Shadow and Bone (2021)
A solid addition to fantasy television
Shadow and Bone is a unexpectedly good series on Netflix. The story is set in the fictional land of Ravka which is divided by a permanent wall of darkness known as the Shadow Fold. An orphan mapmaker named Alina Starkov is discovered to be the fabled Sun Summoner and is forced to join the Grisha army. Her magical skills are needed to destroy the Shadow Fold and all that live within it. However, Alina’s new power comes with unexpected reactions. Some worship her, some want her dead, and others want her captured and used. Shadow and Bone follows different factions after Alina is discovered to be the Sun Summoner.
As a huge fan of the Song of Ice and Fire novels, I have pretty high standards when it comes to fantasy. To date, I have yet to find a series that comes even close to that of George R. R. Martin’s book series. So when I saw there was buzz around Shadow and Bone, I was skeptical about its actual quality. I’ve never read Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Grisha novels so I couldn’t judge the Netflix show off of anything other than popularity and reviews. Fortunately, Shadow and Bone delivers a fairly well-crafted fantasy tale that sets up an interesting second season.
What I liked
At the start of the series, we are introduced to a lot of characters. Not much context is given initially so viewers are asked to trust the showrunners and try and keep up. Although this might seem like a negative, the payoff for sticking with the show is pretty rewarding. Similar to HBO’s Watchmen series, the many moving parts eventually come together and make much more sense. It’s a risky move that requires some strong writing skills. Shadow and Bone is no Watchmen, but the writing is still very notable.
The show also cast some strong actors in the leading roles. Jessie Mei Li, Archie Renaux, Ben Barnes and Kit Young give the strongest performances of the cast. In fact, the lead acting is so strong that initially I felt like they were giving more than the show deserved. It took the second half of the Season for the rest of Shadow and Bone to catch up with its lead actors’ performances.
What I didn’t like
Shadow and Bone gives off a definite soap opera cheesiness at times. There are a number of reasons for this. The lead character adjusts far too quickly to the pampered life when she joins the Grisha army. The unrealistic romances during seemingly life or death situations present serious tonal inconsistencies. And some of the smaller roles are so poorly acted that their scenes are genuinely difficult to watch.
And then there’s the geography of Ravka. The Shadow and Bone writers decided to trust the audience with learning place names and character types. While that trust is appreciated, some handholding would actually have gone a long way in this case. Characters move far too often not to have location names during key scenes or even some exposition. The writers did try with character types through training scenes and magical abilities. Unfortunately, it all felt like a heavy info dump.
Shadow and Bone requires both patience and cringe endurance. But if you can make it past the halfway mark, you’ll be rewarded with some serious payoff. The seemingly separate storylines and character arcs eventually make their way to the same places. If you’re looking for a fantasy series that’s worth your time, Shadow and Bone might be what you’re looking for.
Source: Netflix (2021)