPPOINT AT ALL.

Enter the gorgeous and talented cast

The other element which has got fans all dreamy-eyed is the picture-perfect cast. It’s as if each one of them was born to play their characters, such that neither of them stand out. All of them had read at least one of the books before shooting began. Nothing fills the heart of a reader more than the fact that these actors took time out to read the books and actually understand the characters they were bringing to life. Something book adaptions so rarely take care of. But the diverse and gorgeous cast of Shadow and Bone has made up for everything we could’ve asked for and more.

Shadow and Bone: Raising the bar for book adaptations

The sharp lines of Freddy Carter’s satanic face and his subtle movements do absolute justice to bad boy Kaz. Watching him portray the beloved antihero becomes even more delightful when you discover that among the crew, he’s actually the one who smiles the most. Veteran Ben Barnes (aka Prince Caspian) balances the authentic portrayal of the charming villain and has reclaimed his title as the new internet boyfriend. When showrunner Eric Heisserer mentioned Barnes to Leigh Bardugo, she immediately responded with an old 2013 Tumblr post fan-casting Barnes as the Darkling. Fandom dreams do come true, after all. Talking of internet boyfriends, Archie Renaux who isn’t behind in the race either, ‘fixed Mal’ according to fans who have a love-hate relationship with Mal in the books. “I think the main thing that I wanted to do was to make him human and relatable. You know, in the books, we don’t get to see his journey, whereas here, we do,” Renaux said.

Shadow and Bone: Raising the bar for book adaptations
Nina and Matthias

Co-stars Danielle Galigan and Calahan Skogman also succeed in bringing steamy enemies-to-lovers Nina and Matthias to life. Even the side-characters Genya (Daisy Head), Zoya (Sujaya Dasgupta), Fedyor (Julian Kostov), Ivan (Simon Sears) and David (Luke Pasqualino) were straight on-point!

Not only gorgeous, but well-represented too!

Furthermore, the sheer amount of representation in terms of diversity, LGBTQ+ characters, the drag community, and the strong women protagonists provides Shadow and Bone its edge. And it’s not just for the sake of ticking the diversity box because the characters we see in the show are there in the books, just as much. The Wraith Inej Ghafa is played by South Asian actor Amita Suman. “I grew up watching Lord of the Rings and some epic fantasy movies and films, and I never saw any diversity in them. It broke my heart because, coming into this industry, I thought I’d never get the opportunity,” Suman said.

Shadow and Bone: Raising the bar for book adaptations
Amita Suman as Inej

Even Kit Young (Jesper Fahey) maintains the queer sharpshooter’s spunk and delivers one of the hottest scenes ever with Dima, the stable-boy. And guess what? That scene looks anything but out-of-place. Jesper is not an easy character to play but Young became a fan-favorite faster than one could say Fahey. His silly remarks and moments with Milo, the emotional support goat, are some of the most memorable scenes from the show.

Apart from the Six of Crows plotline, the show also makes another minor alteration. The show depicts Alina Starkov as half-Shu and half-Ravkan, whereas in the books this is not so. This is special because the actor Jessie Mei Li, herself is a mixed-race person. “Not being really sure in myself and who I am and where my ethnicity plays a part. And then being shoved into this massive TV show. My life was mirroring Alina’s in lots of ways while we were filming,” she said.

Author Leigh Bardugo on the set

On exploring themes such as racism and real-life trauma on the screen, Bardugo said the following. “I think that I don’t ever really set out to tell a story with a specific message or to say, ‘I’m going to tackle toxic masculinity or racism or rape culture,’ but if you want to tell a fantasy story and if you want it to feel real, then you have to be thoughtful about those things. To disregard them or to ignore them feels false, and I think that readers pick up on that very quickly.”

Why has Shadow and Bone raised the bar for book adaptations?

Before Shadow and Bone, the only book adaptation I was all praise for was BBC’s Normal People. But here I am saying it again that the on-screen adaptation may actually be ‘better than the book.’ Though I’ll save this remark for after the sequels. So here’s why you need to binge this show on Netflix right now – it stays true to the books, brings originality to the screen without jeopardizing the essence of the characters, has the most gorgeous and well-represented cast ever (you better not call out a favourite), and of course, is an aesthetic gourmet to the senses.

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