by Dana Berdichevsky, Opinions Editor
photo courtesy of Netflix
While most television shows adapted from book series end up misfiring, the eight-episode Netflix original “Shadow and Bone” exceeded my expectations. As an avid reader of both the “Shadow and Bone” trilogy as well as the “Six of Crows” duology which inspired the series, I was restlessly anticipating the show’s release.
“Shadow and Bone” is set in the Grishaverse, a universe in which Grisha, those with magical powers, walk among humankind. Within this world lies the Fold: a sea of darkness filled with monsters called Volcra.
The series follows three different storylines, starting by following the life of a girl named Alina Starkov, who discovers that she is a powerful Grisha who can destroy the Fold. When her powers are revealed, she is separated from her childhood best friend, Mal Oretsev, and whisked away into the higher-class Grisha life. Throughout her journey, she is accompanied by the General of the Second Army, the Darkling.
In another city, Kaz Brekker, Inej Ghafa and Jesper Fahey, three gang members otherwise known as the Crows, are tasked with kidnapping Alina and set out on a journey to do so.
In the series, there is a great divide between those with power and those without, shown through the storyline of Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar. Matthias, a Drüskelle who hunts Grisha, and his crew capture Nina. While traveling to Fjerda, where Nina will face a trial for being Grisha, Matthias’ ship sinks, leaving enemies Nina and Matthias stranded and forced to grow closer while finding their way back to civilization.
As expected, there were several differences between the novel and the Netflix original. One massive change that I tremendously enjoyed was the inclusion of the Crows. The Crows were not a part of the book series, but they played a prominent role in the show, adding a greater element of secrecy and darkness. Their storyline kept me on the edge of my seat as they tip-toed around the continuously approaching danger.
Another excellent difference centers around the character of Mal Oretsev. In the book, Mal is an angry, manipulative guy, and I resented his romantic relationship with Alina because he would constantly blame her for her uncontrollable power. Archie Renaux, who played Mal in the Netflix original, shaped his character into a kind, supportive and protective companion. His portrayal of Mal made me second-guess my hatred for the character and reassess his compatibility with Alina.
Apart from these successful changes, I harbored conflicting feelings when it came to the show’s diversity. While the cast is incredibly diverse, with members of Nepalese, Ugandan and Chinese descent, the show made some poor decisions when it came to the overall exploration of the diversity of the characters.
While the book described Alina as a white, “pale” character, the television adaptation made Alina Starkov half Shu: an ethnicity similar to our world’s Mongolian and Ancient Chinese descent. This adjustment is fascinating, but they did not fully explore how her half-Shu ethnicity affects Alina.
We got glimpses of the discrimination she faces in the beginning of the series when Alina is ordered to the back of the food line after the server recognizes her Shu features; however, the second half of the show did not display as many of these interactions, making her identity seem forgotten. Overall, Alina’s half Shu identity adds to the humanization and connection between Alina Starkov and the audience.
Another questionable choice was casting a white stunt double for biracial Amita Suman, who plays Inej. Stunt double Vellai Krisztina used makeup to match Inej’s darker skin tone. It would have been more appropriate to select someone with a skin color closer to Suman’s.
While watching the series, I quickly spotted another negative: Nina Zenik’s portrayal. In the books, Nina is a plus-sized character as described by Kaz, but her character is not played by a plus-sized actress. Danielle Gallaghan, who plays Nina in the television adaption, unquestionably did a phenomenal job portraying Nina’s personality and emotions.
That being said, I believe Netflix did not seize this opportunity to help normalize different body types and bring confidence to girls who look like Nina. The casting of Danielle Gallaghan left some discomfort regarding both the missed chance and accuracy of the show.
Though there were definitely some setbacks as expected with every television series, the Netflix original’s ability to weave the complex stories of eight characters together into one show is impressive. “Shadow and Bone” has proved itself to be a massive hit, and I am incredibly optimistic for the series’ future. As I sit impatiently waiting for an official second season, I will surely be rewatching the incredible eight episodes that have brought the magical and magnificent Grishaverse to life.