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Shadow and Bone books: the major differences between the Netflix show and the novels

General Kirrigan in Shadow and Bone
(Image credit: Netflix)

Warning: The following contains major spoilers for both Shadow and Bone on Netflix, and Leigh Bardugo's Grisha books! Turn back now if you're not all caught up with the series and don't want spoilers!

Shadow and Bone is streaming now on Netflix, and if you've watched the whole thing, you might be wondering just how much inspiration it took from its source material – because, yes, in case you didn't know, the series is based on a series of books by Leigh Bardugo, and is an adaptation that draws from both the first Shadow and Bone novel and Six of Crows, another book in the same fictional world.

The series and the books have a lot in common, but there are still quite a few major changes. For one thing, the show brings together characters who have never met in the novels – and also invents a new storyline for the Crows entirely. We've rounded up the five biggest differences between the Shadow and Bone books and the Netflix series below. But again... spoilers!

The Crows

The Crows in Shadow and Bone

(Image credit: Netflix)

The most obvious difference is that the Crows – Kaz, Jesper, and Inej – are not present in the Shadow and Bone trilogy. They appear in the Six of Crows books, two of which were released, and the events of which happen after the main Shadow and Bone series. The Crows get a whole new story in the Netflix series – in the novels, none of them ever so much as lay eyes on Alina Starkov, while the show has them plotting to kidnap her. They eventually agree to go their separate ways in the final episode, which will likely lead to a more book-accurate storyline in the future.

The trio's plotline in Shadow and Bone basically acts as a prequel to the story of Six of Crows. Nothing that goes down in the Netflix show would affect what could be next for Kaz and co in a potential season 2, which means the possibilities for future shenanigans – or heists – are pretty much endless. We won't spoilt that here, but you can read about what to expect from Shadow and Bone season 2.

Alina and Mal

Alina and Mal in Shadow and Bone

(Image credit: Netflix)

Alina and Mal are seemingly platonic childhood best friends in the Netflix series, but in the books, it's made very clear that Alina is actually in love with her pal. In fact, we know pretty much from the get-go that Alina has feelings for Mal, while in the show, it's all just subtext, albeit very strong subtext.  

Mal ends up returning Alina's feelings in the book, too, and he's pretty jealous of the Darkling. Right before Alina and Mal find Morozova's stag, the duo actually share their first kiss. They definitely haven't reached that stage in the show, but with how close they are, it's not a stretch to imagine a potential season 2 could advance their relationship that one step further.    

The ending

Jesper and Kaz in Shadow and Bone

(Image credit: Netflix)

The ending of the book and the show are fairly similar. In both, the Darkling takes Alina onto the skiff, and expands the Fold to swallow the town on the other side in darkness. Alina also realizes that she can control her powers despite the Darkling killing the stag in both versions of the tale.

The most obvious difference between the book's ending and the Netflix series is that the Crows are present in the show. This leads to a far more dramatic showdown than in the book, which is pretty much action-free. Plus, in the book, Alina calls to the assembled ambassadors for help and, when none of them come to her aid, she flees into the darkness with Mal – leaving the skiff and everyone on board to the mercy of the Fold and its gruesome volcra. In the show, Mal and the Darkling both go overboard, and fight each other before a volcra drags Kirigan to his apparent death (of course, we know he survived).

In the book, Alina also uses the Cut, a move only the Darkling was thought to be capable of performing. This basically means she can use her light abilities like a knife, and she breaks first the mast, then the entire skiff, with her powers. In the show, Alina doesn't use the Cut at all, instead blasting her light around her as she usually does – and by doing so, she manages to save some of the town, as well as lead the skiff through the Fold. It's not clear in the series if she can use the Cut at all, but it's a question a potential season 2 could answer.

Nina and Matthias

Nina and Matthias in Shadow and Bone

(Image credit: Netflix)

Shadow and Bone gives us plenty of scenes featuring Nina and Matthias together, tracking their burgeoning relationship – until Nina falsely accuses Matthias of being a slaver. We know she did that to save him from the Grisha, but Matthias understandably wasn't that receptive when Nina tried to explain her reasoning through the bars of the brig.

In Six of Crows, we meet Nina and Matthias after all of that's happened. That doesn't mean we don't get to see it at all, though. Their history together is told via flashback, which means their fledgling love story in the show will be familiar to book readers. They key difference is that, by the time the show catches up to Six of Crows (if it does), we'll already know the past between the Grisha and the witch hunter – in the book, we don't get the full picture until after Nina and Matthias meet again.  

Alina's heritage

Alina Starkov in Shadow and Bone

(Image credit: Netflix)

In the books, Alina's heritage isn't really clear – but in the show, it's explicit that she is part Shu, and she faces a lot of prejudice. In a roundtable attended by GamesRadar+, Jessie Mei Li talked more about the decision.

"It was so refreshing for me to be able to bring my real life experiences to this role," she said. "I grew up in a predominantly white area with mainly white friends or non-Asian friends. It really does shape who you are… You always feel a bit like you don't completely belong, and it was so nice to be able to bring that to this character who, her journey is essentially to find out who she is and where she fits."

Bardugo also spoke about the diversity of the books: "I wanted to write fantasy worlds that reflected the world around me, which is not very straight, and not very white," she explained. "And it was important to me to create a world that was inclusive, and I really hate the idea that romance and adventure and magic can only belong to one kind of person. So I have tried very hard to make sure that that is not how my books feel."


If you've finished Shadow and Bone, check out our guide to the best Netflix shows to find something new to watch. 

Molly Edwards
Molly Edwards

I'm an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things film and TV for our Total Film and SFX sections. I previously worked on the Disney magazines team at Immediate Media, and also wrote on the CBeebies, MEGA!, and Star Wars Galaxy titles after getting my BA in English.