Netflix Shadow and Bone’s Greatest Problem


By — Danny Kistner

Spoilers for the Shadow and Bone TV show and Grishaverse books. 

When I first heard that Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels were going to be adapted into a TV show, I had my concerns and frankly, for good reason. Netflix doesn’t exactly have a positive running streak with fantasy, let alone book to film adaptations, and my expectations nearly plummeted when I heard Netflix would be combining both the stories of the Shadow and Bones trilogy as well as the Six of Crows duology. A classic chosen one high fantasy and a heist action series, respectively, and though both are set within the same universe, the pacing is so wildly different I was less concerned with the acting and far more concerned with acquiring whiplash. 

To my great surprise, however, the Shadow and Bone series was excellent, at a borderline delightful. The casting was perfect, the acting was all around pretty well done, the costuming felt realistic (save for maybe Kaz’s fedora), the sets were all beautiful, and the dialogue felt true to the characters. 

Half of the story, which follows events leading up to the first book of the Six of Crows duology, is where problems begin to trickle in. Casting is nothing I have to complain about though, or acting, and both Inej’s and Jesper’s characters were picture-perfect. No, my problem lies instead with a staple Leigh Bardugo character; Kaz Brekker. 

In the book Six of Crows we follow the ruthless gangs of Ketterdam and the first real chapter we get is mostly of Kaz Brekker. He’s come to settle business, in the way that most gangs of the early 19th century did, and by the end of that chapter, we learn his most important character traits. He’s extremely intelligent and he’s ruthless. What did the show do? It took away these defining characteristics and turned him into an angsty cardboard box. 

Multiple times it’s stated that it’s almost weird he knows so much, and more than this, weird that he can bend all the knowledge he has to take from people what he wants. He is the planner, the brain, and as a heist story first and foremost, he’s irreplaceable.

In the show, however, this role was essentially given to a completely new and somewhat irrelevant character, a smuggler called the Conductor.  The Conductor helps get Kaz, Inej, and Jesper across the Fold to east Ravka and then stays with them…for whatever reason…mostly to steal Kaz’s thunder. Every idea that ends up working, every important solution that would have normally been thought up by Kaz, is given to this stranger, and my biggest problem with this, is that it’s an easy fix. 

The blueprints of the Little Palace don’t show an easy way in? Kaz could have just as easily suggested they hide with the theater troupe behind them. The lock is made by a Fabrikator and you need a specific material to get past it? Why didn’t Kaz suggest it, as it’s just as easily mentioned in the first episode he knows how to do that. Smaller moments as well; why did Kaz give fake money and not just pick the broken coin out of the bag, so that there would be no way to tell it was fake? It is these moments that don’t happen within the book, and it’s his moments of genius, his ability to always have a plan, that makes him one of the most fun characters to read about, because he always does the unexpected. 

My second point, his ruthlessness, is only a problem in combination with his lack of smarts. Kaz’s generally cold demeanor goes hand in hand with his trauma, an inability to get close to people that should have actually been far worse, given that the events of the show take place before the start of the books, and therefore closer to the actual moment of trauma. His emotional arc, wherein he begins to heal (something that doesn’t really show until his last moment on page in Crooked Kingdom) is constantly disrupted by the show’s incessant need to show that he cares for Inej, by giving in and betraying the whole of a several hundred page arc. 

And this frustration is only further with the position of power the show puts him in. Once again in the books, Kaz is an underdog, and the other half of his character’s journey is to claim the power he technically controls as something he officially controls. It’s more than just revenge as the show paints it, it’s that his gang doesn’t actually belong to him; giving him the Dregs in the show, while relieving him of any smarts and ruthlessness needed to gain such a position of power, removes every ounce of satisfaction from this aforementioned journey. The revenge isn’t as sweet, and the proverbial crown isn’t as deserved. 

To viewers of the show who have not read the books, I imagine his character felt fine, sort of just there in his all black and crow-headed cane, but as a reader of the book, it felt like a discount Kaz, similar on the surface, but in reality entirely different. 

I can only hope that season 2 is able to fix some of these problems, to let Kaz be terrible, and at the same time, allow for what made him so interesting in the first place.