‘Shadow and Bone’: Alina’s Story Is so Much Different Than the Books

Netflix‘s Shadow and Bone has fans absolutely smitten. The fantasy series, which follows Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), an orphaned mapmaker who uncovers her hidden powers, is being praised for its fantasy and feminist elements.

Though the series had a wealth of source material to tap into, the Alina fans see on the screen is very different from the character in the books.

[Spoiler alert: This article contains MAJOR spoilers from Netflix’s Shadow and Bone Season 1. Read at your own risk.]

Jessie Mei Li with her fist ready to fight as Alina Starkov in 'Shadow and Bone
Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov in ‘Shadow and Bone’ | David Appleby/ Netflix

Netflix’s ‘Shadow and Bone’ is based on Leigh Bardugo’s ‘Grishaverse’ novels

Shadow and Bone is based on Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse books. The first trilogy of novels are Shadow and Bone (2012), Siege and Storm (2013), and Ruin and Rising (2014). The series also crosses paths with books that occur in the same universe. They include Six of Crows (2015), Crooked Kingdom (2016), King of Scars (2019), and Rule of Wolves (2021).

The official Netflix description reads,

With the monstrous threat of the Shadow Fold looming, Alina is torn from everything she knows to train as part of an elite army of magical soldiers known as Grisha. But as she struggles to hone her power, she finds that allies and enemies can be one and the same and that nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. 

RELATED: Netflix’s ‘Shadow and Bone’ Has a Connection to ‘Harry Potter’

Jessie Mei Li was the first choice to portray Alina Starkov in ‘Shadow and Bone’

When it came time for Bardugo and Heisserer to begin casting Shadow and Bone for Netflix, the novelist only had one choice in mind. The 25-year-old English actor has had smaller roles in projects like StrangersAll About Eve, and Locked Up Abroad. However, her role as Alina Starkov is her largest to date.

Li was not all that familiar with Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels, but she quickly got up to speed after her first audition. “I had to sort of deep-dive read the books very quickly, especially the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and then Six of Crows,” TV Insider. “I wanted to just soak it all up during the audition process, and it definitely was helpful.” 

Bardugo was smitten with Li’s work as Alina as soon as she saw her audition. “When I got the role, I got an email from Leigh,” Li explained. “She sent me an email saying that she was so glad I’d gotten the part and that she’d seen my first tape and she was just like, ‘I wanted you from the start,’ which obviously was just so encouraging from the creator, as it were.” 

Alina’s story in ‘Shadow and Bone’ is very different from the books

When adapting Bardugo’s books and centering Li’s Alina, Heisserer hired Christina Strain, a half-Korean writer, to work on the show. Alina’s race was changed from full Ravkan to half Shu since Li is English and Chinese. In the books, Shu Han is a neighboring country influenced by Ancient China and Mongolia.

Alina experiences microaggressions and moments of racism on Shadow and Bone that Strain took from her own life as an Asian woman. In the series, Alina is also a bit bolder. She chooses to cross The Fold to follow her best friend, Mal (Archie Renaux). In the book, she is forced to cross.

Shadow and Bone returns a lot of agency to Alina. In Bardugo’s earlier books, the map-maker was always reacting to things instead of actively making choices. Her choice to suppress her abilities is a non-event in the books. Then, when interacting with Mal and General Kirigan (Ben Bares), Alina also chooses her actions and deals with the consequences.

“I wanted there to be changes,” Bardugo told Elle. “I don’t believe that a page-by-page adaptation is necessary or interesting.”