SHADOW AND BONE: Adapting Two Series into One

Title in white next to a stag in a forest

SHADOW AND BONE is one of those rare, runaway successes in YA, to the point that two spin off series have been released, and I’m pretty sure there’s a third in the works. It was pretty much guaranteed that someone would try to adapt it, and it has managed to avoid the development hell that has mired other projects such that they are likely to never be released.

Adaptation are always chance-y. Straight adaptations often lose something vital to the book, but ones that go with the spirit can draw criticism for being “too different.” When the adaptation was announced as adapting both the original SHADOW AND BONE trilogy as well as using characters and ideas from the first spin-off series, SIX OF CROWS, I was somewhat sceptical of whether it would work, as they are properties with different vibes and narrative styles, plus chronologically non-concurrent.

Having binged the entire season in one day with a friend, I had many thoughts about it, but didn’t want to spoil anything on SM. Plus, I didn’t think a tweet thread (etc) was the best place to set out all my thoughts. Hence a blog post.

This post contains spoilers about both the books and the Netflix show. I will use “series” in reference to books, and “season” when talking about the show, for clarity.

Why Combine Series?

From a monetary perspective, combining SHADOW AND BONE with SIX OF CROWS makes a lot of sense.

If they were going to do the books chronologically, supposing the viewing numbers are enough to order four seasons (the three books of the original Grisha trilogy, and the first Six of Crows book), everything would change between seasons 3 and 4. The entire cast would be replaced. The vibe and premise would change. The locations would be all new.

This could quite easily destroy the show, losing viewers who had spent 3 seasons investing in characters only to now essentially start an entirely new show just set in the same world.

Therefore, combining series makes sense. By adapting them at the same time (I am assuming that season two will be SIEGE AND STORM and SIX OF CROWS in one), there is less chance of losing audience between seasons. The two casts are there from the start. There is also a chance to show Nina and Matthias’ backstory (rather than doing it in flashbacks), and build the Crows’ dynamic – their tensions and capabilities.

What Works?

For one, combining the two series makes the plot a little less typical, and potentially broader in appeal to audience.

SHADOW AND BONE is a pretty typical fantasy story about a girl with exceptional magic everyone wants to save the day. It’s complete with a love triangle (the “safe”, childhood best friend, and the dangerous, powerful man suddenly thrust into her life.) There are quests and a big bad, slowly demonstrated to be more and more wrong over the course of the books, once they are revealed as the second love interest (shock-a-roo).

SIX OF CROWS is, arguably, the more popular of the author Leigh Bardugo’s work. Not only does it benefit from the craft improvement of not being a debut series and the increased familiarity of the author with the world, but it’s plot is a little more unique. It’s a heist, complete with an eclectic cast of characters who are often listed as favourites far more than the cast of the original series, who can seem a little bland by comparison at times.

The show, therefore, gets to benefit from both the more typical quest fantasy, and the adrenaline-fueled heists. It’s a nice balance to keep the show from falling into expectations, and helps expand the world.

Even within 24 hours of release, it was clear that including the Crows (Kaz, Jesper, and Inej) was a hit, in particular Jesper. He was brilliantly cast (played by Kit Young) as a rakish, chaotic sharp shooter who brought a dash of much needed comedy to the show. He was certainly my favourite part!

What Doesn’t Work?

What doesn’t work is very much a subjective thing, and will vary from person to person according to how much you like you adaptations to be “strictly accurate”.

Personally, I found the interactions between the Crows and Alina/Mal/the Darkling rather jarring, because it altered major scenes with increasing impact as the season went along. Some of them felt a little bit ridiculous and unrealistic (Kaz facing down the Darkling!?) and others made me wonder what it would mean for later on as it was so different.

The finale in particular brought them all together (would be very weird if they weren’t), but it meant the falling action set up potentially a very different set of relationships between various characters as they all sat down and discussed the next steps – including Zoya, who felt very different at the end to her place in the book.

The combination of the series also led to some alterations to character arcs. While I liked Kaz and Inej’s arc, and how that was brought in, I wasn’t a big fan of where Nina’s started. Given her arc start was brought forwards about five years or something, it meant the start had to be very different. Instead of being someone too eager to prove herself and not being experienced enough, thus messing up, she starts off as more of a revolutionary, unhappy with forced conscription. It’s a small change in the scope of the story, but it could have a large impact to how her interactions pan out. Plus it didn’t seem tackled beyond her first introduction, so I hope it gets tackled later.

What did you think about Shadow and Bone? How close to the source text do you like your adaptations to be?

Read my other analyses of TVs and Movies:

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