Fans everywhere rejoiced when Netflix greenlit the adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. Excitement was through the roof—after all, the book series was one of the breakout titles of the 2010s and was known for its intricate worldbuilding and compelling characters. However, after a slew of studio cash grab adaptations of other Young Adult (YA) series failed to live up to their source material, fans are understandably wary of this latest offering.
To up the stakes even more writer Eric Heisserer ambitiously merged The Grisha Trilogy and The Six of Crows Duology for the show’s first season, bringing a fresh twist to the Grishaverse stories we know and love. Like a high-budget fanfiction, Shadow and Bone’s beloved protagonists cross paths to do what any YA story worth its salt would—save the world, get into trouble, and fall in love. For years, book adaptations have famously been letdowns, but Shadow and Bone would beg to differ as its undeniable charm draws you deeper into the Fold.
The devil is in the details
What sets an adaptation apart is its commitment to bringing its source material to life. The series never disappoints on that front, meticulously depicting everything fans loved in the books for the screen. From the vibrant keftas, the fearsome volcras, to the various mystifying Grisha powers, there are endless thrills that await you in every episode. In fact, iconic book lines such as the Dregs’ “No mourners, no funerals” and the Darkling’s “Fine, make me your villain” are delivered with delightful twists that not only give justice to the books but also cement the show as forward-thinking.
The storylines are also given the same avant-garde treatment, with Heisserer melding two vastly different book plots and a whole bunch of characters into a mere eight episodes. Surprisingly, he pulls off this gargantuan task, spending enough time on heroine Alina Starkov’s journey of self-discovery amid a high stakes political chess game and delving into Kaz Brekker’s chase for the next big payday without ever sacrificing pacing, plot points, or characterization.
Kiss, marry, kill
Jessie Mei Li mesmerizes as Alina Starkov, bringing her own radiance to the Sun Summoner. The chemistry between her childhood friend, Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux) creates a beautiful contrast to her intoxicating attraction to the show’s main antagonist The Darkling. Meanwhile, The Darkling is a fitting role for the charming Ben Barnes—and a wish come true for the book fans. His depiction of the Darkling’s twisted schemes and ambitions sets much of the tone and action of the show.
The Crows’ performance is superbly executed too. From their venture to the Fold to their heart-rending heists, the ragtag and ingenious group we’ve come to know in the books was flawlessly brought to life. Freddy Carter captures the cold-hearted criminal mastermind Kaz Brekker who can strike a deal faster than you can say “1 million kruge.” Opposite Carter is Amita Suman as Inej Ghafa, whose riveting performance will keep your eyes glued to the screen. Completing their crew is the charismatic Kit Young as sharpshooter Jesper Fahey, who easily transcends the comic relief persona and captures the hearts of the audience.
Ruin and rising
The writing only becomes more nuanced as we get to know the many characters of the Grishaverse. Alina starts off as a character that seemed more like a plot device than a protagonist, but her rise from pawn to formidable player is nothing short of compelling—especially when we get to see her wield her own agency. Mal is also given a more layered characterization that greatly improved upon his flaws in the book, and the exploration of his bond with Alina in turn is also an exploration of the show’s theme of family and the ties that bind. We see Alina be blindsided by her need for acceptance because she has been an outsider her whole life, and the lessons she learns at the end feel more earned because the show chose to give its female lead complexity and depth.
Similarly, the show also brilliantly captures the character conflict and motivations in the books. Inej Ghafa is a battle-hardened thief who still believes in saints and all things good while Kaz Brekker is a cynical mastermind whose weakness is the good he sees in Inej. There is so much denial, yearning, and unrelenting hope embedded in the tricky character dynamics and the show conveyed these perfectly.
Knives drawn and pistols blazing
Shadow and Bone is not only a testament that YA fiction adaptations are far from over, it’s also a ringing affirmation that the genre can go beyond its target demographic. From the casting, costumes, and charismatic performances, every bit of passion and time the cast and crew devoted to the project are well worth it.
Though the announcement for season two is yet to come, fans cannot wait to see how the Darkling will set the stage for Ravka’s ruination or the Crows’ new heists back in Ketterdam. Drawing the map for a new world is a rigorous task but pulling the audience into the Fold is harder. As spellbounding this first act has been, the audience can only expect greater things to come.