13 differences between Netflix’s Shadow And Bone and the books it’s based on

Federica Bocco
·9-min read
Photo credit: DAVID APPLEBY/NETFLIX
Photo credit: DAVID APPLEBY/NETFLIX

The much-awaited first season of Shadow and Bone dropped on Netflix today [April 23] and fans around the world have been binging it non-stop, curious to see how the series managed to portray their favourite characters.

The source material for the show isn’t just the eponymous Shadow and Bone book trilogy, but also the Six of Crows duology by author Leigh Bardugo. Showrunner Eric Heisserer (Arrival, Birdbox) thought it would be best to weave the two stories together, creating a surprisingly seamless narrative that flows perfectly without altering the core of the Grishaverse.

While Netflix's Shadow and Bone is a pretty faithful adaptation in terms of main events and characterisation, there are some changes to the plot that inevitably had to happen when unifying the two series and transposing them to the screen. Here are 13 differences between the Grishaverse books and the TV show.

*Beware of spoilers for the show and the books*

Shadow and Bone book and TV show differences

1.The biggest plot divergences obviously stem from the Six of Crows narrative. This show serves as a prequel for that book, so while there are many direct quotes from and references to the duology, the plot concerning the Six of Crows characters is mostly an invention of the show.

In the Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows books, the Dregs—the criminal gang led by Kaz Brekker that the show simply calls the Crowsdo not interact with Alina Starkov or go to Ravka in the hope of capturing (or helping) her. However, we must point out that Inej, Jesper and Kaz are perfectly in line with the characters they will become by the time the original events of Six of Crows (rumoured to be adapted in the second season of the show) take place. One example is that at the beginning of the show, Inej is reluctant to take lives (episode 2, minute 19:47), while in the book, virtually set after these events, she doesn’t hesitate when making a necessary kill to save her crew. This little variation provided the possibility of an evolution for Inej, one of the most beloved characters in the Grishaverse.

Photo credit: DAVID APPLEBY/NETFLIX
Photo credit: DAVID APPLEBY/NETFLIX

2. In the books, General Kirigan just goes by his title, The Darkling. Ravkans don’t even know that he has a name beyond the title, although readers know he’s briefly taken multiple names in his life, and Kirigan is one of these names. In the show he tells Alina that his real name is Aleksander rather early (episode 4, minute 5:13), to draw her into his confidence. In the books, he doesn’t reveal his name until book 3, Ruin and Rising, and he does it for a similar reason, but in a very different situation. It’s something intimate, sacred almost. In the show, Alina clearly likes having something to call the General, in the books she doesn’t enjoy uttering his name, because it’s a reminder of their connection that she wants to deny.

3. The Shadow And Bone books paint a colourful landscape of the Ravkan civil war, but it is done exclusively through Alina’s first-person narration (episode 2, minute 46.30). This means that readers are somewhat limited in witnessing certain events that Alina is not present to tell us of. For example, we read almost nothing about the secession designs that West Ravka has, which in the show are clearly personified through the character of General Zlatan. (episode 8, minute 14:08)

Photo credit: COURTESY OF NETFLIX
Photo credit: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

4. For the same reason, in the book we only hear about Mal’s journey through conversation when he tells Alina, but it was lovely and then painful to get to know his friends Mikhael and Dubrov and watch them die on screen. Certain book fans will tell you that Mal’s personality was changed to make him more likeable, but that isn’t true. When watching the show, we are simply not so dependent on the protagonist for information and we can form our own opinions about the characters whose storylines and developments we see unfold before our eyes. The only real difference in behaviour is that Mal doesn’t sleep with Zoya when they meet in the first episode (episode 1 minute 17:59), which we are told that he does in the book.

5. The show does a great job at showing us, without telling us explicitly, that Mal and Alina are both secretly in love with each other, and it’s clear to everyone except them. The flashbacks from their time together at Keramzin (episode 8, minute 38:40) and in the army help in establishing their close bond, letting the voiceovers of the unsent letters and wonderful visual sequences do the rest. In the book we only have access to Alina’s pent-up feelings, and have no idea what Mal thinks or what he’s doing, while the show gifts us with snippets of various heartwrenching memories and letters on both sides.

6. Nina’s runaway beginning is a change brought forth by the timeline of the show: Arken says she helps him smuggle Grisha out of Ravka because she’s a radical who despises involuntary military service. At this time in the books, Nina was a young Grisha training at the Little Palace to become a soldier in the Second Army. Apart from that, Nina and Matthias’s storyline is perhaps the most faithful (episode 6, minute 28:15), to the books because it’s taken nearly word-for-word from a flashback in Six of Crows recounting the story of how they met.

Photo credit: ATTILA SZVACSEK/NETFLIX
Photo credit: ATTILA SZVACSEK/NETFLIX

7. However, Nina running into Kaz, Inej and Jesper, and subsequently joining the Dregs happens in a slightly different way: on the show they’re on a ship headed to Kerch (episode 8, minute 37:21), while in the book they meet once Nina is already in Ketterdam and seeking Kaz’s help to free Matthias from the prison of Hellgate, where he’s been convicted as a result of her accusations.

8. The real MVP of season 1, Milo the goat, is an invention of the show. Jesper quickly grows attached to Milo (episode 3, minute 39:00) during their near-fatal journey through the Fold, but has to leave him in Kribirsk, where Milo later hands Mal the keys to his shackles in episode 7. Ironically, in Six of Crows, Milo is actually the name of a member of the Dregs who turns against Kaz in favour of their de jure boss Per Haskell in the second book of the duology, Crooked Kingdom.

Photo credit: COURTESY OF NETFLIX
Photo credit: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

9. In the show, Alina at first doesn’t let Genya remove the scar on her palm, a reminder of her tie to Mal (episode 4, minute 29:58). But then in episode 4 after not hearing back from Mal (not for lack of trying on his part, as we know in the show), she seems to give in, even though she keeps looking at the spot where the scar used to be after that. In the book, Alina never has the scar removed, choosing to keep it to remind her of who she is.

10. In the first book, Mal and Alina share their first kiss during a moving heart-to-heart, right after Mal’s line that made it into the show, “I’m so sorry it took me so long to see you, Alina. But I see you now.” (episode 6, minute 26:45) . In the show, there was not enough time to give them a proper romantic scene, and Mal and Alina are realistically more worried about saving themselves than rushing into such a big step, so the kiss doesn't happen. They are both definitely still aware that they are the most important person in each other’s lives, though.

Photo credit: DAVID APPLEBY/NETFLIX
Photo credit: DAVID APPLEBY/NETFLIX

11. Speaking of love stories, did anyone else note a Corporalki romance? Heartrenders Fedyor and Ivan are totally dating in the show, which doesn't happen in the books. The scene where Fedyor feeds Ivan at the winter fete was almost enough to humanise Ivan (episode 5, minute 20:55). He is certainly nobody’s favourite character in the books, and I daresay nobody missed him when he died in Siege and Storm, his heart crushed by Tolya Yul-Bataar. In the show, he seems to have died on the Fold in the last episode, as Kirigan emerged from the shadows alone in the very last scene of the show.

12. Another difference between the books and TV show was another Grisha’s death was moved up. In the show, Marie was Tailored by Genya to act as a double for Alina at the fete, which is what leads the Squaller to be killed by the Conductor in his attempt to assassinate Alina (episode 5 minute 36:17). Marie still meets an early end during the attack on Os Alta by the Darkling’s forces that concludes the second book in the trilogy, Siege and Storm.

The amplifier that the Darkling forces on Alina looks a bit different than what fans had imagined from the books, and perhaps more horrifying. In the book, it is just a collar made from the Stag’s antlers, fastened by David’s Fabrikator powers to be unbreakable. The show takes the violation one step further, because the antlers penetrate Alina’s very skin and settle within her, with only the prongs emerging from her collarbones. (episode 7, minute 26:39).

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

13. Last but not least, another difference is Alina and Kirigan's first kiss. In the show, Alina goes to Kirigan’s room and kisses him (episode 5, minute 18:09) somehow managing to be both shy and bold. Kirigan responds gladly, but they are interrupted by Ivan. In the book, the Darkling kisses Alina as they’re walking back to the Little Palace; they are talking about Alina’s contribution to the Grisha cause, and the kiss comes off as a bit out of the blue, even Alina’s narration admits that they both seem surprised by it. The difference on who initiates the kiss may seem trivial, but it is an indicator of the work the show did to give Alina more agency than she has in the books, where she is too often at the Darkling’s mercy. This definitely makes for a more compelling scene.

Shadow And Bone is available on Netflix.


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