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How Closely Does Shadow And Bone Follow The Book?

"Shadow and Bone," Netflix's adaptation of Leigh Bardugo's fan-favorite "Grisha" trilogy, was one of the most highly anticipated shows of the year. Developed for the popular streaming service by Eric Heisserer, the eight-episode first season adapts the events of the first book in the trilogy, which was published in 2012 and shares the title of the series.

The fantasy show is set in the fictional Ravka, a country inspired by Russia that is divided by an area of immense darkness known as the Shadow Fold or Unsea. Light cannot penetrate it, and vicious creatures known as volcra live in it and feast on human flesh. To cross it is extremely dangerous. "Shadow and Bone" begins when Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), a soldier and orphan who, in an attempt to save her best friend Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux), discovers during a crossing of the Fold that she possesses the ability to summon and manipulate light, an immense power that could be the key to saving Ravka from the dark forces that threaten to destroy it.

Alina's whole life changes in an instant. She is carted off to the Little Palace for protection and training, as this unique power brings with it threats to her safety, since not everyone would like to see the Fold destroyed or even someone with her power live. She eventually becomes known as the Sun Summoner and is the only person to possess this type of power despite the fact there are many Grisha, aka those who can manipulate the Earth's elements.

The first season's main narrative arc is fairly faithful to the first book in the trilogy, though the writers took some liberties, which happens with all adaptations. There are some major changes that were made when the story was adapted for the screen, though. These are the biggest changes from the novel.

Alina is half-Shu

In the novels, Alina is from Ravka, but her race is never revealed. She's described as being pale and sickly as a result of suppressing her powers, but it is never specified that she is white. In order to deepen the character and add more complexity to her story, the series' writers gave Alina ties to Shu Han, the Asian-inspired country in the novels that is south of Ravka and is a place where they like to experiment on Grisha. The decision to make Alina half-Shu was made by showrunner Eric Heisserer and series author Leigh Bardugo before the show ever cast Jessie Mei Li in the role, with Heisserer noting that several writers on the show were of mixed race and their voices helped shape the character.

Because Alina is half-Shu in the series, it unfortunately means she is also subjected to racist rhetoric throughout the first season. As Li told IGN, the writers "wanted to add a little more adversity to Alina's upbringing. Not only is she an orphan, but she's an orphan that looks like the enemy, so she was really ostracized."

However, being half-Shu is also what allowed Alina and Mal to form a deep bond, as both were mixed-race orphans in a predominantly white country. So the writers took the relationship that was already on the page and deepened it by giving the two childhood best friends something that only they could possibly understand, drawing them even closer.

The show features the characters from Six of Crows

The original "Grisha" trilogy is just one story set in the Grishaverse. After publishing the original trilogy, Bardugo also wrote several short stories and a duology known as "Six of Crows" (which was then followed by another duology known as "King of Scars," though it was not adapted for the show).

Set canonically after the events of "Shadow and Bone" and in the city of Ketterdam, a place that was loosely inspired by Amsterdam, "Six of Crows" follows several charismatic criminals who belong to the Dregs, one of the many gangs who operate on the island of Kerch. In the book, they're hired by a wealthy merchant to infiltrate a highly fortified fortress known as the Ice Court in the country of Fjerda in order to retrieve a person of interest who has developed a deadly drug that can amplify a Grisha's powers to unbelievable levels. In the series, however, Kaz (Freddy Carter), Inej (Amita Suman), and Jesper (Kit Young) are introduced when they are hired to cross the Fold and kidnap Alina. Two characters who join Kaz and co. to the Ice Court in the book, a Grisha Heartrender known as Nina (Danielle Galligan) and a Grisha-hunter who has captured her, Matthias (Calahan Skogman), are not part of this adventure in the series but on their own in a separate storyline that depicts the characters' backstory from the novel.

So essentially everything that features the characters from "Six of Crows" does not actually happen in the "Shadow and Bone" novel, and nothing they do outside of Nina and Matthias' story happens in the "Six of Crows" novels. 

The series changes The Darkling's name

While Alina possesses the ability to manipulate light, The Darkling is, as his name in the novel suggests, able to manipulate and control darkness. He is also a living amplifier, aka someone who can amplify another Grisha's power. While he is the person responsible for taking Alina to the Little Palace so she can begin training and learn to harness and control her power with the goal of eventually destroying the Fold, it is revealed near the end of the first book in the trilogy that he does not actually share this goal. The Darkling, whose real name is Aleksander, is not a descendant of the Black Heretic, the Grisha who created the Shadow Fold, but the man himself. He wants Alina to join him in his attempt to create a country where Grisha are safe and he is the ruler, and he needs her powers to keep the volcra at bay in the Fold so he can learn to control it as leverage to make this happen.

In the series, the writers have made the character appear a bit older and changed The Darkling's name, the latter of which is rather unfortunate since it added an air of mystery to the character and his powers. Played in the show by Ben Barnes ("The Punisher"), the character, who leads the Grisha army, is known as General Kirigan. In an interview with Radio Times, series creator Eric Heisserer addressed the name change.

"We just wanted to make sure that people had a name that they could call him outside of the General," Heisserer said. "This is one of those changes where it works really well on the page, it doesn't really bother you, but then the moment you get actors in a room and you have [the actors] speaking to Ben Barnes it starts to get weird."

"Like, is it General Darkling? Mr. Darkling? The? Do we just start with The as his first name? It got weirder and weirder as we went into it," he continued.

We're also treated to The Darkling's backstory

The Darkling's backstory is never fully revealed during "Shadow and Bone," though Leigh Bardugo does dive into it in a short story that was published in 2015. "The Demon in the Wood: A Darkling Prequel Story" reveals who the Darkling was as a young teen, how he came to master his powers, and why he wants to create a safe place for all Grisha to live: He was attacked for simply being one.

In the seventh episode of the series, we're treated to a flashback that reveals some of his backstory, though it's not a direct adaptation: The Darkling has won a war for the king of Ravka, but in doing so, he's made people afraid of Grisha to the point that now they're being hunted and killed. After someone The Darkling is close to is captured and killed by the king's men, he finds the journals of a powerful Grisha known as Morozova and learns how to use merzost, the power of creation, to create an army of his own against the king's forces. In doing so, he unleashes immense power into the world, inadvertently creating the Shadow Fold and the volcra out of the king's men. This is different from the book, where The Darkling's experimentation with his power created the Fold, and the volcra were the people who had inhabited the land where the Fold was created.

Tailors can change someone's appearance completely

In the "Grisha" novels, Genya (Daisy Head) is a tailor, a Grisha whose powers allow her to slightly alter, or tailor (hence the title), someone's appearance. She officially works for the queen of Ravka, making her look beautiful and perfect while in public, but she also works her skills on Alina at times as well. However, Genya is not able to completely change someone's appearance so they look like someone else. This is not true in the series; at one point Genya changes the features of Marie (Jasmine Blackborow), another Grisha, so she looks like Alina during a big party at the palace. She is later killed when someone attempts to kill Alina. 

This is a major change from the books for two reasons. First, Marie appears in future Grishaverse books, so the fact she dies here alters future storylines. And second, in the books, power of this level is only possible with the use of a dangerous and highly addictive drug that increases a Grisha's powers to unbelievable levels. It is introduced in "Six of Crows," and there is no reason to believe that Genya has ingested this drug in order to tailor Marie's appearance. It will be interesting to see if this power is used in any potential future seasons and to what effect.