It may be titled for Leigh Bardugo’s other famous series, but Netflix’s Shadow and Bone is still everything I wanted as a fan of Six of Crows.
Like all fans of Leigh Bardugo’s writing, I was overjoyed when I read that her fantastic YA fantasy duology of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom would be adapted to a Netflix series.
I was admittedly less overjoyed when I read that the show would actually combine Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom with Leigh Bardugo’s first and perhaps more popular YA fantasy series, Shadow and Bone.
That’s no intended slight to Shadow and Bone, which I know has a broad and fervent fanbase and which I enjoyed reading (the first two at least). Rather, this is because the Six of Crows duology knocked me flat on my back and I never really recovered from them. The Six of Crows duology connected with me on a level that few books — YA or otherwise — have been able to do. I’ve read each of them multiple times and aggressively recommended them to friends and family on numerous occasions.
So while I was thrilled to hear that Netflix would be turning my favorite Leigh Bardugo stories into a television series that would bring Kaz, Inej, Jesper and the entire Dregs crew to life, I was a little bitter that they’d have to share space with a story and characters that existed in the same universe, but whose stories and journeys I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing.
I assumed that my experience with Netflix’s Shadow and Bone would be me essentially fast forwarding through all the Shadow and Bone parts to get to the Six of Crows sections, all the while lamenting that Six of Crows had to share a show at all with the other half of the Grishaverse and ending up embittered that my favorite crows had gotten the short shrift.
However, once the show actually dropped, I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only was I genuinely interested in all the Shadow and Bone parts, but that all the Six of Crows content left me incredibly satisfied and eagerly awaiting more.
Since Netflix’s show is called Shadow and Bone, I do feel like I should at least give a shoutout to that part of the story since I spent basically the entire lead-up to show’s release saying I didn’t and wouldn’t care about it at all and would only watch the Six of Crows parts.
I was wrong about that and I’m glad to be and admit that I was wrong about that, because actively disliking half a show so that you can watch the other half of that same show is a nightmare scenario and luckily not one I actually had to endure.
All the Shadow and Bone parts are fantastic, though — again — as someone who has only read the first two books once, I can’t say that I’m the best authority on how well (or not) Alina, Mal and The Darkling were adapted from book to screen. Granted, everyone even passably familiar with the story knew the minute Ben Barnes was announced as The Darkling that that was pitch perfect casting and the show proved that.
However, it wasn’t just Ben Barnes that made all the Shadow and Bone sections of the show more captivating, but all the characters. Alina and Mal in particular were, for me at least, better served by the broader scope of the show than the first person point of view of the books and the show did a fantastic job building out the world and crafting the main narrative.
All that said, while I’m happy to report that I didn’t just skip through all the non-Six of Crows sections (nor did I even want to!), I will also admit that it was all the Six of Crows sections of the show that I was looking forward to the most and all the scenes that I’ve rewatched again and again.
And as much as I’m curious to see what happens next with Mal and Alina (because I genuinely do not remember the second book at all), it’s getting to the actual storyline of the Ice Court Heist from Six of Crows that makes me want season 2 of Shadow and Bone the most.
The reality that we weren’t even getting actual Six of Crows book content in the first season of Shadow and Bone was one of the reasons I initially tempered my joy at getting an adaptation. However, mark this down as another thing I’m happy to be wrong about with this show, because getting to essentially see a Six of Crows prequel story play out on my screen was absolutely fantastic.
Of course, it’s always a little scary to see some of your favorite characters in the hands of someone else, living out a story that isn’t the one you’ve read or was crafted by the person who created them.
However, even if showrunner Eric Heisserer didn’t (previously) have a Kaz profile picture and (currently) a Six of Crows header for his Twitter account, it’s still obvious from the minute Kaz, Inej and Jesper step onto the screen that everyone involved in this show has the utmost love and respect for these characters and what Leigh Bardugo has done with them.
Since this is a prequel story, you do have to step into the show realizing that the characters we see on screen are not exactly the same as the ones we meet in the very first pages of Six of Crows. Kaz is perhaps not as ruthless as we envisioned him, Inej as we meet her in the show has not yet killed someone, her relationship with Jesper is not as close as it is in the books and the dynamic between Kaz, Jesper and Inej as friends and partners is still being built.
That being said, it’s clear that even if we’ve met these characters a bit earlier than we did in the books, they are still the Kaz, Jesper and Inej we read about and fell in love with in Leigh Bardugo’s story. While these characters and their dynamics are not exactly what they were in the books, we can see them becoming those characters and building towards those relationships.
And anyway, I always think it’s wise to watch adaptations with the knowledge that that’s what they are — adaptations, not direct translations. Which means we ought not to be precious about what does or doesn’t get brought over in the specifics or minute details, as long as the spirit and core of the characters are preserved.
The biggest surprise for me when it came to the Six of Crows part of the show was the story of Nina and Matthias, which is basically set off apart from either the main plotline of Alina, the Darkling and Mal and subplot of Inej, Kaz and Jesper for most of the show but holds its own and captures our attention.
The story of how Nina and Matthias meet and fall in love is told only in flashback and memory in Six of Crows, but here we get to see it play out in all its beauty and tragedy. Danielle Galligan as Nina Zenik is just as bright and disarming as she is in the books, and I was instantly transfixed by her. She embodies Nina in all her boldness and charm and managed to make us all fall in love with her almost immediately.
Calahan Skogman has a bit of a harder job as Matthias Helvar in that he has to get us to believe in a hateful character and then transform him into a likable one, but he’s able to easily embody both a vicious Fjerdan Drüskelle and a young man slowly unlearning detestable and unfounded prejudice while also falling in love.
Their storyline is the most disconnected from the rest of the show, but I was never impatient to get through it and was captivated from start to finish by their journey, both individually and as a couple. The two embody the enemies to lovers dynamic perfectly, and it’s a testament to the show and both actors that I was incredibly heartbroken to witness it all fall apart even though I knew it was coming the entire time I was watching.
While Nina and Matthias were the biggest surprise to me in the show, it was Inej, Jesper and Kaz especially who were the revelation.
While Jesper has the easiest translation from book to screen, there’s also a danger in making him too campy or casting him simply as the comedic relief. However, Kit Young gives a standout performance in a cast that was full of them, making Jesper delightfully funny without making him simply a walking joke.
He’s just as snarky and charismatic as I imagined when reading Six of Crows, with the same big heart and deep well of loyalty that makes him so lovable and so easy to root for despite his role of being a hired gun for one of the nastiest gangs in the Barrel.
Inej, too, translates beautifully from page to screen, retaining both her softness and sharp edges without glazing over either. Inej is my favorite character from Six of Crows and one of my favorite characters in all of fiction, so I was eagerly awaiting her small screen debut and I’m so thrilled that Amita Suman brings Inej to life perfectly.
Amita Suman’s Inej is just as graceful and deadly as the character deserves. She brings Inej’s quiet strength, compassion and steadfastness to the forefront, showcasing the character’s kindness and faith even as she commits crimes and throws her knives across a room with pinpoint accuracy.
And while Inej is my favorite character, it was Kaz Brekker whom I was most worried about in the move from book to screen. Kaz is a very inward facing character who benefits the most from the first person point of view in the novel, with his internal monologue during his parts of the Six of Crows providing so much of the nuances of his character. Without that internal monologue, I was afraid that Shadow and Bone would strip him of everything that made him interesting — either by highlighting only the jagged parts of him or smoothing him out until he was unrecognizable.
Luckily, the writers of the show are not only talented, they hired Freddy Carter to do the job — and what a tremendous job it was. Some of Kaz’s internal monologue was made external in order to flesh out his character — a necessary change since this is a visual adaptation — and Freddy Carter delivers each of those moments with the jagged edges we expect of Kaz Brekker with just enough softness that we, as book readers, know is lurking deep beneath the surface.
But it’s what Freddy Carter does with his glances, his movements and his intensity that truly brings Kaz to life. He’s able to portray the cool and collected criminal, the simmering rage just beneath the icy exterior and the yearning fragility that’s almost — but not quite — hidden by his darkness.
The dynamics between the characters is an absolute joy to witness as well. You can tell that these three haven’t been working together as long as they have been in Six of Crows but that they’ve worked together long enough to have a strong foundation. You can tell they genuinely care about each other — Kaz reluctantly, Jesper enthusiastically and Inej quietly — and over the course of the show, you can see how that trust and care grows.
Also, all the Kanej scenes are perfect, but that’s an entire other article for another time.
Just as with the writers and creative team, it’s obvious that the actors and actresses tasked with bringing the Dregs of Six of Crows to life in Netflix’s Shadow and Bone loved and respected the source material and their specific characters.
Not a single one of them are just actors playing their characters, they are their characters. That sort of faithfulness to the characters and the spirit of the books makes Inej, Kaz, Jesper, Nina and Matthias stand out even when they’re the obvious B plot in a much bigger story.
In fact, once I finished the show the first time and started immediately queuing it up again for a second watch, I had to berate myself for initially being skeptical of getting a Six of Crows prequel. How could I have been upset about getting more content about my beloved Dregs?
Despite being only (admittedly) weakly connected to the main narrative, the Six of Crows content was carried by the strong acting of all the Dregs and the writing, which cares deeply about each of these characters and understands their sincere connections to one another (if not their connection to the main storyline).
So while I was initially worried at the prospect of getting a Six of Crows prequel story, I’m now grateful for Netflix’s Shadow and Bone and glad that my favorite characters are in the hands of these actors and these writers.
Now, where’s that second season renewal announcement so I can meet Wylan, see all the Dregs together and witness the madness of the Ice Court heist?
You can watch Netflix’s Shadow and Bone now here!