“Like Calls to Like:” A Book Fan’s Review of Netflix’s “Shadow and Bone”

How does Netflix’s newest YA dark fantasy epic compare to the literary source material it’s adapted from?

Warning: this review contains spoilers for not only Netflix’s “Shadow and Bone,” but also spoilers for its source material—”Shadow and Bone” and “Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo.

It’s no secret to anyone that I’ve had a long love affair with author Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. I first read Six of Crows and its sequel Crooked Kingdom in 2017 and immediately fell in love. The books not only wereand still arethe most objectively well-written pieces of fiction, but were one of the first books that truly snuck under my skin and folded themselves into the corners of my heart.

It is because of those books that I fell in love with the found family trope and learned to value bonds forged by choice rather than blood. It is in those books that I saw myself, a young gay boy, and learned that I could be a hero in my own story. It is in Crooked Kingdom that I found the quote that would become my life motto. Most importantly, it is because of these books that I met Leigh Bardugo in 2019 and subsequently realized that becoming an author was my life’s calling.

I read Shadow and Bone and its sequels, Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising. Later that same year, I read the Six of Crows duology; ironically enough, the events of the Shadow and Bone trilogy occur before the events of the Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. However, unlike with Six of Crows, my experience with this trilogy wasn’t love at first read.

In fact, I thought the books were good but not anything especially amazing; it is only through a reread I did last year that I realized how much love I actually had for them. It was because of the reread that I learned to appreciate the series for what it was: a classical Chosen One narrative with immersive worldbuilding, exciting court intrigue that contained both a brilliantly written protagonist in “Alina Starkov and The Darkling,” one of the most infamous villains in all of literature and a purposeful subversion of the misunderstood, brooding, and immortal love interest that was so incredibly popular in YA fantasy in the era where Shadow and Bone was first released.

So of course when the adaptation for these books was announced, I was ecstatic. But slightly nervous as well. Watching any adaptation of a book you love always comes with a certain amount of terror. Of course, there’s a lot of excitement and joy. But then comes the fear that follows those feelings like shadows: are the characters going to remain consistent with how they are in the books? Are the actors that are cast going to play them well? What plot points will be changed? And of course, will the show do the books justice?

As far as Netflix’s Shadow and Bone goes, my fears were mostly unfoundedright from the very first episode, “A Searing Burst of Light,” I was hooked. Watching the show was almost like putting on a well-loved sweater: while the fabric and thread slightly differ, it still gave me the same warm fuzzy feeling that the original source material did. In many ways, the first episode matches the events of the initial chapters of the novel of the same name: a cartographer of the Ravkan Second Army named Alina Starkovplayed wonderfully by actress Jessie Mei Lidiscovers her abilities as the fabled Sun Summoner when her best friend Mal (played by Archie Renaux) is almost killed on an expedition into the Fold, a swath of darkness that has tore their country in two.

However, the very first episode also sets the groundwork for how the show deviates from the books in both small and large ways. The most obvious example of this is the way the very first episode sets this up as a tie between Alina and Mal’s story and that of Kaz, Inej, and Jesperplayed by Freddy Carter, Amita Suman, and Kit Young respectivelythat puts these characters who never met in the books on a collision course in the show: in act of sheer writing genius that had me as a book fan screaming, for one million kruge, the three of them are tasked with capturing Alina.

From there, the plot of the series chugs along full steam ahead with the majority of screentime divided between Alina’s story as she navigates the world of the Grisha in the Little Palace under the tutelage of the mysterious but enchanting General Kirigan (played perfectly by Ben Barnes), and the Crows, as the trio is referred to in-series, as they plan out and enact their attempts to capture Alina to secure the bounty. In addition to those two main storylines, we also get some time devoted to plotlines such as Mal’s missions and actions separate from Alina and one involving the unlikely bond between Nina Zenik (played by Danielle Galligan), a Grisha, and Matthias Helvar (played by Calahan Skogman), a Fjerdan Grisha hunter.

From the perspective of a book reader, I found the choice to focus on these plotlines as perfectly fitting for the first season of this series. Alina’s plotline follows almost exactly beat-for-beat the events of the Shadow and Bone novel while the Crows’ plotline is deftly woven into it while simultaneously acting as a prequel to the events of Six of Crows that I assume are going to be adapted in full in the later seasons of the show. The choice to do this is an inspired one as it allows the story to not feel disjoined while also allowing the characters within it to develop in a way that feels natural.

For example, the Crows are decidedly not the characters they are in Six of Crows, as they haven’t yet developed into those people yet. This is especially evident with Kaz and Inej; the former is not quite the scheming, always-has-the-upper-hand Bastard of the Barrel he and the latter is, not the Wraith who kills without hesitation. Instead, the show has shown them on the path to becoming those characters which was a writing choice that initially bothered me but one that I am ultimately grateful for after thinking on it. Additionally, the Crows are three and not six; the first season introduces five of them and sets them up to become the morally gray found family they are in the books.

What’s especially interesting and clever about several writing choices throughout the show’s first season is that many come with a wink and acknowledgement to details from the original books: while newbies to the Grishaverse won’t find themselves thinking anything of it, the way the job to capture Alina falls into the laps of the Crows comes in the form of a minor named Alexei, who exists in both the book and the show. In the former, he is unceremoniously killed off very early on in the expedition into the fold. In the latter, he survives the initial journey only to be killed after serving his narrative purpose in informing the Crows of Alina’s existence.

The show’s entire first season is filled with nods like these and as a book fan, every time I spotted one I couldn’t help but squeal. These subtle easter eggs can be found in everything from dialogue to props to even episode titles. One of the ones in particular that I found exciting but cruel is the Jesper mentioning that he wants an ammunitions expert on the team for the job, which is a clever nod to Wylan Van Eck, his future love interest and only other main character from Six of Crows that has yet to appear in the show. Another example is episode six's title, “The Heart is an Arrow” which directly references a quote said by Inej in Six of Crows.

The true importance of these references, at least to me as a book fan, is that they act as an acknowledgement of the already existing loyal fanbase these characters and world has. I think the most important aspect of any kind of adaptation with well-loved source material is achieving that balance between the expectations of already existing fans and knowing when to stray from the original material to better suit the needs of a new medium and audience. The existence of these small easter eggs, combined with the show writer’s obviously knowing when deviation from the source material is necessary, make for a show that is both a solid adaptation and a well-written YA fantasy show that is worthy of praise from general audiences.

My verdict: Netflix’s Shadow and Bone proves to be a solid adaptation of a beloved book series and proves that like, does in fact, call to like.


Lance Serafica is an undergraduate at Rowan University who is currently pursuing a BA in English, a minor in Creative Writing, and a minor in Strategic Communications. Lance is a writer for ink. He enjoys writing everything from personal essays to reviews of popular media, but has a particular soft spot for analyzing diverse YA literature. When not writing, Lance can be found with his nose buried in a book or obsessively listening to Taylor Swift’s extensive discography. You can find more of his opinions on books on his Goodreads page.

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