Thoughts on Netflix’s Shadow and Bone Adaptation (Spoilers)

Normally I do not have a Netflix subscription, but a friend surprised me with a gift card so I could watch Shadow & Bone, so here are some thoughts I had while watching the first season. This comes with the disclaimer that I barely remember reading Shadow & Bone and Siege & Storm, and I never read Ruin & Rising at all. I did read both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom.

1. Overall, I Loved the Series

One benefit of barely remembering the books is that I didn’t have a lot of expectations going in to watching the adaptation, either for casting or plot, and I loved most of the choices that were made. I loved pretty much all of the casting choices, particularly for the Darkling and Alina. I was also pretty invested in the story and eager to see what happened next (because I sort of knew but also didn’t know, both because of my memory lapses and because the plot was obviously changed, since the Crows were integrated into Alina’s story).

2. I Agree the Racism Wasn’t Handled Well

I’ve seen a lot of viewers who are not happy the writers decided to make Alina part-Shu and then make it a plot point that she doesn’t quite belong in Ravka and experiences racism because of it. My biggest issue is that I don’t think it was well-integrated. It felt a bit as if the writers were going along, writing their story, and then would suddenly remember Alina’s supposed to face racism and then have a random character shout a racial slur at her and then disappear. A few times Alina tried expand on the point by explaining that she’s used to being Othered because of her race, so being apart because she’s a Grisha with legendary powers isn’t an entirely new feeling for her, but overall it just felt awkwardly done.

3. I’m on the Fence about how the Crows Were Integrated

I loved seeing Kaz and company on screen, and he, Inej, and Jesper were definitely badass. Jesper in particular comes across as having real flair and skill with his guns, which impressed me because he wasn’t my favorite character in Six of Crows or anything, but he’s fabulous in this series. However, I have some reservations about the show writers giving the Crows a task that they, very obviously, are not going to accomplish. As soon as it comes up that their task is to kidnap Alina and bring her back to Ketterdam, viewers know they’re not going to succeed. First, that ruins any sense of suspense. Second, it ruins the idea that Kaz and his friends can accomplish the impossible. Because clearly they do NOT. I’m not sure how they’re going to get out of the mess that failing has put them into in season one, and I don’t know what heists they’ll be up to next, but I do hope they’ll be given more room to actually pull it off this time.

4. Mal Is Way More Awesome Than in the Books

Again, I barely remember the books and I never read Ruin & Rising, but I do remember feeling “meh” about Mal as a love interest while reading. In the show, however, I’m a huge fan. His loyalty to Alina, his deep friendship with her, his protectiveness, and his support are all clear. He also gives her her space to do what she needs to do. If she’s not going to take the hints that he’s in love with her, someone else needs to snatch him up because he’s just incredibly nice!

Briana

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

Rule of Wolves

Information

Goodreads: Rule of Wolves
Series: Nikolai Duology #2
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2021

Official Summary

The wolves are circling and a young king will face his greatest challenge in the explosive finale of the instant #1 New York Times-bestselling King of Scars Duology.

The Demon King. As Fjerda’s massive army prepares to invade, Nikolai Lantsov will summon every bit of his ingenuity and charm—and even the monster within—to win this fight. But a dark threat looms that cannot be defeated by a young king’s gift for the impossible.

The Stormwitch. Zoya Nazyalensky has lost too much to war. She saw her mentor die and her worst enemy resurrected, and she refuses to bury another friend. Now duty demands she embrace her powers to become the weapon her country needs. No matter the cost.

The Queen of Mourning. Deep undercover, Nina Zenik risks discovery and death as she wages war on Fjerda from inside its capital. But her desire for revenge may cost her country its chance at freedom and Nina the chance to heal her grieving heart.

King. General. Spy. Together they must find a way to forge a future in the darkness. Or watch a nation fall.

Star Divider

Review

The ending of King of Scars left me disappointed, fearful that the sequel would retread old ground instead of moving forward with the story about a nation rebuilding. Few series seem to treat the aftermath of a war, preferring instead to close with the “happily ever after” of an enemy defeated. King of Scars feels novel in that it depicts a country unsure of the future after the collapse of the old regime. Though readers may be rooting for Nikolai to be king, the people of Ravka do not know him, nor are they sure they want the kind of future he represents. This uncertainty, this fragility is what makes the book so interesting. I was glad to discover that Rule of Wolves continues to explore the fraught relationships between people and nations, rather than trying to recreate the storyline of the Shadow and Bone trilogy.

Leigh Bardugo’s masterful storytelling is at its height here, as she weaves together the stories of several characters, each with their own hard choices to make. Nikolai is trying to keep a country together, even as he is torn apart by the monster instead. Zoya is trying to atone for following the Darkling by serving her country as its general. Nina is trying to lay her old lover to rest even as she glimpses the possibility of a future with another. Their stories intertwine along with several others, showing how the fate of a nation can rest in the hands of not only its leaders, but also the people who get swept up in events along the way. But, since this is Ravka, things only seem to get worse as the story progresses. The cliffhangers at the end of each chapter will lead readers breathless to know more, desperate to learn that everything turns out all right, after all.

Part of what I enjoy so much about Bardugo’s work is that is often offers the unexpected, upending tropes and refusing to fall into the patterns genre fiction so often embraces. Rule of Wolves is no different. While I predicted a few plot twists, others completely surprised me. This feels right, because leading a nation often means there are no easy answers. While the outcomes were largely satisfying, they did not feel trite. And they leave the door open for more exciting adventures to come.

My one main criticism of the work is one other fans may likely not share. I thought the cameos were overdone. While it is nice to see old favorites return, seeing them all in one book felt more than fan service than great storytelling, especially when some of these characters do not have a real reason to be mingling with each other. I understand, however, that many readers probably enjoyed these moments. And, really, they are too small a part of the book to really hinder my enjoyment.

Rule of Wolves is another stunning installment from Bardugo to the Grishaverse. Fans of Bardugo’s work will not want to miss out on this exciting adventure–especially as it seems to be setting up a future novel, maybe even the ones readers have been waiting for since Six of Crows.

4 stars

The Lives of Saints by Leigh Bardugo

Bardugo Lives of Saints cover

Information

Goodreads: The Lives of Saints
Series: None; related to Grishaverse
Source: Library
Published: October 6, 2020

Official Summary

Dive into the epic world of international bestselling author Leigh Bardugo with this beautifully illustrated replica of The Lives of Saints, the Istorii Sankt’ya, featuring tales of saints drawn from the beloved novels and beyond. Out of the pages of the Shadow and Bone trilogy, from the hands of Alina Starkov to yours, the Istorii Sankt’ya is a magical keepsake from the Grishaverse.

These tales include miracles and martyrdoms from familiar saints like Sankta Lizabeta of the Roses and Sankt Ilya in Chains, to the strange and obscure stories of Sankta Ursula, Sankta Maradi, and the Starless Saint.

This beautiful collection includes stunning full-color illustrations of each story.

Star Divider

Review

The Lives of Saints is a fun collector’s book for fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse books, featuring short stories about various saints and illustrated with stunning portraits of each one. I use the word “fun” a bit loosely because many of the stories are dark, but they’re intense and interesting and sure to please anyone who likes hagiography or just Bardugo’s writing.

The stories remind me more of Catholic medieval hagiography than of more modern saints’ lives, which means the tales are pretty wild. (The Middles Ages, after all, gave us Saint Guinefort, a greyhound that became venerated as a saint. Strange times.) Each of Bardugo’s stories is short but brings readers on a roller coaster of a ride, showing the saints facing obstacles, performing miracles, achieving the impossible, and ultimately either being revered or condemned.

The fact that so many of them end darkly, with the saints being turned on by the very people they helped, is a nice nod to the fact that the line between sanctity and devilry has always been blurred. One person’s divine miracle is another’s dark magic. On a personal level, I was a bit depressed by it all and felt badly for all these fictional characters who were not appreciated for what they’d done, but I do appreciate how well Bardugo taps into fears around the unknown and around people who might be blessed…or might be cursed.

I did think the book felt a little long. While I found each story interesting individually, there were a couple points where I wondered if I could just get to the end of the book already. I borrowed an e-book from the library and felt compelled to finish it, but if I owned a physical copy, I think I’d be more likely to read a few stories at random here and there and maybe take weeks or months to eventually get to them all.

This is a beautiful book any Grishaverse fan will be pleased to read, but even if you aren’t familiar with the world, I think you can appreciate the strange and magical stories Bardugo has created about these saints.

Read More of Our Bardugo Posts

4 stars
Briana

Thoughts on the Ending of King of Scars

Potential spoilers for all six books currently in the Grishaverse.  Read ahead at your own risk!

The ending of King of Scars is certainly dramatic.  Reviewers have reacted with stunned gasps and increased excitement for the sequel.  I have to admit that my reaction differed.  Initially, I thought the ending was cheap drama, an easy way to create shock without regard to the cohesiveness of the story.  Upon reflection, I understand more clearly why I felt this way.  The ending of King of Scars is shocking–but it also undermines nearly everything that happened up until that point.

King of Scars is a thoughtful depiction of how a handful of individuals are dealing with the aftermath of Ravka’s civil war.  Nikolai is fighting the monster the Darkling left inside him.  Zoya is attempting to come to terms with the adoration she once felt for the Darkling–and working to make amends for the ways that adoration made her complicit in Ravka’s suffering.  Their struggles make clear the lasting effects of a corrupt leader and of war.  The Darkling may have died, but his influence remains, both in Nikolai’s condition and in the cults that have sprung up to declare him a Saint.  Fighting evil is never as easy as simply killing the villain.

Resurrecting the Darkling takes away from the power of this narrative.  The focus moves from the struggle to face the personal demons of the past and back to the traditional fantasy narrative of toppling a dark lord.  This is perhaps more exciting.  It gives the characters something physical to punch, someone personal to direct their anger towards.  But it also lessens the poignant depictions of how Nikolai, Zoya, and Nina are attempting to accept what they did in the past, both to survive and to save a nation.  In real life, enemies do not typically return to give people something to hate. They have to learn to live with themselves and to move forward– without having someone onto whom they can transfer their anger and their self-loathing.

Maybe Leigh Bardugo feared that the story of a king trying to fight his own anger and save his country from economic collapse simply is not compelling.  Maybe it would strike readers as shabby next to the romanticism of the previous trilogy, complete with its seemingly all-powerful dark lord.  But there is something compelling about Nikolai’s journey and about Zoya’s.  Those journeys remind readers that the fight never ends, that sometimes the important moments are the quiet ones.  King of Scars is very different from lot of fantasy books–and that is its strength.

I was sorry to see the Darkling return because I do not want to see the focus of the duology shift from the personal journeys back to yet another quest to kill the Darkling.  We have been there, done that.  Even King of Scars was a quest to kill the Darkling(‘s monster) once and for all.  I really hope that the sequel will surprise me.  But, in the meantime, I’ll be mourning the return of a villain I do not think the story needs.

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo Review

Information

Goodreads: King of Scars
Series: Nikolai Duology
Source: Purchased
Published: January 29, 2019

Official Summary

Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war—and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried—and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

Star Divider

Review

Potential spoilers for the Shadow and Bone trilogy and Six of Crows duology. Very minor spoilers for King of Scars itself. (As in, don’t read the review if you want to know literally nothing about the story, but it’s safe if you don’t mind basic facts like who’s in the story, where it’s set, etc.  being revealed.)

King of Scars takes readers back to Ravka, where King Nikolai, Zoya, Genya, and other favorite Grishaverse characters are dealing with the aftermath of the civil war and the death of the Darkling.  It’s a novel that begins by backing away from the high stakes plot Bardugo gave readers in Six of Crows to ask how a king and his advisors hold together a crumbling country that might be at risk of going to war again and how the leaders who just survived a war deal with their own scars.  This might not be what readers were initially expecting, but the introspective approach is thoughtful and engaging, while it lasts.

Because the story also takes readers to Fjerdan, where Nina is completing a dangerous undercover mission for the king, while trying to bury some of her grief for Matthias.  Her story is more action-packed, following her deep in enemy territory as she tries to complete her tasks and learn about her the way her new magic works.  Nina’s plot line is fascinating, as it shows readers more of Fjerdan and Nina’s struggles to overcome her dislike of the country’s oppression of Grisha to try to see what Matthias might have loved about it, and it introduces a great new cast of characters.  However, her plot also means that King of Scars is not exactly “Nikolai’s book,” which is how it was marketed.  In fact, even the events that occur in Ravka with Nikolai are frequently narrated from Zoya’s point of view.  I didn’t have a problem with this, and I thought all the POVs were well-written, but I think this is going to be surprising if readers were expecting an exclusive focus on Nikolai.

One part of the book I did struggle with was the constant allusions to the original Grisha trilogy with Alina.  I didn’t particularly care for the first two and never read the third one, and it didn’t fully occur to me that Bardugo is created an entirely cohesive universe where it is necessary for readers to have read all the books before King of Scars to understand what’s going on.  If she continues to do this with future series, I think it’s going to create a real barrier to entry to her work for new readers, partially because (sorry) the original Grisha trilogy is mediocre compared to her most recent work, and readers (like me) might not want to read through three “meh” books to get to the good ones.  As it was, I was vaguely confused about some references and what was happening and realized I probably needed to consult a Grishaverse wiki to really understand what was happening, even though I could see that Bardugo tried to include just enough explanation of previous events to keep readers on track.

My other reservation is the ending of the book, which I feel is actually a bit unoriginal and undermined a lot of what was set up as the focus of the story in the beginning of the novel.  I don’t want to be more specific, however, to avoid spoilers.

Ultimately, King of Scars is a well-developed epic fantasy with imagination and scope and a complex, compelling cast of characters.  Bardugo is really becoming a force to be reckoned with in the fantasy world, and it’s always nice to find a book that reminds me of why I love the genre.

Look for Krysta’s upcoming discussion post about the ending of King of Scars!

4 stars Briana

 

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