Shadow and Bone: The biggest differences between series and books explained

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Especially in season 2, “Shadow and Bone” deviates enormously from the novels. These are the biggest differences between the Netflix series and the books.

After two years of waiting, season 2 of the popular fantasy series “Shadow and Bone” started streaming on Netflix on March 16, 2023. While there were already some notable deviations from the novels by Leigh Bardugo in the first season, these are further expanded and more drastic in season 2.

The sequel to the Netflix series takes great liberties with the source material, from entirely new storylines to a big, unexpected twist at the end that should surprise loyal fans of the Grishaverse books in particular.

Warning: Spoilers for “Shadow and Bone” and the book templates follow!

“Shadow and Bone” links and invents storylines

Shadow and Bone links and invents storylines
© Netflix

There are many details and backgrounds where the Netflix series and book originals differ. But among the biggest differences is clearly the linking of storylines from the “Legends of Grisha” trilogy centered on Alina (Jessie Mei Li), Mal (Archie Renaux) and the Dark One (Ben Barnes) and the “Glory or Grave” trilogy about the history of the iconic characters from Ketterdam.

The Crows never meet Alina Starkov in the novel, as the events in the Crow Trilogy don’t begin until three years after the Shadow Corridor is destroyed. This gap is filled in the series by a fictional backstory of the criminal gang that runs parallel to Alina’s story.

Consequently, the Crows never traveled to the Little Palace in the books. Since they never had to cross the Shadow Corridor, the Conductor (Howard Charles) was also reinvented for the series. Milo, the goat that comforts Jesper (Kit Young) during the crossing, also does not exist in the book originals.

The backstory of Entherzer and Grisha soldier Nina Zenik and her relationship with Drüskelle Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman) is also slightly altered in the series, but settles down over the course of the story to fit the plot of the dilogy: Matthias ends up in Hellmouth Prison, as in the book, and Nina becomes part of the Crow Gang.

In the second season, following up on the fictional prequel, the series picks up events from the Crow dilogy that don’t actually appear until the second volume, The Gold of Crows, such as the fight against Pekka Rollins.

The first impossible raid of the Crows in the series does not become the breaking into the Eistribunal, but the search for the sword Neshyenyer of Sankta Neyar, which does not appear in the novels at all and is only mentioned in the form of one of the legends from Leigh Bardugo’s companion book “The Lives of the Saints”.

With the journey to Shu Han, the series invents a completely new storyline and, with the sword Neshyenyer, an ultimate weapon in the fight against the Dark One, which concludes the trilogy in season 2 and takes a completely different course in the series than in the book.

The final battle against the Dark One and the destruction of the Shadow Corridor

At the end of season 2 - Shadow and Bone Season 2
© Netflix

Not only because of the sword Neshyenyer, the final battle of Alina against the Dark One ends quite differently than in the book. Alina does sacrifice Mal, who as a true firebird can give her the power she needs to destroy the Shadow Corridor and kill the Dark One.

However, since the series links Volumes 2 and 3 of the trilogy and consequently skips many storylines, the Soldat Sol from the books are never introduced, so Alina never transfers her powers to them, but instead retains her power. Instead of using an entherzer, Alina brings Mal back to life through the use of Merzost magic, becoming a sort of shadow summoner, which causes her story to take a completely different trajectory.

Without the loss of her powers, Alina never fakes her death as a martyr, unlike in the book originals, to begin a quiet life in the countryside with Mal.

Instead, she remains as Nikolai’s fiancée and helps lead Ravka into a new age. On the other hand, Mal takes on the role of Sturmhond and the two go their separate ways for the time being to see if they were only connected by fate or if they can find their way back to each other even without his abilities as a force multiplier.

What the end means for a possible continuation of the series and how it could continue with “Shadow and Bone”, you can find out here:

The Dark One’s Name and Backstory

Dark One (Ben Barnes) - Shadow and Bone Season 2
© Netflix

The Dark One had many names during his long life, but one was invented especially for the series: General Kirigan is not mentioned in the books.

Also, the Dark One reveals his real name, Aleksander, to Alina much earlier compared to the book, which makes it seem more human, but the revelation loses significance compared to the original in the series.

On the other hand, the Dark One’s backstory is presented more dramatically in the series and is significantly altered. In detail, this narrative from the series is presented in the graphic novel “Demon in the Wood”.

The book originals only weakly illuminate the Dark One’s past, but in the series the character gets a new backstory for it: as a former soldier in the Tsar’s army, Aleksander was betrayed and persecuted along with the other Grisha.

His beloved was murdered before his eyes. In a desperate attempt to increase his power to defend the Grisha, he accidentally created the Shadow Corridor. In the books, however, the creation of the Shadow Corridor was motivated not by pain and despair, but by a hunger for revenge and greater power.

Other differing details and backgrounds

Alina’s background is interpreted differently: In the series, Alina is half Shu, whereas there is no mention of this in the books – in the novels, it is merely mentioned that Alina is from a small town in Ravka near the Shadow Corridor.

Mal plays a more important role in the series: the books are told exclusively from Alina’s perspective, which is why we don’t experience many moments from Mal’s point of view and the character seems less sympathetic in the books than in the series.

In Shadow and Bone, Mal shows his feelings for Alina more openly (in the books, their relationship is not romantic in nature from the start), shows more understanding of her situation, and seems more selfless overall.

Alina’s scar has a different meaning: in the book, Alina, overwhelmed by her feelings, accidentally injures herself on a shard she is holding when Mal returns from a hunting trip. In the series, she intentionally inflicts the injury on herself to distract herself with the pain and thus trick the test for Grisha abilities.

In addition to the changes as mentioned earlier in Shadow and Bone, there are many other minor and major plotlines and details in the book originals where the Netflix adaptation deviates from the original. If you don’t know the Grishaverse novels yet, you can still read them after streaming season 2 and discover exciting differences.

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