Sommerleigh Pollonais, Senior Writer
Warning: Mild spoilers ahead
Netflix recently released their latest series to take the world by storm, Shadow and Bone, which is based on the Grishaverse novels written by Leigh Bardugo. The first season follows the first two books (Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows) and tells the story of Alina Starkov, a young woman who grows up in an orphanage, alongside her best (and only) friend Malyen “Mal” Oretsev. Both of them are ostracised by the world for being different (racism sucks in any universe) and do everything they can to stay together, including avoiding being tested by The Grisha to see if they have any magical abilities.
Years later and all grown up, Alina is a cartographer and Mal is an army tracker. The two join a crew travelling through “The Fold”, a wall magically created by someone known as The Black Heretic. It’s a dark and shadowy border, filled with flying monstrosities known as “volcra” and it divides the lands of the fantasy kingdom of Ravka. When they are attacked by the volcra Alina’s light-manipulating ability manifests itself for the first time. The world then believes she may be the prophesied saviour known as the Sun Summoner.
There’s a lot to unpack there and I’ll admit, I felt a bit lost watching the first couple of episodes as the series doesn’t waste much time holding your hand. If you haven’t read the books (like myself) you really have to pay attention to what’s going on. Fortunately, the staff behind creating this larger-than-life series does a wonderful job of bringing this Russian-inspired fantasy world to life and by the last episode I was chomping at the bit for more of this Grishaverse.
Well you guys know me, there was no way I wasn’t gonna share the good news about Shadow and Bone. So if you’re still on the fence about investing your precious time in this series, let me give you a few reasons why you should definitely give it a look. And just to make sure I’m playing fair, I’ll throw in a couple reasons you might wanna skip it.
With a mild spoiler warning here are my FIVE REASONS TO BINGE SHADOW AND BONE AND TWO REASONS YOU MIGHT WANT TO SKIP IT:
Binge Reason #5: World Building
Game of Thrones might’ve been the most recent series to bring a vast fantasy world to the screen, but they weren’t the first and they certainly won’t be the last. Shadow and Bone delivers on a world that feels equally real and magical.
Ravka and all the lands that fit within it are all fully-fleshed out and while they share some similar traits, they all have cultures that make their individualities stand out. Fjerda, Ketterdam, Kerch, Little Palace, each area has its own look and feel and I can’t wait to see the rest of this world as the series continues.
Binge Reason #4: Where Did You Get That Outfit?!
Although this is a series with magic and monsters the world and the people in it are heavily inspired by early century Russia. This shows particularly in the costume designs.
From the military uniforms to the beautiful cloaks and dresses worn by the Grisha, I absolutely loved all of it! As a Star Trek fan, I was also on board for the colour coordination that was used to identify Grisha with different abilities. Heartrenders wore red, Inferni wore blue with yellow and red flames embossed on the front, and General Kirigan will demand your attention every time he steps on screen in his black and silver cloak with the gorgeous embroidery that flows down his spine.
Every character gets a chance to stand out in some eye-catching number and these costumes strike a beautiful balance between reality and magic. I can already see cosplay fans are gonna have a ball dressing up to show their love for this series.
Binge Reason #3: A Murder of Crows and Characters
The main characters of this show might be Alina, Mal, and General Kirigan, but like any other fully-developed world Shadow and Bone has multiple characters with their own stories and adventures to follow. For example, a change from the books (apparently) is the early introduction and deeper involvement in events of the gang known as The Crows. Consisting of crafty leader Kaz, stealthy Inej, and sharpshooter Jesper, I love all three of them, and as events unfold the mysteries behind who they really are and what motivates them is just as intriguing as the main story itself.
And they are just one example of this. In this first season alone there were so many side characters whose stories pull you into their slice of this magical world yet none of it feels bloated or a waste of effort. If they keep this kind of writing up the rest of this series will have me so invested in these people I’ll probably need to take a vacation to recover from the emotional rollercoaster I’m sure is coming my way.
Binge Reason #2: A Villain With Shadows and Depth
I read that fans of the books were excited when they heard Ben Barnes (Chronicles of Narnia/The Punisher/Westworld) was cast as General Kirigan. Now I might be going into spoiler territory here a bit, but if you’re anything like me, the moment Barnes stepped into frame, you knew he wasn’t as “heroic” as he may have appeared to be.
While casting him in the role may have been a dead giveaway to where this character was heading, it doesn’t take anything away from him. Kirigan is the kind of villain you’ll find yourself loving and hating and loving all over again, I just know it. He’s done some truly terrible things, but like the best of villains his reasons are hard to argue with. Added to that is the off-the-charts chemistry between Barnes as General Kirigan/The Darkling and Jessie Mei Li as Alina and let’s face it, the fan-fiction practically writes itself! I can’t wait to see what Kirigan does next.
Binge Reason #1: When The Show Makes You Want To Read The Books
Three episodes in and I was reaching for my phone. Not because I was bored mind you, but because I needed to know everything there was to know about this world. Which meant I was doing some book shopping!
Not every series/movie based on books gets this kind of reaction from me, so it speaks volumes (no pun intended) as to how well they’ve done bringing Shadow and Bone to life on the small screen. As with every adaptation things are changed, added or left out, so if you’re like me and you can’t wait to see what Season 2 brings our way, why not read the novels? Just don’t go bragging about how much better the books are than the show. Don’t be that guy. No one likes that guy.
Well those were the five reasons the binge the series. Now on to the two reasons to skip it.
Skip Reason #2: Another YA Series With YA Problems
Adapting YA (Young Adult novels) have been all the rage, ever since some folks made a butt load of money adapting a certain British lad with magical abilities. Some adaptations have been really good, but most have been mediocre. And then there are those who should’ve just quit while they were ahead (ah Divergent trilogy, we hardly knew ye). They all had varying degrees of success but what they also tend to have in common are their story beats and their character archetypes.
As much as I want to praise Shadow and Bone’s Alina for being different from the rest, she really isn’t. Like Tris in Divergent and Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Alina suffers from a lot of the same problems. Those being, she’s the reluctant saviour who just wants to be normal, she doesn’t know which man she truly loves, and everyone gravitates to her whether she deserves it or not. The list goes on and on.
This is just the way these characters are written in YA stories. What tends to set them apart though, is the actress in the role. And so far Jessie Mei Li is expertly walking the line of keeping this character likeable, even when she makes decisions that make you wanna scream at your screen. Here’s hoping the screenwriters don’t do anything stupid to mess her up.
Skip Reason #1: I Saw This When It Was Called Avatar: The Last Airbender
So my initial reaction to the magic on display here was, “So…they’re all like the kids in Avatar?” Not the James Cameron movie mind you nor the awful, AWFUL M. Night Shwarma adaptation (and yes, I know it’s Shyamalan, don’t @ me). I’m actually talking about the highly praised Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender. For those unfamiliar, it’s a series about a young boy who is prophesised to be the “saviour” due to his “magical” abilities in a world full of people who can manipulate fire (Inferni), air (Squallers), and water (Tidemakers). To be clear, the three groups I just mentioned are found in Shadow and Bone, not Avatar. You see what I mean?
And it wasn’t just me. My hubby compared it to Full Metal Alchemist, the anime series where people used science to manipulate objects in a way that seems magical. The Grisha here also consider what they do to be based in science, not magic, and even the hand movements are very reminiscent of Full Metal Alchemist.
So one could argue Shadow and Bone “borrows” from similar series that came before it. Then again, is there really anyone or anything that wasn’t inspired by something else? There’s enough new ideas here to help me let go of issues such as these and it might be the same for you too.
A solid start to this series, Shadow and Bone definitely leaves you with more positives than negatives. It is an engaging world with wonderfully diverse characters and a main story you want to see through to the end. Netflix may be a mixed bag in terms of quality, but this one falls straight into the win column for me.
So what did you think of Shadow and Bone? For my review of Netflix supernatural YA series The Irregulars you can click here. Or for my review of monster adventure film Love and Monsters you can click here.
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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