Is it blasphemy to prefer the adaptation over the book? If it is, forgive me Sankta Alina, for I have sinned.
Netflix’s ‘Shadow and Bone’ is one of those rare adaptations that improves on the source material. More than anything, it explores its characters in much greater depth than the books, taking time to flesh out backstories and motivations.
Can we start with Mal?
Alina’s (Jessie Mei Li) childhood best friend, Mal (Archie Renaux), is infinitely better in the television show than he is in the books. That should come as a pleasant surprise to those who read Bardugo’s debut novel. Though I think Bardugo meant for Mal to be a sympathetic character, many have noted over the years that he’s difficult to cheer for.
Related: A Guide to the Grishaverse
The problem with Mal and Alina’s relationship is that we miss most of it in the books. The two are split from the get-go when the story begins in Shadow and Bone. The bit of them that we do experience involves Alina thinking romantically about him while he’s off flirting with other women, never paying attention to her, never recognizing her value. Mal’s flirtatious nature is watered down in the show (though still a bit present). Instead, more time is invested in establishing the bond between Alina and Mal — and the show is so much better for it.
One creative difference from the books is that Alina is half Shu; Mal is also mixed-race. This changes the way the two characters navigate the world, as they’re often confronted with prejudice at every other turn in Ravka. With both being outcasts, they’ve come to rely on each other. There’s a strong emotional core to their friendship that we get to see blossom from childhood to the events leading them to the Fold.
There’s definitely a true sense of separation when Alina is taken by the Darkling after exhibiting her power. Suddenly, Mal’s concern for Alina no longer feels superficial. It feels genuine.
Update: It’s worth noting that many have called the racial elements of the show “uncomfortable” and “hurtful.” A couple of great Twitter threads discuss this. [Link, Link, Link]
Of course, the relationship between Mal and Alina is not the only improvement. Many fans are buzzing about the inclusion of Kaz Brekker and his crew of crows. They’re easily the best part of the show.
While ‘Shadow and Bone’ doesn’t necessarily adapt from Six of Crows, Kaz, Jesper, Inej and Nina are primary characters in the series. What we get in place of the Six of Crows storyline is a prequel, one that ties into the Sun Summoner plot surrounding Alina.
It’s with the tiny band of thieves that the acting shines. The casting of Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker is the highlight. He’s brooding, commanding and lethal. The same can be said of Amita Suman, who brings so much emotion and depth to Inej. Kit Young is also a delight as Jesper Fahey every second he’s on screen.
There’s so much more to gush about too. The music is entrancing. The costumes are intricate and beautiful. The sets are lively. The special effects and cinematography are on point. Though I had trouble suspending my disbelief in a few places, and the plot drags a little in some spots, I mostly found myself completely enthralled in the Grishaverse.
‘Shadow and Bone’ shines. It’s spectacular. It’s also refreshing to see so much care and detail go into a YA book adaptation like this. In fact, I’d say it’s the best YA book adaptation since ‘Catching Fire.’
No mourners here.
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