On April 23, Netflix released its much anticipated young adult fantasy series, “Shadow and Bone.” I binged all eight episodes in one day, and it was worth it.
Since premiering on Friday, Shadow and Bone has received mostly positive reviews with the occasional negative review. I personally agree with the majority of critics who liked the show (just in case me bingeing it all in one day didn’t give that away). If I had to give it a rating, I would give it 4.75/5 stars because I have some minor issues with the show.
Shadow and Bone is based on Leigh Bardugo’s 2012 novel of the same name and also introduces characters from her 2015 novel Six of Crows. The majority of the story takes place in Ravka, a fictional land inspired by 19th-century Imperial Russia, and follows the story of Alina Starkov (Jessie Me Lei).
Reader be warned: Mild spoilers are ahead.
Here’s the World (As We Know It)
Ravka is torn in half due to the Shadow Fold, a wall of darkness filled with flesh-eating monsters. Despite the dangers of the Shadow Fold, crossing it is necessary for Ravka to survive as a nation. The only thing that can destroy the Shadow Fold are the mythical Sun Summoners, powerful members of the magical class of Ravkans called Grisha.
When Alina’s childhood best friend, Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux), has to cross the Shadow Fold, she goes with him. When Mal is attacked by monsters, Alina goes to protect him and discovers that she’s also a mythical Sun Summoner. Alina is forced to leave her friends behind and is placed in the care of the mysterious General Kirigan, also known as The Darkling (Ben Barnes). Did I mention that he’s also the most powerful Grisha in the world?
Thousands of miles away lies the city of Ketterdam, which is inspired by 19th-century Amsterdam and Victorian London. Ketterdam is the home to many criminals, including skilled thief Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), knife-wielding spy Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), and sharpshooter Jesper Fahey (Kit Young). When the trio of criminals are offered a life-changing sum of money to capture the Sun Summoner, they take the risk and go for it.
The series writers faced several challenges in creating the series. They had to convert a beloved series to the live screen (a formidable challenge that often doesn’t pan out), and more, they were tasked with incorporating two parallel novel plotlines into a seamless single story. Not an easy task.
Having read the book series before watching the show, I have a unique perspective on how well the show captures the essence of the books and stays true to the original stories while re-writing them to be contemporary.
What I Liked
The Timelines Blend Seamlessly
The show tells the story presented in the first book in the Shadow and Bone trilogy and introduces some of the characters (mainly Kaz, Inej, and Jesper) from the Six of Crows duology. Although the Shadow and Bone trilogy and Six of Crows duology exist in the same world, the story in the Six of Crows novel begins a few years after Shadow and Bone. This made many fans (myself included) nervous about how the writers would blend the two timelines.
I can’t give away much without major spoilers, but the show serves as a prequel to Six of Crows. Though some events from the novel occur, it mainly shows how the characters were before the events of Six of Crows. I enjoyed this because I’d argue that the characters from Six of Crows have a much darker nature than the characters from Shadow and Bone, which creates an interesting dichotomy between the two stories as they’re blended into one. It also leaves room for surprises for fans of the book, and watching the characters interact is mesmerizing.
The Characters Are Compelling and (Mostly) Stay True to the Books
I think it’s fair to say that the characters are one of the best parts of the book, so I’ll be breaking down the six main characters and how they compare to the books.
I thought Jessie Mei Li did an incredible job as Alina. She did a great job of portraying Alina as an insecure teenage girl who just wants to fit in but can’t help that she’s different. I like that they made her and Mal biracial in the show because it added more of a sociopolitical narrative to the story. It also helps that Ravka is based on Imperial Russia, which was one of the most diverse empires in modern history.
Ravka is based on Imperial Russia, which was one of the most diverse empires in modern history.
Mal, played by Archie Renaux, changed the most from the books, from being biracial to having a stronger presence in the story. He also has more emotional depth in the show beyond being the "boring guy" in a love triangle (more on that later).
Though I believe that the casting of this show was perfect, whoever cast Ben Barnes as the Darkling (aka General Kirigan) deserves a raise. My expectations were high after watching the trailer, and I was not disappointed. The character has a very mysterious and seductive (I mean, LOOK AT HIM!) nature, and Ben Barnes nails it.
Out of the six lead characters, I was the most nervous about Kaz because I think he was the most difficult character to adapt from the book to screen. However, Freddy Carter nails it. My only criticism is that I wish that Kaz’s character was around when I was a teenager because I know I would’ve loved him even more back then (side note: don’t make me choose between Kaz and The Darkling because I couldn’t make that decision to save my life).
When it came to Inej, Amita Suman couldn’t have done a better job. Inej is an incredibly complex yet very lovable character, and I could tell that Amita studied the character closely. If you don’t come out of this show loving her, I don’t know how.
Jesper was the comic relief in the books, and Kit Young did a great job portraying this aspect of his character, as well as his charming nature. He’s the definition of a loveable criminal, and I don’t think they could have picked anyone else to portray him so well.
The Romances Are Top Notch
A lot of people don’t like heavy romance in fantasy, but I happen to love it. Shadow and Bone does a great job of adding a romantic subplot to a fantasy show, and it also helps that every romance is compelling. To avoid giving too much away, I’ll only go over the romances that can be seen in the trailer, which is the love triangle between Alina, Mal, and The Darkling, as well as Kaz and Inej’s relationship.
Love triangles often feel overdone in the world of YA fiction (looking at you, Twilight and Hunger Games). Though I somewhat agree with that sentiment, if you give me a well-written love triangle, I’m as happy as a kid in a candy store. Though we have the tropes within the love triangle trope (the average girl, guy who’s obviously good for her, and hot guy who’s bad for her), Shadow and Bone still manages to make this one of the best love triangles I’ve seen in a while. You can tell how each guy feels about Alina by the way he looks at her, and they’re both different kinds of love (or manipulation, as the case may be).
Everyone loves a good friends-to-lovers story, and that’s what Alina and Mal are. The way he looks at her is so pure, and it’s the way any girl or woman wants to be looked at. It’s a sweet and healthy relationship, but this is a show, and we need some toxicity for entertainment purposes. This is where The Darkling comes in. He looks at Alina the same way every woman secretly wants to be seen: desirable. However, it’s a dangerous relationship that creates a compelling dichotomy that will have you screaming at your television.
The other romance seen in the trailer is between Kaz and Inej (sorry, not sorry if you didn’t pick it up, but LOOK AT HOW THEY LOOK AT EACH OTHER!), and they’re a unique take on the good girl and bad boy romantic storyline. Though she’s a criminal, Inej is just a teenage girl who’s been through hell and back; she has a heart of gold and wants to hold onto her childhood innocence as long as she can. It’s truly beautiful that she has a positive attitude after experiencing so much trauma. On the other hand, Kaz is a hardened criminal. Though there’s still a sense of humanity in him, he hides it deep down. Only Inej can see that there’s something more to him, but he’s too stubborn to show her.
You can feel the connection between the two characters from their first scene together to their last, constantly leaving the audience on the edge of their seats.
What I Didn’t Like
If you can’t tell already, I absolutely loved the show. However, there was one thing that rubbed me the wrong way. Though viewers who are unfamiliar with the books can enjoy the show (I watched it with my mom, and she liked it despite not reading the books), they will likely see some plot holes. It could just be me, but I think there were details in both Kaz's and Jesper’s storylines that didn’t need to be there because they would confuse viewers who didn’t read the books, but viewers who read them could figure them out.
Let’s hope that the writers of the show introduced these moments in hopes that they could expand on the story during the second season.
If you like young adult fantasy, Shadow and Bone is the show for you. With its compelling characters and intense romances, you won’t be able to keep your eyes off your screen. Happy bingeing!
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