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The Shadow And Bone Books Are Extremely Complex - By Streamlining It, Netflix Has Ruined The Series

Netflix's "Shadow and Bone" defies simple description. At its core, it's a live-action adaptation of Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse novels, but that doesn't accurately contextualize it. For those who might not enjoy young adult high fantasy books, Bardugo's Grishaverse is comprised of a trilogy, two duologies, and a handful of standalone tales. While they follow different characters and different stories at different times, they adhere to a singular, cohesive chronology with each entry building into the next. It's this beautiful, complex, structured, angsty thing. And Netflix totally bungled it.

Season 1 tests the limits by simultaneously adapting Book 1 ("Shadow and Bone") and Book 4 ("Six of Crows"), with the former functioning as the "A" plot and the latter functioning as the "B" plot. While, yes, Book 4 happens long after Book 1, Book 4 features a lot of backstory flashbacks, so these segments were expanded into newer, prequel content for the eventual main event of its respective story. This arrangement works ... mostly.

The problem is that Netflix learned the wrong lesson from this. Season 2 adapts a staggering four books at once: Book 2 ("Siege and Storm,") Book 3 ("Ruin and Rising,") Book 4, and Book 5 ("Crooked Kingdom.") To make the whole thing somehow fit within the ridiculous confines of a singular season, the studio had to excise almost everything that made these books identifiable or otherwise compelling. What's left is a disorganized, disrespectful, soulless mess that's not even in chronological order.

No one bothers with character development on Shadow and Bone anymore

"Siege and Storm" is actually a powerful political drama ... not that anyone who watched Season 2 would have known that, because only the opening and closing chapters were adapted. Literally everything in the middle got canned. Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) and Malyen Oretsev (Archie Renaux) met Sturmhond, got the Sea Whip, discovered that Sturmhond was actually a prince named Nikolai Lantsov (Patrick Gibson), and then Netflix punched the fast forward button until all that pesky character development was over with.

Because Alina was supposed to struggle in Os Alta. She was supposed to see how broken the people of Ravka were under a cruel royal family. She was supposed to fundamentally understand, through personal experience, that a better leader was desperately needed. Instead, Netflix jumped to the point where Vasily Lantsov (George Parker) got shredded into kibble by shadow monsters because, hey! That's when the Darkling (Ben Barnes) comes back!

The groundwork for a tempestuous relationship between Alina and Mal was meant to lay here. The threat of the Apparat's (Kevin Eldon) religious zealotry was meant to become apparent here, too. And Nikolai's earnest love for the Sun Summoner was meant to blossom through time, not just be revealed in a single, throwaway conversation. In a better adaptation, "Siege and Storm" would have been the sole focus of Season 2. Instead, Book 2's events were history by the time of Episode 5.

Thoughts and prayers for the ruined Shadow and Bone finale

Where "Siege and Storm" focused on the political underbelly of Ravka, "Ruin and Rising" focused on the dangers of organized religion. But, once again, nobody who watched Season 2 and hadn't read the books would have known that. Only a handful of pivotal story beats were allowed to remain, and only after drastic alteration. The Apparat, who should have been a constant presence in the back of Alina's mind, should have taken center stage. The religious creep who was supposed to spend an entire trilogy forcing the Sun Summoner to become his spiritual puppet showed up for a handful of moments in a total of three episodes.

Under the Apparat's thumb, Alina would have been at her lowest, but she would have risen (roll credits) to ultimately finish her task and save Ravka from the Darkling. She still gets to do that last bit, even if it's a totally different ending than what is seen in Book 3. Netflix's approach to the source material was so cavalier that the original ending was wholly removed. Instead of losing her powers to greed, Alina kept them and became even more powerful. Instead of faking her own death to live a quiet life with Mal, Alina stuck with Nikolai to rule Ravka.

As for Mal, well, he got the conciliatory prize of taking over the title of Sturmhond. Then he dipped because having him around after the political marriage between Nikolai and Alina would have been awkward.

What's with the Shadow and Bone timeline, anyway?

So, Netflix left Bardugo's "Shadow and Bone" trilogy in shameful tatters. But what about the "Six of Crows" duology? After all, most of what is seen in the live-action series is meant to be prequel content inspired by the flashbacks. It can't be that bad right? 

Wrong! Somehow, hilariously, the Dregs of Ketterdam received a worse mangling than the Sun Summoner herself. Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan) and Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman) are broadly permitted to exist in chronological order but the rest of the Crows, Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), Jesper Fahey (Kit Young), and Wyland Van Eck (Jack Wolfe) are floundering in a vortex of confusion — and it's because Netflix adapted their stories out of order. Events which are meant to occur in the present during Book 4 are occurring in Season 2 of "Shadow and Bone" alongside events which were presented as flashback exposition. For a little bit of flavor, the Dregs are also experiencing character arcs and heists from Book 5! Just in case it isn't clear, the main plot of Book 4 has not happened yet ... and Netflix is already ransacking its sequel for spare parts.

Inej isn't supposed to secure her freedom until the ending of "Crooked Kingdom." Jesper and Wyland aren't supposed to fall in love until the second book, either. What's more, like Alina and Mal, the Dregs spend at least half of their screen time experiencing entirely new story lines. Sankta Neyar (Tuyen Do) and her fancy sword are nowhere to be found in any of the books that "Shadow and Bone" technically adapts.

Outside of the infamous Ice Court Job, there's precious little left of the "Six of Crows" duology for Netflix to use.

There's nowhere to go but down for Shadow and Bone

Netflix tends to confuse quality with quantity. Why adapt one book, when multiple can be featured? Why offer substantial three-dimensionality to fewer characters when a superficial understanding of a larger ensemble can offer the illusion of complexity? Because that's what it is — an illusion. And a thin one, at that. 

Bardugo created a wealth of characters who were permitted to exist in a flawed, full space. With time and patience, they become whole, or at least wholly understood. But Netflix skipped to the last chapter while pretending to have read everything along the way.

"Shadow and Bone" could very well run for a number of seasons. The new ending seems to hint at some warped version of Book 6 ("Rule of Wolves") and even when butchered, young adult high fantasy is still an incredibly popular genre. Whatever it becomes, though, it won't be an adaptation, not really. It'll be something roughly adjacent, like those copyright-safe costumes sold at Spirit of Halloween. Can we just start calling the Netflix series "Darkness and Skeletons?"