SPOILERS FOR SHADOW AND BONE AND THE GRISHAVERSE NOVELS AHEAD!
No fantasy adaptation can just be simple these days – something that’s alternately exciting and worrying for fans of the source material, and exhausting for any reviewer trying to write coherently about said fantasy adaptations. If it’s not Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings prequel series being pieced together from mostly contradictory notes, it’s The Witcher‘s first season playing chronological guessing-games with the audience – and then there’s Shadow And Bone, which perhaps takes the cake (or should I say, waffle) in this competition of complexity.
The Netflix show isn’t a straight-up adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s debut novel, Shadow And Bone, although it will presumably continue to bear that book’s title. It also includes characters from Bardugo’s fourth Grishaverse novel, Six Of Crows, which is set a few years after her first trilogy, in a different region of the Grishaverse. But rather than follow two timelines simultaneously, Shadow And Bone (the show) imagines an original scenario where these Crows characters and their storylines overlapped with the events of Shadow And Bone (the book) sometime between their canonical backstories and the events of Six Of Crows. The end of season one roughly matches up with the beginning of Six Of Crows.
Or at least, so we thought. Shadow And Bone‘s showrunner, Eric Heisserer recently declared that the plot of Six Of Crows can’t happen until after The Darkling is dead, a statement he reiterated in an interview with Variety where he suggested that, while the Crows offer a clear path forward for the show “once you get to the end of Alina’s storyline”, in the meantime their arcs will continue to interweave with Alina’s, “without really disturbing too much of the separate storylines that they’re on.” Heisserer’s reasoning is that the central premise of Six Of Crows – that a mysterious new drug named jurda parem has appeared in the Grishaverse, giving Grisha heightened abilities – would break the world’s established magic system too soon.
Obviously, this begs the question of why it was necessary to introduce the Crows this early, if the events of their own book won’t occur onscreen until after Alina’s journey is complete and they won’t substantially impact her arc in the meantime, but the real question we should be asking is what the Crows will do in season two now that the Ice Court heist is apparently off the table and jurda parem can’t yet be introduced. Put on your theorizing hats, people: we’re about to dive down a deep lore rabbit-hole.
First thing’s first, the Crows will have to deal with their mysterious client Dreesen once they return to Ketterdam in season two without a Sun-Summoner. That’s a given whether or not Dreesen is involved in the creation of jurda parem, as I had speculated (and still believe, although I no longer think it’ll be anything more than an undercurrent of a storyline in season two). But Dreesen doesn’t seem wily enough to handle Kaz Brekker on his own, so I’m sure he’ll turn to Pekka Rollins for protection from the Crows – positioning Pekka as a main antagonist in season two, and allowing for flashbacks to Kaz’s history with the ruthless gang leader.
The details of Kaz’s plan to defeat both men simultaneously are still unclear, although he informs his Crows that, for it to work, they’ll need to hire a Heartrender whom neither Dreesen nor Pekka are familiar with – and that’s where Nina Zenik comes into the picture. At the end of season one, Nina is on her way to Ketterdam alongside the Crows, and overhears them discussing Kaz’s plan – but we don’t see her actually join the team, so it’s possible that season two will find her loyalties divided for a number of reasons.
A peculiar plotline left dangling after the finale was the matter of Nina being a spy for The Darkling, and even being personally assigned by him to infiltrate a trio of rogues from Ketterdam who intended to capture Alina Starkov. It’s a significant alteration from the books, especially since it would have been easy enough to keep her canon backstory, but it doesn’t pay off…yet. If Nina joins the Crows, it’ll only be a matter of time before she realizes they’re the same scoundrels she was supposed to hand over to The Darkling, and that could be exactly the right kind of crisis to drive her into the hands of Pekka Rollins – taking a plot-point from Six Of Crows and giving it a fresh twist.
In the books, Nina is alone in Ketterdam and out of options when Pekka’s people find her and bring her to the Emerald Palace, where Pekka offers her a job at one of his pleasure houses. But Kaz sends Inej Ghafa to scale the six-story building at night in the pouring rain with his own counteroffer – a moment too cinematic to miss out on, in my opinion. Besides, returning to the Emerald Palace would give us an opportunity to check up on Poppy, an original character and breakout star from season one who would be a great foil for Nina’s humor.
Another source of conflict between Nina and the Crows could be Matthias Helvar, the Fjerdan witch-hunter whom Nina loves. Shadow And Bone dramatized a key scene from Six Of Crows in which Nina was forced to accuse Matthias of being a slave-trader and have him put in prison in order to save him from a team of Grisha who would have killed him otherwise – but now, with Matthias headed for Ketterdam’s notorious Hellgate prison, Nina will do anything in her power to free him and clear his name; and she might use him as a bargaining chip in her dealings with Kaz. The Hellgate prison break could be a pretty awesome set-piece, even if it would lead to complications with Matthias joining the Crows much earlier than in the books.
Then there’s Tante Heleen, who still has in her possession the deed for Kaz’s precious Crow Club – not only his primary source of revenue, but his headquarters and the capital of his sprawling criminal empire. I highly doubt the monstrous Heleen will hand it over without a fight, and she’s capable of prolonging that fight thanks to her resources and connections. But one thing she doesn’t have anymore is a Wraith, and Inej Ghafa knows her weaknesses and how to exploit them almost as well as Heleen knows hers. This storyline could also help Inej get closer to learning the truth about her family, from whom she was separated as a child by slave-traders who sold her to Heleen.
Shadow And Bone made the deliberate choice to give Inej a brother – despite her being an only child in the books – and indicated that her brother was also sold off somewhere, although where is a mystery even to Inej. Heleen won’t know either, most likely, but she’ll know the identities of the slave-traders who captured both children, and Inej will track them down: of that I have no doubt. Her desire to fight the slave-trade is a major part of her character arc in the books, and the way she memorized every detail about her captors’ physical appearances and advocates for the other girls indentured by Heleen suggests it’s no different in the show.
Inej’s dream of owning a ship from which to launch this valiant crusade is something she only properly formulates in Six Of Crows during a powerful epiphany in an incinerator shaft (long story), but Shadow And Bone can plant the seeds of this dream if Inej encounters Nikolai Lantsov, the charismatic and flirtatious Ravkan prince who first appears in the Grisha trilogy disguised as a privateer named Sturmhond. In the books, Nikolai seeks to redeem Alina Starkov’s image with the Ravkan population by having her pose as his bride-to-be – but to avoid a massive geographical division in the show, he could announce their “engagement” in Ketterdam. I’m brainstorming here, but some kind of plot to assassinate the prince could make for rather compelling television.
Who would be pulling the strings behind such a scheme? Well, a few candidates come to mind. Obviously, The Darkling is one of those, but another could be Jan Van Eck, the Crows’ nemesis from the books. Since we know Eric Heisserer intends to introduce Van Eck’s son Wylan in season two, it stands to reason that Van Eck himself will also make an appearance, and it wouldn’t even be that much of a spoiler to establish him as a villainous or antagonistic character this early, as long as he’s working with the Kerch Merchant Council on his plots.
Assuming we’re lucky enough to get a third season of Shadow And Bone, which would presumably cover the events of Ruin And Rising, the final book in the Grisha trilogy, we’d have to do this all over again with another original plotline for the Crows to fill the gap between now and Six Of Crows. But the books provide something in this case – something that could unlock a whole new corner of the Grishaverse, fix a major problem with season one, and seamlessly interconnect with Alina’s ongoing character arc.
Alina and Mal’s storyline in Ruin And Rising is heavily focused around returning to their place of origin, which in the books is the orphanage at Keramzin. But Shadow And Bone changed Alina and Mal’s ethnicities, making them both biracial – and establishing Alina very clearly as being half-Shu (Mal is possibly of Suli descent, based on actor Archie Renaux’s Desi heritage, which raises the way-too-complicated-to-get-into-in-this-post question of whether he’s Inej’s long lost brother). There’s a lot of valid criticism of the way Shadow And Bone uses Alina’s biracial identity as shorthand for a tragic backstory, subjecting her to a constant string of micro-aggressions, abuse, insults, and racist attacks, without ever bothering to show Shu Han culture except through racist war propaganda, or allowing Alina an opportunity to explore her culture.
That’s something that could change at anytime, but season three offers a tantalizing opportunity for both Alina and Mal to journey further into their past than the orphanage at Keramzin – which could mean traveling to Shu Han at roughly the same time that the Shu scientist Bo Yul-Bayur and his young son Kuwei will be perfecting the formula for jurda parem. At this point in the show, The Darkling will be on his way out, and Jan Van Eck will have already been introduced – all that’s needed is for the Crows to somehow end up in Shu Han. And Six Of Crows provides a precedent, in a Kerch-funded mission to the Shu capital of Ahmrat Jen that takes place shortly before the book opens. The aim of the mission is to capture Yul-Bayur, but he is accidentally killed in the crossfire without the Kerch ever finding out – and Kuwei is captured by a Fjerdan team who take him to the impenetrable Ice Court.
This mission would also allow Inej to meet her most notable opponent from the books, a Ravkan assassin named Dunyasha who was trained in Ahmrat Jen. Inej’s Suli region adheres that a person’s sum total of sins and crimes add up to become that person’s evil doppelganger, or “Shadow”, who will one day face them in battle – and Dunyasha is Inej’s Shadow. With Inej’s arc being heavily focused on her faith, it makes sense to introduce this concept as soon as possible and begin foreshadowing their duel.
But if I’m rambling at this point, it’s only because I love my Crows deeply, and I want them all to have fulfilling character arcs while we wait for the Ice Court heist. Is that really too much to ask? Eric Heisserer got himself into this mess by insisting that the Crows had to be part of Alina’s storyline as his pitch to Netflix – now we have to hope his writers room actually has a plan for them beyond the initial “wow” factor of the Crows trying to kidnap the Sun-Summoner in season one.