A Book Reader's Thoughts on Netflix's Shadow & Bone
This is NOT a comprehensive review/explanation of the GrishaVerse. This review is really for fellow Leigh Bardugo fans such as myself who have read and loved the books and are debating watching the show. I know this review is up a little late compared to many others but I wanted to give myself time to watch the show without rushing it for content's sake.
A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE BOOKS
The Shadow & Bone trilogy takes place in the fictional country of Ravka where there exist people (Grisha) who practice the small sciences (magic). The country has been split apart by a monster filled swath of darkness known as the Fold. This can only be destroyed by a sun summoner (of which the protagonist Alina Starkov is).
The Six of Crows duology follows a gang known as the Crows consisting of mastermind Kaz, the wraith Inej, the sharpshooter Jesper, the bomb maker Wylan, the witch hunter Matthias, and the Grisha Nina. They are hired to do a heist in the Ice Court of Fjerda (a country north of Ravka).
Based on visuals alone most of the actors looked much like they are described in the books. The only major difference is that, because Alina's actress (Jessie Mei Li) is Asian, her character is changed to be biracial (being both Ravkan and Shu Han). I didn't mind this in the slightest as what's more important than looks is acting chops and Li has them. Besides, I think it's wonderful to have a more diverse cast.
All the actors did an impressive job of bringing their characters to life on the screen. The three I want to give the biggest props to are: Jessie Mei Li, Kaz's actor (Freddy Carter), Jesper's actor (Kit Young), and Nina's actress (Danielle Galligan).
Li made me care about a character I was indifferent about in the books. She really breathed personality into her. She also had amazing chemistry with Mal's actor (Archie Renaux), though I felt hers was lacking with the Darkling/General Kirigan's actor (Ben Barnes) (kind of opposite of the books).
Carter perfectly captured Kaz's intense, uncompromising demeanor with the nuisance of his softer side. Young mastered his character's playful demeanor (and you can tell he's having a blast with his role), and Galligan had all her character's sass.
The best part of the Grishaverse books for me was the uniqueness and vividness of the world. I feel totally immersed in places like Ketterdam and the Little Palace when reading so I was most anticipating how the show would look and how the CGI for the magic (or small sciences) would look.
I am pleased to say that the visuals are stunning and full of little details. From the sets to the CGI to the costumes everything looks just like I envisioned it in the books. You can tell Netflix poured a good chunk of money into this series. Everything about it screams expensive. Fans will feel like they're right there in Ravka with the characters.
One detail I appreciated was the keftas. They looked just as regal as I imagined and they did more than just make them their corresponding book colors but added embroidery to distinguish them (a heartrender's kefta was slightly different from a healer's for example). This is just one example of how much thought and effort was clearly put into making the world come alive.
The Fold itself was just as ominous and the volcra just as freaky looking as I expected. I felt genuinely uncomfortable in the scenes where characters were in the Fold and, strange as that sounds, that's a good thing. The Fold is a disturbing place that the characters fear so I wanted to feel unsettled when watching those scenes.
STORY LINE/PLOT CHANGES
The main change here is that the characters from Six of Crows have had their story line entirely altered. They are still on a heist but instead of to the Ice Court in Fjerda it is to the Little Palace to kidnap Alina. Initially, I was disappointed but then thought it through and figured it makes sense. I figure the decision was probably made for a couple of reasons: time (the episodes are already all almost an hour long each) and simplicity (so as not to overwhelm those who haven't read the books).
My only real issue was that we didn't get to see all the Crows together. Kaz, Inej, and Jesper were together, but Nina and Matthias never met up with them and Wylan isn't present at all. I still loved seeing (most) of the gang but was a little sad that they didn't all have scenes together. It felt incomplete and i know the actors could have really done their dynamics justice, especially since we got a taste of that with Carter, Inej's actress (Amita Suman), and Young.
BOOKISH EASTER EGGS
There are two fun book related Easter eggs that made me giggle like a school girl and I thought I'd mention because I thought they were well implemented. The first is in episode 3 (The Making at the Heart of the World) in which the Apparat (a religious figure to the king) gives Alina a copy of The Lives of Saints. This is the same copy (minus Bardugo's name on the cover) that was published last fall. I myself own a copy. In episode six (The Heart is an Arrow) a minor character (David) throws a book at Jesper which has the same cover as the real life Shadow & Bone book (though it is one of multiple covers and sadly not one I own.) The only change is the title is written in the fictional Ravkan language.
The show is spectacular and fellow book fans will not be disappointed. If you're on the fence about watching it then I totally recommend it. It is well worth the wait. As far as I'm aware the show, while popular on Netflix, hasn't as of yet been renewed for a second season. I really, really hope it is renewed because there is still so much story left to tell.
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