Because of the way I was introduced to this book, I thought it fair to do a comparison of the TV show (which I saw first) and the YA book it was based off of.
Before I get into the review though, I’d like to reiterate my thoughts on TV/Movie adaptations of books. I love adaptations; I love to see what another persons view of the media is – costumes, sets, actors. Yes, I even love the changes they make – to a degree. This is how I feel about it – if the adaptation stays true to the heart of the book, then change away! Writing and Visual media are drastically different, and not just in a “well d’uh” way. Writing can delve into the depth of thought and the depth of scenery, it can point out the ominous signs and the glitter in a characters eye. With TV and Movie, you have to SHOW that, and unless you have a non-stop narrator there’s no inner thought. If you zoom into someone’s face to show emotion, will everyone watching perceive the emotion the same? Will they understand the depth of the scene if they don’t have the character’s monologue? So, there are always a lot of changes to show the things that a book can perfectly explain to you. Not to mention shows are limited to what is physically possible and safely possible. Is their budget big enough to get that nice sweeping shot? Can they be in the proper locations? Is an actor or stunt double willing to be blown up?
Another big edit that I’m usually pretty happy about is travel. How many books have chapters and chapters of characters traveling from one point to another? Game of Thrones (especially the first book, dear lord), Lord of the Rings Trilogy (let’s be real, the first book was 80% walking), just to name a few. But when long scenes are cut out, important dialogue has to be shuffled. Scenes get blended, other scenes get made up, and that’s fine. I forget who the interview was with, but they said the changes made were for the book fans, so they could enjoy it like the first time viewers. So they couldn’t predict every scene and every outcome, and I appreciate that. I admit, some scenes that are added are dumb (IMO) but they do add twists.
Let’s start with the most difficult thing for the show runner to adapt – Shadow and Bone is all from the main characters perspective. In this adaptation you lose Alina’s thoughts on everything, her knowledge, her feelings towards people and scenarios – so they have to figure a way to show these things. Because of that some of her history is lost and her true feelings (yes, she has a crush on Mal – and has forever, but she hates his snoring).
Alina Starkov, in the book, is explained as pale as soured milk, plain looking, with mousey hair. But generally Caucasian. The actress that plays her, Jessie-Mei Li, is Half-Chinese. Through reading the book, I noticed some similarities in Bardugo’s lands, and our own. The people known as the Shu remind me greatly of China, so in the show they made Alina a Shu orphan. I read an article when the show was about to premiere that they wanted to add in that edge, because of everything that was happening in our own lives, they wanted to reflect it. Many shows do that, basically to show how idiotic the situation is. So many times in the show Alina has to deal with ignorance and racism (I did personally feel bad about this because she was already dealing with the pandemic Anti-Asian bullshit. She spoke up a lot about Anti-Hate, and in the show they made her deal with comments on her “Shu eyes” and things like that).
The story actually follows the book incredibly close. Alina Starkov, just one of hundreds of orphans made by the thing called the fold. There is a dark rip in the middle of their continent (world?) filled with horrifying creatures. People still need to travel, life has to continue, so for hundreds of years they have been driving ships across sand and through the fold. How is that possible? By people known as Grisha. Grisha (some nations call they witches and kill them) harness the “small sciences” and can cast and control certain elements. You have the ones that can throw fire, the ones that can create wind (and can cause a squall big enough to blow a full size ship through pure darkness), but then there are ones that can stop your heart and can control your mind. Alina, at least in the beginning of the book, is a simple map maker in the local army. One of her fellow orphans, Mal, is a tracker in the army as well. The two grew up together and have spent every moment together. When Alina could trust no one and felt exiled and alone, there was always Mal.
In one of their postings, the two groups were sent across the fold. They needed to map extra places, especially with War brewing between the two nations. As you can imagine, everything goes horribly wrong and the ship is over run by these monsters, the Volcra. Mal is brutally injured and as Alina is snatched out of his arms a bright light comes from within her.
Our dear Alina is a Grisha – and a special one known as a Sun Summoner. Basically, the only Grisha in the world with the ability to destroy the Shadow Fold. All children are tested as children under the Darkling’s orders (he’s more or less the ruler of the Grisha) and if proven to be Grisha, are brought to him to be trained. Because Alina didn’t want to be separated from Mal, she subconsciously pushed her powers down – in the show because that’s something hard to show visually, she slices her hand to distract herself.
The show cuts out a lot of the travel that Alina and Mal take, but for the most part they follow the same plot path.
I don’t want to give away too many spoilers if you haven’t indulged in this series but otherwise the only BIG change is a character in the book only known as “The Darkling” is given a name.
I loved the show, to be honest I’ve watched is probably half a dozen times. Alina is not a strong character, so in both the book and the show she has to work hard. The book is given more time to show her personal growth and the learning curve – the show we basically get a training montage and move on. The book feels like it takes place over several months, where the show feels like a week. That kind of speeds up relationships and events and some of it gets a little muddled. I love watching characters grow and change and learn, I hate the trend of super-human females who are perfect from the get-go (looking at you live-action Mulan). Woman are humans too, no one is born perfect, we all fuck up and have to learn. That is also what makes an endearing character. Alina is thrown into a world she knows nothing about and has to learn a lot of hard lessons.
Before I forget, a HUGE change between the book and the series is another book in the Grishaverse known as the Six of Crows. They are not in Shadow and Bone, but the writers of the show weaved a completely new story into it. They called it the “prequel” to Six of crows so it doesn’t really change either book storylines drastically. Events were tweaked to include the Crows and it worked with the S&B plot. An example – in the book, the King has a big party with entertainers and all the nobility to show off the Grisha and the brand new Sun Summoner, spoiler events happen and Alina sneaks away into the entertainers wagons as they leave the castle. For the show, they have the Crows infiltrate the entertainers so they can get into that party to try and kidnap Alina. As we follow their plan, one goes awry and kills a handmaid bespelled to look like Alina, while the others get in and get as close to her as they can before the Darkling whisks her away and foils their specially laid out plan. While outside manning their escape vehicle, a Crow notices Alina sneak out and hop into the trunk on the back. Obviously these scenes are different, but in the end they go to the same place – Aline escaping the castle. In the show she then escapes the Crows and heads into a city, once again perfectly matching up with the book storyline. It’s shockingly well done.
As usual though, I recommend both watching the show and reading the book. The book rounds Alina out a little more, and shows a different view of the same scenes. It’s a well written and interesting book and I get upset when I have to put it down and go to bed.
Shadow and Bone is a Trilogy, so it will be interesting to see what the show does when it catches up, and the Six of Crows is so far only 2 books I believe? But they are both part of a series known as the Grishaverse. You damn well know that once I’m done the S&B series I’m getting the Six of Crows, I actually enjoyed their characters and heists more than Alina’s story.