Book to screen adaptations are always tricky to pull off, more so when they involve packing two hefty series, a sprawling cast and a complex fantasy universe into eight episodes.
But that’s precisely what Netflix’s Shadow and Bone – which also incorporates Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology – attempts.
The fantasy series lands on Netflix on 23rd April, with Jessie Mei Li starring as orphan turned Sun Summoner Alina Starkov, alongside Ben Barnes as General Kirigan, aka the Darkling (though only the Fjerdans call him that these days). Other Shadow and Bone cast members include Archie Renaux as Mal Oretsev, and Freddy Carter, Amita Suman and Kit Young as three of the Six of Crows.
Though the characters remain mostly faithful to their book counterparts, much was changed, cut and reworked in the journey from page to screen.
So, what’s different? Read on for a comprehensive breakdown of just how much the TV series differs from the books. Though beware, spoilers for the Shadow and Bone Netflix series and Grishaverse books are ahead.
The Darkling’s name
Probably one of the series’ most controversial moves was changing the Darkling’s name to General Kirigan. Only Fjerdans seem to refer to General Kirigan by his ominous book name in the Netflix adaptation.
Showrunner Eric Heisserer explained why the Darkling’s name was changed during a chat with RadioTimes.com, stating: “We just wanted to make sure that people had a name that they could call him outside of the General. This is one of those changes where it works really well on the page, it doesn’t really bother you, but then the moment you get actors in a room and you have [the actors] speaking to Ben Barnes it starts to get weird.”
“Like, is it General Darkling? Mr. Darkling? The? Do we just start with The as his first name? It got weirder and weirder as we went into it.”
We also find out Kirigan’s first name is Aleksander pretty early on in the Netflix series, whereas this remains a mystery until the third and final Shadow and Bone novel, Ruin and Rising.
If the name Kirigan sounds familiar to some Grishaverse book fans, that’s because there’s a character named Count Kirigin in the King of Scars/Rule of Wolves duology. And yes, he is connected to the Darkling. In the series, Baghra explains that Aleksander took a nobleman’s name to infiltrate the King’s Court, and that nobleman’s name is, you guessed it, Kirigin.
Leigh Bardugo confirmed the connection, telling RadioTimes.com: “‘Kirigin’, with a slightly different spelling, is a Count in a noble family – ‘Kirigin’ – in the books. We thought it would be kind of great if [the Darkling] had sort of nabbed this nobleman’s name at one point to be one of his many disguises in his long life.”
In Bardugo’s Grishaverse, the events of Ruin and Rising take place roughly two years before we are first introduced to the Six of Crows gang.
The Netflix adaptation combines both book series’ timelines, meaning Alina’s first foray into the deadly Shadow Fold happens at the same time as the Crows are establishing themselves in the Barrel, Ketterdam’s seediest neighbourhood. It’s worth noting, however, that the onscreen Six of Crows storyline does not follow the book’s Ice Court heist plot. Instead, it works as a sort of prequel to it, allowing Kaz, Inej and Jesper’s world to collide with Mal and Alina’s.
The series also introduces Grisha Heartrender Nina Zenik and her Grisha-hunter love interest Matthias Helvar. When we meet them, the unlikely pair have yet to join the Crows as they are stranded in the icy border between Ravka and Fjerda after a shipwreck – a storyline we only get via flashbacks in the books.
Speaking to RadioTimes.com, Heisserer explained the reasoning behind the decision to bring the Six of Crows timeline forward, stating: “I think it’s a way to paint a broader scope to the show, it’s something that Leigh had already done with the Grishaverse. And to not acknowledge that part of the world, definitely those characters, felt like a disservice.”
Though the Netflix adaptation merges both book series, some familiar faces – particularly from Six of Crows – are missing. And yes, that sadly includes demolition expert Wylan Van Eck, although that doesn’t mean he won’t find his way to the Crows in future series. In fact, he’s probably daydreaming in a foul-smelling tannery somewhere in Kerch while Kaz and co. are off on their Ravkan adventure.
Nikolai Lantsov, second-in-line to the Ravkan throne, will also be sitting this one out, though that’s actually in line with the books since he doesn’t make his first appearance until Siege and Storm, the second Shadow and Bone novel.
Other changes include with Alina and Mal, who are half Shu in the Netflix adaptation, whereas in the books their ethnicity is never referenced as anything other than Ravkan.
The change adds another dimension to their relationship and establishes Ravka’s conflict with neighbouring country Shu Han. In the series, Mal and Alina are not just orphaned refugees, they also “look like the enemy”, which means they face a lot of racism growing up in Keramzin and as soldiers in the First Army.
Alina’s rival for Mal’s affections, the mighty Zoya Nazyalensky, is also given a slightly more prominent role in the Netflix show. Those who have read King of Scars know Zoya’s impact on the Grishaverse goes far beyond Shadow and Bone, and the TV series already hints at this. It also establishes Zoya and General Kirigan’s relationship in much firmer terms, which will certainly prove interesting should the events of King of Scars be brought forward in future seasons.
In order to combine the timelines, a new character was introduced to bring the crows to Ravka. The Conductor, played by Howard Charles, is an expert at crossing the Fold – though, to be fair, he’s never tried to do it alongside Kaz, Inej and Jesper before. The trio don’t have the best track record when it comes to staying out of trouble.
To say the Grishaverse has a complex magic system would be an understatement. Different Grisha orders with their own coloured keftas, small science vs merzost, amplifiers, Saints… there’s a lot going on. The series adds a more visual aspect to these elements so we can see how they work, especially when it comes to amplifiers.
Book fans know that General Kirigan/the Darkling is a human amplifier, which means he can detect and expand other Grisha’s powers by touching them. In the series, it involves slightly more than touch. Kirigan has a special claw-like device that awakens Alina’s power after she lights up the Fold for the first time. How this will play out with other human amplifiers remains to be seen, though it’s possible the “claw” acts as a channeling device for amplifying power, meaning physical touch could still be enough to activate it.
The way Morozova’s stag finds its way unto Alina’s neck is also slightly altered, and takes a little more meddling from awkward Fabrikator David, with much more gruesome results.
Though Alina and Mal also end up on the run from General Kirigan/the Darkling by the end of the adaptation, where they plan to go into hiding differs from the fist novel. It’s heavily implied the pair will head to Ketterdam rather than Novyi Zem, meaning there’s plenty more room for crossover with the Crows in future seasons.
As for the grim-faced Crows, whatever scheme Kaz has planned next is likely going to involve a lot of near-impossible feats – and a heartrender. It sets up Nina officially joining the crew, and opens up the possibility for the Ice Court heist plot should a second series be confirmed.
We better get praying to the Saints.