Ahead of any screen adaptation of a beloved book series, fans know to brace themselves for some changes. But right from the outset, lovers of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse books knew that Netflix’s Shadow and Bone would feature seriously radical departures from the source material, since it would be combining elements from the Shadow and Bone Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology. Even beyond the risky decision to blend the two book series into one fantasy drama, Shadow and Bone tweaks and remixes aspects of the books’ characters, storylines, and mythology in sometimes ingenious but other times baffling (or downright frustrating) ways. So what changes paid off and which ones fell flat? Read on for the best and worst changes in Netflix’s Shadow and Bone.
BEST: Making Alina (Jessie Mei Li) half Shu
Arguably the best change in the series, making Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) half Shu Han adds a wonderful dimension to the character and presents a much more realistic reflection of the world. In the books, Alina has always felt like an outsider. By making her look like an enemy of Ravka, the series reframes her ostracization and allows the show to directly explore the racism in this universe. This choice also provides a rich depth to her relationship with Mal (Archie Renaux), who, as another biracial orphan, is one of the few people who can intimately understand Alina’s experiences.
WORST: The Crows’ doomed abduction plot
Incorporating Kaz’s (Freddy Carter) gang of charismatic criminals into Alina’s journey was always going to be challenging. However, the Crows deserved way more than a superfluous B-plot. From the very beginning, book readers know their plan to abduct Alina won’t work, thus cutting out any narrative tension. But worst of all, this storyline serves to make any future adaptation of Six of Crows repetitive. We’ve already seen the Crows compete against Pekka Rollins (Dean Lennox Kelly) for a merch-funded job pulling off a seemingly impossible heist. If you’re going to create an original storyline, at least make it original.
BEST: Mal is a worthy love interest
The Mal in the Shadow and Bone trilogy doesn’t deserve Alina’s affections. He takes her for granted and repeatedly hurts her with his careless behavior. But the series presents a wonderfully lovable version of Mal, whose dedication and love for Alina is clear from their first scene together. By making Mal such a loyal and tender sweetheart, the show gives his relationship with Alina a solid foundation worthy of emotional investment. As a result, their separation throughout the season becomes that much more heartbreaking—and their eventual reunion that much more beautiful.
WORST: Not calling the Darkling the Darkling
In a world dominated by superheroes and Star Wars, claiming it sounded too “weird” to call this character the Darkling (Ben Barnes) is inexcusable. Not to mention that treating the Darkling as an interchangeable character name ignores the importance his true name holds. In the books, the Darkling exchanging his name for a title represents his detachment from his humanity and the person he used to be. And when Alina finally does call him Aleksander, it isn’t done casually—it has real power to it. Calling him General Kirigan not only strips this cool character of his equally cool name, but serves to weaken the Darkling’s character development and undermine what’s in store for him down the line.
BEST: Inej’s assassin origin story
By showing Inej (Amita Suman) struggling to come to terms with the kill-or-be-killed world of the vicious criminal underground, the series fills in the gaps between the skilled assassin we meet in Six of Crows and the pious acrobat she was before being sold to the Menagerie. Seeing Inej avoid killing for as long as she can provides heart-wrenching context for the wraith we know and love without making the character any less badass. This original storyline enriches her development while staying true to the novels, and provides some of the most emotionally compelling moments from the Crows’ storyline.
WORST: Alina letting the people on the skiff live
The ending of the Shadow and Bone novel leaves Alina having tasted true power—and the horrible responsibility that comes with it. After everyone on the Darkling’s skiff refuses to help her fight him, Alina uses the Cut to destroy the vessel and abandons the riders to certain death in the Fold. It’s a harrowing and crucial point in Alina’s evolution, as the weight of this action hangs over her during what’s to come. All of this is cut from the series, erasing some of the Grishaverse’s gray spaces and softening Alina’s edges. And it’s likely so that the Crows can be present in the final showdown and still survive.
BEST: Making the Darkling look older
In the books, the Darkling appears to be only a few years older than Alina, who is 17. But by making him look older, the series keeps the unhealthy power dynamic between these characters in the forefront of viewers’ minds. Even as the show explores the Darkling’s vulnerabilities and complex morality, this visual representation of the Darkling’s age and authority is a crucial reminder of the way older men can abuse their power and manipulate young women. Though we could have done without the Darkling having a previous intimate relationship with Zoya (Sujaya Dasgupta)—who deserves far better than to have her storylines revolve around sexual rejection—aging up this character makes the damning parallels to our world impossible to ignore.
WORST: Matthias knows why Nina betrayed him
Though Nina (Danielle Galligan) and Matthias (Calahan Skogman) were frustratingly siloed from the rest of the action this season, book fans knew that this enemies-to-lovers romance would have a satisfying payoff once the show caught up to Six of Crows. However, the season finale undercuts a huge part of what makes their relationship in Six of Crows worth waiting for by having Nina explain to Matthias why she branded him a slaver. This admission erases the year of turmoil during which she longs to explain herself to Matthias and in which he nurtures his desire for vengeance, still ignorant of her true motives behind the betrayal—all of which is crucial to building the complex dynamic they have once they finally reunite.
BEST: The goat
Okay, this might seem like a silly thing to include on this list. But Milo’s inclusion brought a sorely needed playfulness to the series. The Six of Crows duology has many great comical moments, and it was nice to see the Netflix show embrace that in such an original (and GIF-able) way. Plus, Milo the goat gave Shadow and Bone standout Jesper (Kit Young) some incredible material to work with, further cementing the sharpshooter as one of our favorite characters in this world.
WORST: All the small changes to Grisha mythology
It’s impossible to pick just one as the “worst,” but here’s a sample of what we’re talking about: Genya (Daisy Head), no longer the first tailor, being able to create a doppelgänger of Alina without jurda parem; the erasure of living amplifiers outside the Darkling; amplifiers needing to beabsorbed into a Grisha’s body; Alina never being sickly as a result of repressing her powers; and the Darkling claiming Morozova “made” him and Baghra (Zoë Wanamaker), as opposed to just being from his bloodline. All of these small, unnecessary changes not only water down the dense world-building from Bardugo’s books, but many of them will have lasting repercussions on future storylines if the series is lucky enough to adapt the rest of the novels.