Entering the fold: Netflix’s successful adaptation of “Shadow and Bone”

By Elsa Ying (’23) | May 10, 2021

Within the past decades, the young adult genre has grown exponentially to establish itself as one of the biggest markets for books. With an average of thirty thousand books published each year, mostly centering teen stories, a few series and their authors have risen to be considered the “classics” of this niche. One of these sagas include the Grishaverse, a world crafted by author Leigh Bardugo and first introduced in 2012 with her debut book, Shadow and Bone. After finishing the Shadow and Bone trilogy, Barudgo quickly rose to fame with her second series, the Six of Crows duology—also set in the same world. Then, in early 2019, Bardugo announced on Instagram that Netflix had purchased the adaptation rights to both the original trilogy of Shadow and Bone and the spin-off duology of Six of Crows with Eric Heisserer as the showrunner and Bardugo as one of the producers.

The story is set in a fantasy world with people called Grisha, who are able to manipulate various elements and material depending on their specific classification. In the war-torn, Imperial Russia-inspired country of Ravka, young mapmaker Alina Starkov discovers her Grisha abilities. She is hailed as the Sun Summoner, a prophesied saint sent to destroy the Fold—a barrier of shadows and monsters that divides Ravka. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in the urban city of Ketterdam, criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker and his Crows, Inej Ghafa and Jesper Fahey, get a job to kidnap this mythical saint for an exorbitant price.

Despite traditional aversion to change in book-to-screen adaptations, Shadow and Bone stands unique as one of the few large-scale fantasy series that was able to make major changes to plot, characters, and events with majority fan approval. Since Six of Crows happens chronologically after the events of the main Shadow and Bone trilogy, Heisserer and his team essentially wrote completely new plotlines for the Crows, which was mainly received positively. Outside of the fanbase, Shadow and Bone is drawing major praise as well with impressively high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and positive reviews from a variety of critics. Ever since its release on April 23, the show has also occupied Netflix’s number one position in multiple countries. For now, it seems like Shadow and Bone is thriving.

What adds further weight to its commercial success is the representation that Shadow and Bone has ambitiously set out to provide. Bardugo’s source material was already famous within the book community for her diverse array of characters, particularly in the fan favorite Six of Crows. The show adaptation has mostly managed to preserve and add representation, with abundant characters of color, LGBTQ characters, and disabled characters as part of the main cast. In particular, Kaz Brekker and his use of a cane (based on the author’s own disability), Inej Ghafa and her Suli heritage, Jesper Fahey and his explicit bisexuality, and lead character Alina Starkov and her new half-Shu identity stand out as well-written marginalized characters, a unique occurrence as on-screen fantasy tends to emulate white and heteronormative societies.Overall, Shadow and Bone appears to be a success story, and a unique one at that—within the first week of its release, it has already been likened to major franchises like Game of Thrones and Ocean’s Eleven. Just as Netflix’s previous adaptation of the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before franchise marked a decisive shift in the teen romance genre to portraying stories from people of color, Shadow and Bone stands as proof that fantasy with universal representation and a largely teenage audience, can and does, perform well.

Categories: Entertainment

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