Leigh Bardugo’s Books and the New Netflix Series
JODIE RAMODIEN, KATHLEEN NOTOHAMIPRODJO and RHYS SAGE | REPEAT OFFENDERS
In our first Grapey Book Club, members of the Grapeshot team discuss the Grishaverse and how the Netflix Series Shadow and Bone impacted their opinions.
When I read Shadow and Bone, the first book of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse years ago, I didn’t think much of it. I remember it being another somewhat formulaic YA narrative with a protagonist sharing the same special sauce that all YA protagonists seem to have. In this story, that innate specialness manifests itself in the character of Alina Starkov, ‘The Sun Summoner,’ a girl who has the ability to summon light. Other strong thoughts I had, among an otherwise hazy recollection of Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, are that Mal was super annoying and bland, and that I was a strong Alina/Darkling shipper. When I began binging the Netflix adaptation those were my main takeaways from the story so far.
The first two episodes didn’t grab me, but having recently finished the second season of Succession, I was desperate for another show to watch, so I kept watching. Episode three got me hook, line and sinker with its humour and some phenomenal comedic timing by Kit Young, who plays the character Jesper. The general cast brought so much to the characters of Alina, Mal, and the Darkling, that I couldn’t help but like them all in a way I hadn’t in the book. New characters such as Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Nina, and Matthias, who instead appeared in Bardugo’s other book series, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, also made their way into the adaptation. Showrunner Eric Heisserer managed to seamlessly merge two disparate book series into the same plot.
After finishing the show and accidentally becoming obsessed with the Grishaverse I decided to start reading Six of Crows, Bardugo’s arguably more popular series. The tagline on the book framed it as being “Ocean's Eleven meets Game of Thrones,” and this description wasn’t far off; although it’s much more like Ocean's Eleven than it is Game of Thrones. Unlike in Shadow and Bone where the story more or less focuses on the chosen one, Six of Crows focuses on misfits and con artists, the dregs of society, the bottom of ‘The Barrel’ — a dangerous neighborhood in Bardugo’s Grishaverse, and one that is inspired by Amsterdam’s Red Light District. In this series our protagonists are cynical, downtrodden, and conniving — I loved them. Kaz Brekker’s “scheming face” was so much fun to read about that I didn’t put the book down for the two days it took me to finish it. My final thoughts are that this series has so much heart that it’s impossible not to love. I highly recommend watching it and reading the books, and if not reading all of them, at least reading my favourite series, Six of Crows.
Look, I’m not going to lie, I read the Shadow and Bone books a while ago. I couldn’t remember shit except thinking that Alina kind of annoyed me and Mal needed to cut the shit real quick. Let’s be honest, fucking ‘true love’ is kinda icky. I mean it’s not really ‘true love,’ it’s more of a weird teen love triangle with Mal being a needy ass piece of work.
Anyways, that was the book. But from these pretty bleak beginnings — maybe I’m embellishing it wasn’t that bad — came Netflix’s new TV show. And my oh, did it deliver. Every single character was well cast, and the multiple storylines were consistently interesting. Netflix’s Shadow and Bone was fun and light-hearted at moments, but then harsh and angry — but hey at least Ben Barnes wasn’t a manipulative prick, right?
Overall, it was an enjoyable experience full of everything I thought the show would need. However, the star of the entire show was Kit Young, who just so perfectly encapsulated the sporadic piece of work that Jesper is. Alongside him was Kaz (Freddy Carter) and Inej (Amita Suman), and honestly this trio was the best. Every single scene they had together engaged me further and I was invested in this trio of dumbasses. The acting of every single character was done so seamlessly that I completely overlooked all the parts of the books I didn’t enjoy initially.
Look, I could tell you how much I loved the acting, the characters, the clothes and the writing, but the simple truth is it wasn’t those things keeping me in the show. Honestly, my favourite part of the show was the characters — like how the fuck was everyone so pretty and amazing, ugh!!! I binged the entire show in a handful of days and then convinced my family to watch it too.
And it was this casting that I respect entirely.
Film and television adaptations of novels can sometimes be a bit disastrous. Take Rick Riordan describing the Percy Jackson films as his “life’s work going through a meat grinder” as a prime example. With book fandoms sometimes dismayed by how their favourite characters are portrayed on the screen, it is not surprising that there was nervous anticipation for the release of Shadow and Bone.
Hopefully you will have realised by now that the Grapeshot team is very much in love with the adaptation, and there was no need to worry. If the Percy Jackson films are grinded meat, then the Shadow and Bone series is a glorious steak. With author Leigh Bardugo also taking the role of executive producer, the show perfectly captures the fantastical setting and dark magic of the Grishaverse, while also making clever revisions to the storyline of her novels by meshing her trilogy Shadow and Bone and duology Six of Crows together.
Having only read the Six of Crows duology, I started the show mostly invested in the Crows. There were multiple factors which made me quickly obsessed with how they were portrayed, from the impeccable casting of Kaz, Inej, and Jesper, to the way their relationships were carefully and authentically cultivated throughout the show. However, I could ramble on forever about their costumes and props. These gang members were fashionable. Nothing amuses me more than knowing that Kaz, the gang leader of the Dregs — aka the Bastard of the Barrel, aka Dirtyhands — wears a fedora. Similarly, all of Inej’s knives and Jesper’s guns were intricately decorated, showing no detail was overlooked. And don’t even get me started on Milo the goat. I would throw myself into the Shadow Fold for him.
However, after binging the entire show within a day, I can definitely say that I stayed for Alina. From what I hear (see reviews above), Alina is a little insufferable in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, closely following the ‘pick me’ trope of many YA characters in dystopian universes. In the show, Bardugo has made revisions to her character, rewriting her as half Shu and mixed-race. Played by Jessie Mei Li, who is English and Chinese, Alina’s identity shows the implications of ‘looking like the enemy’ during the Ravkan war against the Shu Han. However, this portrayal of identity isn’t simply placed for ‘representation points,’ rather bringing important discussion to a story that centres on identity and belonging.
After topping the Netflix charts for 12 consecutive days, Shadow and Bone has now been renewed for a second season. I absolutely cannot wait to see more heists (completed in style), acts of dark magic, and the inclusion of much awaited characters Wylan and Nikolai. Until then, I’ll be obsessively drawing each character while I give the show a re-watch.