Take notes, book-to-screen adaptations: ‘Shadow and Bone’ rivals ‘Harry Potter’ in masterful portrayal of source material

Netflix’s new book adaptation, “Shadow and Bone” is based on Leigh Bardugo’s “Shadow and Bone” trilogy as well as her “Six of Crows” duology.

Maya Hruskar ’23

Netflix’s new book adaptation, “Shadow and Bone” is based on Leigh Bardugo’s “Shadow and Bone” trilogy as well as her “Six of Crows” duology.

“Shadow and Bone” is currently streaming on Netflix, having been the #2 most watched show in the US on its debut weekend. This fantasy-action series is an adaptation of the hit book series by author Leigh Bardugo. (Netflix)

Book-to screen adaptations are oftentimes a high risk, but high reward genre. Consider Harry Potter, arguably one of the best movie adaptations ever made. Nearly every scene in all eight movies felt like a realization and tangible expansion of everything fans imagined the books to be. Unfortunately, this true-to-source approach is rare. Just glance at a Percy Jackson movie and you know an all too common pain that fans of book series feel. Beloved characters, complex plots and meaningful themes, through the age old tragedy of high-expectations, are positively butchered on screen (I still get nightmares about Annabeth with black hair). 

That’s why I was so relieved, overjoyed even, watching “Shadow and Bone.” If there’s one thing to be said above all else, it’s that Netflix’s adaptation of the original book trilogy nails nearly every character, set and plotline from the source material.

Shadow and Bone” by Leigh Bardugo is a hit trilogy of books that takes place in the Tsarist-Russia inspired country, Ravka. This war-torn fictional land is split into East and West Ravka by a massive wall of darkness known ominously as “The Fold,” only attempted to be crossed with the help of the magic-wielding citizens known as “Grisha.” In Ravka, it is prophesied that a “Sun Summoner,” a Grisha who can summon light, will arise to dispel the fold at last and free Ravka from its plight. When the book starts, we follow the to-be Sun Summoner, Alina Starkov, as she journeys into The Fold and her power is awakened. 

“Shadow and Bone” checks off the veritable plethora of tropes we’ve come to expect from young-adult fantasy. The story follows a typical “chosen one” arc, there are political tensions and there’s even a love triangle between Alina, her childhood best friend and a powerful Grisha who can summon shadows (known only as “The Darkling”).

The TV series mashes together the characters from two different book series Bardugo has written in her “Grishaverse.” The plot and characters of “Shadow and Bone” appear, while characters from her gangster-heist duology, “Six of Crows,” are transplanted from the plot of their original book into the “Shadow and Bone” story arc.

The cast of “Six of Crows” provides levity and extra world-building opportunities to the story. These lovable, mysterious, hilarious gaggle of gangsters give a fast-paced and interesting contrast to the sometimes grim arc of “Shadow and Bone.” Despite very little of each character’s respective backstories being exposited, sheer charm and fantastic casting more than make up for it. 

Additionally aiding the immersive quality of “Shadow and Bone” were the meticulously designed sets and beautiful costuming. From the decorous hallways of the Little Palace to the grungy atmosphere of the Crow Club and its universe-compatible redesigned sets of gambling cards, each set is immaculate in its attention to detail. Particularly outstanding were the designs of each kefta (magician robe) that the characters wore. 

If I wanted to get nitpicky I could criticize the sanitization of many of the characters (Kaz in the TV show is downright jolly compared to the terrifying portrayal of him in the books, and Alina in the show can be a little too much of a giggly-teenage-girl at times) but as a fan of the books, I can’t help but remain in awe of the level of detail, attention, and consideration that was put into this adaptation.

The eight episode character-packed extravaganza of this season of “Shadow and Bone” truly set a new standard for the oftentimes off-target realm of book-to-show adaptations. So, if you’re looking for an immersive, fantasy and action-packed show to binge, then I recommend you grab a remote and check out “Shadow and Bone” on Netflix.