Shadow And Bone: 7 Major Differences Between The Book And The Netflix TV Show

When a beloved book is adapted, for its fans there’s always a combination of wild excitement and heart skipping. Over the years, there’s been some incredible movies and television shows based on fantasy book series and there have also been a share of big bummers. With Shadow and Bone on Netflix finally out after almost a decade of development, while there are a number of key differences between the 2012 book by Leigh Bardugo, readers of the Grishaverse can rejoice. Alina Starkov is in good hands at the streaming service.

Season 1 of Shadow And Bone adapts the story of the first book in the trilogy, with some creative liberties made to implement other characters from the wider Grishaverse. Whether you just finished off the series and are curious about how it measures up to the book, or are a fan wondering about the changes made, let’s dive into it. Warning! SPOILERS are ahead for Shadow and Bone. I highly recommend you grab the book or binge the series before proceeding!

Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov in the Second Army in Shadow and Bone

(Image credit: (Netflix))

Alina Starkov Is Half Shu

There’s one major difference on the surface level of Shadow and Bone that was made regarding the series’ main character, Alina Starkov. In the books, she is described as simply an orphan who is small, pale and mousy, with dull brown hair and eyes. As she grows in her Grisha power, she becomes more beautiful and healthy. For the series, it was decided to make Alina half-Shu, which means mixed-raced Asian in the Grishaverse. Alina having a more complicated background adds some depth to her character. The Shu are often thought of as the enemy, so there’s an added conflict within Alina of not feeling like she belongs even further and confronting racism alongside her journey. It’s actually a clever addition to Alina’s backstory, which only helps tell the protagonist’s established story.

Ben Barnes as General Kirigan in Shadow and Bone

(Image credit: (Netflix))

The Darkling Goes By General Kirigan

In the Shadow and Bone book, Alina knows the Darkling as the Darkling right away. But, it’s not until later that she finds out that he is also the Black Heretic, aka the one who created the Shadow Fold. In the series, Ben Barnes is first known as General Kirigan before being called the Darkling and the Black Heretic. This was done in order to better conceal the character’s identity from viewers, especially those who will be going into the series blindly. We all like a good twist, and if the Netflix show can make a few people gasp at the revelation it makes for an even more entertaining arc for Barnes’ villain.

Kit Young, Amita Suman and Freddy Carter as Kit, Inej and Kaz in Shadow and Bone

(Image credit: (Netflix))

The Six Of Crows’ Origins Are In The Mix

The biggest change between the first book and the series is the addition of the Six of Crows storyline into Alina and the Darkling’s first of three stories. While the events of Shadow and Bone are taking place, the Netflix series is also introducing audiences to Inej Ghafa, Kaz Brekker, Jesper Fahey, Nina Zenik, and Matthias Helvar, the characters from Leigh Bardugo’s duology, Six of Crows. Since those novels take place chronologically after the first Shadow and Bone book, this aspect of the season is completely new to the Grishaverse. As much as the series is an adaptation, it’s also a Six of Crows prequel.

the stag in Shadow and Bone tv series

(Image credit: (Netflix))

Alina Is Even More In The Dark About The Black Heretic’s Plan

Shadow and Bone books are from the perspective of Alina Starkov, and it is, therefore, up to her to figure out specific plotlines in the story in order for everything to move along as it needs to. But, in the Netflix show, there are a few changes made which allow for some scene variety, and don't always involve Alina being clued in. In this spirit, the series does not tell Alina about the Darkling’s plans to find the Stag to amplify her powers until much later in the story. In the book, Alina is told by the Darkling himself, but she believes it will be used only to amplify her powers, rather than be used as a collar to control her, until Baghra clues her in.

Archie Renaux and Jessie Mei Li as Mal and Alina in Shadow and Bone

(Image credit: (Netflix))

Alina And Mal Are Better Friends Than Lovers

In the Shadow and Bone book, Alina is straight up in love with her childhood friend, Mal. Leigh Bardugo’s novel spends a ton of time on Alina crushing and yearning to be reunited with him, and in the third act the plot is still driven by her love for him and her need to keep him alive at all costs. The couple have a few key romantic moments in the book and there’s some clear jealousy and tension between Mal and the Darkling. But, in the series, Mal is treated much more deeply and balanced than as a romantic interest. The series establishes why he's been important to Alina since childhood, and while it’s clear they care for each other and there’s love there, Mal is not driving the story, Alina is. It’s an improvement from the book that still respects the source material.

Ben Barnes and Jessie Mei Li as the Darkling and Alina in Shadow & Bone

(Image credit: (Netflix))

There’s A Deeper Connection Between The Darkling And Alina

Another improvement for Alina and her relationship to her romantic interests is through her arc with the Darkling in the series. In the books, Alina is attracted to him, and the pair begin to get physically involved before she learns of his plans to control her, after which she escapes him. As the book reaches its climax, the Darkling completes his plan to put the Stag collar on her and amplify her powers under his control. The book makes it seem like she was only a pawn in his game and the moments they shared were manipulation, though the pair do have electric chemistry. However, in the Netflix show the Darkling actually believes Alina to be his match; they seem to have mutual deep feelings for each other aside from the Darkling controlling her powers for his own plans.

Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov in the Shadow and Bone finale / ending

(Image credit: (Netflix))

Alina’s Finale Moment Is A More Empowering One

One last difference between the book and TV show to touch on is how Alina comes into her power and has her big finale moment in Shadow and Bone. In the novel, it takes seeing Mal fall off the ship in the Shadow Fold for her to realize that she has control of her power, even with the collar around her neck, when she uses it to save Mal and defeat the Darkling (for now). As I’ve mentioned, her actions are reactionary because of her love for Mal, where in the show Alina breaking into her power for her final moment is empowering to her journey as the Sun Summoner. The series creates a bigger moment for its hero which is hers, while still giving Mal a major part to play in wrapping up the first season.

As you can tell, I was very much impressed with the differences between the book and Netflix series for Shadow and Bone. There will always be some changes that need to be made between the mediums, but in this case, the story was not sacrificed in the process. What did you think about the changes? Vote in our poll below!

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Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.