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Shadow and Bone: What the first season of the Netflix series changed from the books

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Apr 24, 2021, 1:23 PM EDT

Netflix’s Shadow and Bone is based on a series of books in the fantastical Grishaverse created by author Leigh Bardugo. The show takes characters and storylines from Bardugo’s original Shadow and Bone trilogy as well as her Six of Crows duology, both of which take place in a world where magic exists and the main country, Ravka, is based on Tsarist Russia. (Interested in learning more about the Grishaverse? Check out SYFY WIRE’s explainer here.)

Like any adaptation, the show changes some things from its original source material. Some of these changes are small, while others have a significant impact on the plot, character development, and the world. Read on to learn how the show differs from the books. 

First, the usual spoiler warning! We’ve tried to keep spoilers to a minimum, but there are definitely some reveals for the show as well as the books below. 

Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov in Shadow in Bone, courtesy of Netflix

DIFFERENCE #1: THE MAIN CHARACTER, ALINA STARKOV, IS HALF-ASIAN (SHU)

In Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy, the main character, Alina Starkov, while never explicitly stated, is presumed to be full Ravkan (AKA white). As Bardugo continued to write books in the Grishaverse world, however, she realized she wanted to increase the diversity of her characters, which she did in the Six of Crows duology.  

When Bardugo and the Netflix showrunner Eric Heisserer (Arrival) sat down to talk about the new series, however, both agreed that Alina should be half-Shu (or Asian). Making Alina (Jessie Mei Li) half-Shu brings an extra dimension to the character by making her an outsider in Ravka even before she becomes the Sun Summoner.

Shadow and Bone: (L to R) Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker, Amita Suman as Inej Ghafa, Kit Young as Jesper Fahey, courtesy of Netflix

DIFFERENCE #2: EVENTS FROM SIX OF CROWS ARE MOVED UP TO TAKE PLACE DURING THE TIMELINE OF THE FIRST SHADOW AND BONE BOOK 

In the books, the exploits of Kaz Brekker’s (Freddy Carter) gang from Ketterdam take place after the events of the entire Shadow and Bone trilogy. For the show, certain happenings in the Six of Crows duology had to be adapted to take place during the events of the first Shadow and Bone book. 

We won’t spoil here how the show interweaves a Six of Crows’ heist tale in with the main storyline in Netflix's Shadow and Bone, but the Crows and Alina do eventually run into each other in the series. Nina (Danielle Galligan) and Matthais (Calahan Skogman), two members of Brekker’s gang in the books, aren’t part of Brekker’s crew this season. It seems likely, however, that the Heartrender and the Fjerdan will join forces with Brekker in seasons to come.

Credit: Netflix

DIFFERENCE #3: WE GET TO SEE THE CREATION OF THE SHADOW FOLD FIRSTHAND 

The Shadow and Bone books are told in the first person from Alina’s point of view, which means that things that happened in the past or events that occurred where Alina wasn’t present couldn’t be directly conveyed in the books. The show doesn’t have that restriction, however, and we see a lot more of the Grishaverse world in the series. 

One of the most notable events we see firsthand on the show is the creation of The Shadow Fold, a land perpetually covered in darkness and full of murderous, flying monsters called volcra. That chasm was created centuries before Shadow and Bone starts, and has split Ravka in two. That geographical separation as well as the horror that lives inside The Fold plays a crucial part in Alina’s story as well as in the show's geopolitical machinations. 

Shadow and Bone: Kit Young as Jesper Fahey, courtesy of Netflix

DIFFERENCE #4: WE GET SOME NEW CHARACTERS

Without getting too much into spoiler territory, the show adds some new characters. There’s one person called The Conductor, for example, who plays a crucial role in the first season (to say more would be too spoilery!). 

Another addition to the show is also a lovely baby goat named Milo. Granted, Milo’s part in the series (so far, at least!) isn’t as significant as other roles, but he’ll be sure to make you smile every time he’s on-screen.

Shadow and Bone: Ben Barnes as The Darkling, courtesy of Netflix

DIFFERENCE #5: THE DARKLING IS A MORE NUANCED CHARACTER

In the books, the Darkling (Ben Barnes) is pretty much straight-up evil. He’s still pretty evil on the show, but we get to see more of how he became the way he is. His most horrendous action in the first season  growing The Fold to swallow the town of  Novokribirsk  is also “backed” by geopolitical concerns and not just (emphasis on the “just” here) a brutal show of power. How the character plays out in future seasons is unclear, but we do have a more direct understanding of why he became so, well, dark. 

There are more differences, of course. But these are the bigger changes in the show that those familiar with the books may recognize. The similarities are also too many to mention, and fans of Bardugo’s work will definitely see the Grishaverse they’ve read about come to life on screen. 

The first season of Shadow and Bone is currently streaming on Netflix.