Shadow and Bone season 2 is a fantastic yet unfaithful adaption

Eleanor Granstrom, Staff Writer

When my mom and I finished watching the second season of Shadow and Bone on Netflix, she turned to me and asked, “Are there more books after this? Like, do you know what happens next?” I told her, yes there are more books after this, but I frankly don’t know what’s going to happen next since the show is so different from the books. 

The book trilogy Shadow and Bone was written by Leigh Bardugo, with two sequel duologies, Six of Crows and The King of Scars, that take place in the same universe. On Jan. 10, 2019, Netflix announced they would be producing an eight-episode series adaptation of Shadow and Bone. It was decided that the Six of Crows characters would have a side plot in the show along with the Shadow and Bone plot. Recently, on March 16, season two was released. To say the least, my reaction to this season has been very complicated.

Make no mistake, I’m not here to say that the season was bad—quite the opposite. Every person involved in this production continued to bring the magic of the Grishaverse, the name fans use to refer to the fantasy world Leigh Bardugo created in the Shadow and Bone trilogy and its two sequels, to life with beautiful and accurate architecture, costumes, acting and special effects. Both the plot and characters were authentic and addicting. However, I cannot in good faith call the second season a true adaptation, even if the changes weren’t necessarily all bad. 

I made a deal with myself that if we got a second season, I was going to take a step back from the adaptation process and be a little bit less hands-on,” warned Shadow and Bone author Leigh Bardugo, according to Collider

Her lack of involvement was clear when comparing the show’s faithfulness to the books in season one versus season two. Season one had fairly small plot changes, while season two felt like a rushed conglomeration of different plot lines from the books and many plots were entirely forgotten. To the show’s credit, I would never have been able to tell this if I hadn’t read the books first, but since I did, my expectations were to see my favorite book scenes on screen. I could not help but feel disappointed and angry at the lack of a faithful adaptation, no matter how good the show is.

The other problem with changing the plot from the book is how it affects the book’s original messages. Season two of Shadow and Bone completely ignored characters Zoya and Inej’s trauma and Jesper’s ADHD and gambling addiction. For their characters, all characters of color, to be ignored in favor of Kaz, a white man, doesn’t send a good message. Speaking of bad messages, the main queer couples on the show (Jesper and Wylan, Nadia and Tamar) were not given the same slow build up and romantic tension before getting together as the other straight couples. I understand that these changes are most likely because only so much can be included in the show, but there were chances for the show writers to correct this. 

The thing is, the majority of the large changes in season two’s plot are no better or worse than the plot in the books. For example, season two’s ending; any fan of the books will know how jarring it was when Alina and Mal split ways and didn’t consider living at Keramzin. The couple’s ending in the books was peaceful and included a message about how abandoning power can make you happier. However, many questioned the message of Alina, a woman, losing her power in order to be happy and settle down with a man. So, in the show, Alina keeping her powers and staying at the palace as leader of the second army could be considered a better ending. In my opinion, each ending has its own merit. 

The plot change I feel most conflicted about is Kaz’s confrontation of Pekka Rollins being moved up the timeline so far. In the books their confrontation was built up over the course of two five hundred page books. To see it “completed” within one season and a half felt like the worst kind of betrayal. That is, until the scene where Kaz hallucinates Jordie confronting him about Kaz’s revenge as motivation for life being unsustainable. It created a foundation for Kaz to grow beyond what he did in the books. Once again both plots have their merit, and I’m unsure which one I prefer. 

So, in the end, I’ve been forced, like Leigh Bardugo, to step back and think of the show and the books as two separate identities. Once again, while this means it was a disappointingly unfaithful adaptation, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad show or season. I definitely recommend watching Shadow and Bone season two on Netflix despite its flaws.