The Grishaverse Comes to Netflix

shadow and bone coverOn April 23, Netflix will debut its newest highly anticipated adaptation: Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. As a Bardugo fan, I find myself to be both excited and a little apprehensive, which is par for the course for adaptations. Will the show do the book you love justice (e.g. Normal People), or will it be completely unrecognizable (e.g. The Turn of the Screw-turnedThe Haunting of Bly Manor)? Borne from a very specific, early 2010s trend in YA fantasy, this series has been a long time coming. For fans of YA literature, having your faves picked up by Netflix is like a dream come true, even if Netflix’s adaptation history is spotty (did anyone see the ending of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina? What was that?!). Netflix is not beholden to the rules of network television, so there’s less chance that the story will be tampered with in order to appease a mass American audience—which is good news for this series, which tends towards dark subject matter and generally more “adult” themes. What’s more, without bending to please middle America, Netflix adaptations are more open to showcasing diversity (see their ultra-popular To All the Boys film trilogy, which previous studios had attempted to whitewash). 

Truthfully, I’m surprised the powers that be chose to adapt Shadow and Bone nowis it me, or is this sort of trilogy-based, post-Hunger Gamesone-girl-to-save-them-all narrative a bit passéIt has, after all, been about a decade since it first took off. Which is why I’m a bit miffed that, rather than simply adapt Bardugo’s (objectively!superior Six of Crows duology, Netflix has decided to combine the two series into one show. The two might take place in the same universe, but genre-wise and tone-wise they are drastically different: Shadow and Bone revolves around Alina Starkov, an unremarkable orphan who discovers she is actually very remarkable indeed. After the blossoming of her powers, she enters the high-society world of the powerfully magical Grisha, and attempts to take down The Fold, “a swathe of impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh” that is threatening the alt-Russia nation of RavkaSix of Crows, meanwhile, centres on a gang of disparate criminals called the Dregs in the Amsterdam-esque city of Ketterdam, after the events of Alina’s story have already concludedI think most fans would agree that between the two, Six of Crows is more worthy of an adaptation. In fact, its ingredients seem ready-made for television: illicit gang activity, a bunch of traumatized misfits finding family with each other, heist action, slow-burn romance, a city setting so fleshed out you can almost smell the corruption. In comparison, Shadow and Bonewhile still compelling, just doesn’t hit the same way 

six of crows cover

And the showrunner seems to agree! When I google “Shadow and Bone combined with Six of Crows why”, the answer doesn’t quite placate. The show is being helmed by Eric Heisserer (writer of the excellent Arrival), a self-admitted SOC fanboy, who originally walked away from Netflix’s pitch when they offered him only Shadow and Bone: “They stopped me and said, ‘Oh it’s nice that you have grand designs, but we only have the rights to Shadow and Bone, you don’t have Six of Crows’ and I said, ‘Well, that’s it for me’ and I just walked right out.” When Netflix came back with both series on the table, Heisserer agreed to the adaptation. To make it work, the team essentially invented a prequel story for the SOC protagonists—but only a few of them. Season one will include Kaz, Inej, and Jesper, but not the rest of the gang. 

What I think all fans can agree on is the excitement of seeing these beloved characters come to life. Two things Bardugo does well across the board are characters and chemistry; you can put any two in a room together and there would be sparks. Nikolai Lantsov (star of his own spinoff series) isn’t in season one, so we need the audience to make sure this show thrives enough for a second season. Similarly, part of the reason fans (i.e. me) are peeved about the lack of Six of Crows content is that we now have to wait a few seasons for its beloved ships: Nina and Matthias are not yet part of the story, nor is adorable little Wylan, and though Kaz and Inej are both featured, we now have a loooong wait for that spicy ship to sail. To quote Stephen Colbert, give it to me now!! Patience is not a virtue I have in abundance. That said, focusing on the core of the Dregs before introducing the others will give us a chance to really see the bond between Kaz, Inej, and Jesper, whose devotion to each other is lined with a tension that predates the SOC canon and is ripe for exploration. If the adaptation can land these characters and their dynamics, half the work will be done! And it has to be said: Ben Barnes is the perfect choice to play the Darkling. I am, shall we say, cautiously optimistic about this. 

Another potential sticky spot: this series changes Alina’s background from fully Ravkan to half Shu (of the Shu Han nation), making her a fictionalized half-Russian, half-East Asian heroineAddressing this change, main actress Jessie Mei Li says “they 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.” This in itself is not bad, but it does introduce racial elements to the show that were not in the books, particularly racial slurs being hurled at the protagonistWhether this works well in the show, or just seems in poor taste (particularly during a spate of horrific anti-Asian violence across North America), remains to be seen. Do we need to be adding racism to things? I don’t want to judge ahead of time, but let’s just say I don’t love the decision.  

If you haven’t already, have a look at the show trailer:

What do you think? Are you excited about this adaptation? How do you feel about book adaptations in general? Prepare for the binge watch by checking out the Grishaverse books from your local branch below: 

Shadow and Bone series:

Six of Crows series:

King of Scars series:

The Language of Thorns

Alyssia

About Alyssia

Alyssia is an Information Assistant at the Vaughan Public Libraries. Nothing makes her happier than a great book and a great cup of coffee. She loves fiction in all formats - books, movies, television, you name it - and is always on the lookout for awesome new music.

7 thoughts on “The Grishaverse Comes to Netflix

  1. What a great post about the show! We talked a little bit about this so I am in agreement with your thoughts on Six of Crows being the objectively superior show. I’m very curious to see how the show will handle some of their newfound tricky moments but I’m also cautiously excited, I think it could be a real hit. Hopefully it gets a second season so we can see the Dregs in all their glory!

  2. I think it’s time for me to move Six of Crows up on my to-read list! Personally book adaptations have been hit or miss for me – for example The Life of PI was a hit in the sense that watching the movie (hit) made me want to read the book (miss), and because I fear the same will happen with the beloved Paddington movies, I have yet to wade into the books.

    1. Karen I love and respect your ability to bring Paddington into everything. It’s what he deserves. I used to read the Paddington books back in the day and I THINK they match the movies in loveliness, like I just remember them being very cute. But I haven’t read them since I was a child so who’s to say!

      I did the same with Life of Pi….great film, didn’t finish the book lol. Funny when the you end up liking the movie more than the book, since usually it’s the other way around!

      1. Paddington belongs everywhere and can – should, in fact! – be included in any and all discussions.

        It’s so hard to tell sometimes with books you’ve read as a child, too! I remember loving Sartre’s Roads to Freedom trilogy (even reading the unfinished fourth book) as a teen (yeah I was that teen) but revisiting them in more recent years has not provided the feeling of recognition I got from them originally, sadly… I guess it’s for the best they no longer speak to my soul, since he was a pretty cynical dude and was the one who penned “hell is other people” haha!

      2. I loved the book Life of Pi! I haven’t seen the movie and probably won’t. For me, if I really like a book, I usually don’t want to see a TV or movie adaptation. And actually, the reverse is true for me as well. If I really like a movie or TV show based on a book that I haven’t read, I usually don’t have any desire to read the book. I’m happy with just one version of stories I like!

        So I’m unlikely to ever read Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption or the short story the movie Arrival was based on or watch the movie versions of Life of Pi or Never Let Me Go (even though I’ve heard they’re good!). And though I tried to read The Lord of the Rings books when I was in high school and got bogged down somewhere in the The Two Towers and abandoned them, I liked the movies so much that I don’t plan to try reading them again. On the other hand, I really didn’t like The Hobbit movie I saw and have vague, but fond memories of my dad reading me The Hobbit when I was little, so I do plan to read that myself at some point.

        Admittedly, I do make some exceptions to this (like to watch the BBC mini-series adaptation of And Then There Were None, which was very good!), but that’s my general rule. I know this is weird, but I’m okay with that. Ha ha.

        1. I agree with you about not feeling the need to watch/read something after the fact. I think a lot of the time, whatever you experience first is the one you’ll enjoy more. I also attempted the Lord of the Rings books…made it about a quarter into the first one before I just gave up and watched the movies again LOL. Not for me, but the movie trilogy is a masterpiece.

          I think to properly enjoy an adaptation (so you don’t end up going “that didn’t happen in the book!!” the whole time) you have to separate book and film; they are two very different mediums, so it can never be a 1:1 translation. It’s why the 2005 Pride and Prejudice is my favourite version even though it’s not as “accurate” to the book as the 1995 one. Come to think of it, I’m waaaayyy more lenient about adaptations of classic novels than newer ones. For example, I loved what they did with the newish Howards End miniseries, even though it was HYPER modernized and the 90s movie is already an almost perfect version. I wonder why that is!

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