Despite its muddled time period, and its underdeveloped characters I find myself ready to re-watch Shadow And Bone already!
After seeing lots of talk on socials about the new Netflix show Shadow and Bone, I decided to check it out. When I started the show, I had no idea it was an adaptation of the first book in the Grisha trilogy written by Leigh Bardugo. Honestly, I had heard little about this trilogy or the Netflix adaptation until early last week. I ended up bingeing the show in a couple of days – I should highlight there are only eight episodes with varying lengths from 45 to 58 minutes. The more I watched, the urge to keep watching grew as did the amount questions I had.
Strangely I cannot tell if I enjoyed the show, aspects of it, or just had to watch because I hate leaving half-watched series on my Netflix queue. Shadow and Bone truly has me stumped. Perhaps this review will help bring clarity to my thoughts.
SHADOW AND BONE | NETFLIX
Narrative wise Shadow and Bone features the standard fantasy narrative. The world has a problem, a seemingly normal person is revealed to be the ‘chosen one’. The savior. There’s a bad guy that must be defeated and some romance along the way. In this case, the world problem is a swath of darkness called The Fold. The Fold is a giant black mass full of evil creatures that kill those that enter it. So why do people enter it you ask? Well because The Fold splits the kingdom of Ravkan in half. With enemy kingdoms at the bottom and top of Ravkan, the only way from one side to another is through The Fold.
The seemingly normal person is Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) an orphan assistant cartographer. When Alina enters the Fold, she discovers she is a Grisha (a sort of magic user) known as the Sun Summoner. Someone who is said to have the power to destroy The Fold. The bad guy lies in disguise as General Kirigan (Ben Barnes) the leader of the Grisha army. A whole host of characters join Alina and Kirigan including Mal (Archie Renaux) a tracker and Alina’s love interest, although there is little chemistry. Kaz (Freddy Carter) a gang leader, Inej (Amita Suman), and Jesper (Kit Young) make up Kaz’s gang The Crows. Zoe Wanamaker also features as Baghra a Grisha trainer.
Whilst the narrative is pretty standard at its very core, it is still an enjoyable watch – if at times predictable. Stemming from the core narrative are some sub-plots, such as that between Nina (Danielle Galligan) a Grisha and Matthias (Calahan Skogman). However, their storyline ends up being a distraction to the main narrative. Its sole purpose to set up a second-season storyline.
Shadow and Bone is made up of several plotlines that all feel at odds with each other. This is both a problem with editing and style. And here stems my first question: What era is this meant to be? I know that with fantasy genre films/tv a little ambiguity is a given. But Shadow and Bone seems to be a mixture of at least two to three decades. From costumes and sets that look 1900 without the technology – although there are hints of steampunk, to locations, technology, and costumes that seem medieval.
The Kaz scenes, in particular, give off a real Victorian vibe, whereas Alina, Mals, and Nina’s storylines feel more medieval. So when you combine the different storylines that feature different era styles it all becomes a little jumbled. A time period clarification would have solved this issue and would have made for a more cohesive viewing.
Elsewhere my other questions revolve around the characters. Whilst several of the characters including Alina, Kirigan, Kaz, Jesper, Ineji, and Kirigan are compelling one thing that struck me was their ages. Other than Kirigan, it would appear that everyone else is in their teens or very early 20s. Whilst this isn’t automatically an issue, it does feel a little like children playing at war. Kaz, for example, is meant to have all this history – but how was that all possible by the age of 18/19? Awkwardly Kirigan, whilst meant to be hundreds of years old, is played by an actor much older. Which adds further attention to how young the rest of the characters are. Although this issue stems from the books when adapting them for the screen, a few of the characters could have been aged up slightly.
One thing Shadow and Bone has done is create a whole line-up of likable characters, which is perhaps why I couldn’t stop watching. Mal, I would have liked to have had his own storyline outside of his connection with Alina. And Alina I would like to see take a little more control because Kirigan at times is the more compelling character.
There are also issues with structure, timing, and dialogue at times. So much great content is squashed into eight episodes. Many of the storylines and characters would have benefited from more episodes. Drawing out the narrative would make passages in time feel more poignant, allowing for more emotional growth between characters and between characters and viewers. Increasing the number of episodes does not have to result in a slowing of the narrative. But can allow better story progression, more understanding of the lore which in a fantasy show is always a plus whilst keeping a fast pace.
Don’t get me wrong Shadow and Bone is still thrilling to watch. I just wish more of an attempt had been made to explain the lore and introduce characters. Perhaps this is something that will happen in season two, which has already been confirmed. According to sources, the show will divert in parts from the source material, which can either be great or terrible.
Overall, Shadow and Bone is certainly worth a watch, especially if you need a fantasy fix. The CGI is pretty good, the magic seems cool and the score is awesome in parts. Despite its muddled time period, and its underdeveloped characters I find myself ready to re-watch already. Perhaps part of its charm is that it is flawed. But I think the real reason the series has viewers hooked is its concept. I find myself wanting to discover more of this rich world, and by not explaining everything we have nothing else to do but watch again and wait for season two.
Shadow And Bone is streaming exclusively on Netflix now.
Feel the Force on Social Media.