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Shadow and Bone: Season One

“What are you?”

Shows based on YA Fantasy novels are currently all the rage. Why not? A built-in rabid fan base is not a bad place to start if you’re about to shell out millions of dollars to produce a new series. However, delivering a show that captures the attention of the wider, and presumably older audience, while satisfying fans of the novel is a much harder task. Shadow and Bone, which is based on Leigh Bardugo’s trilogy of the same name and includes characters from the Six of Crows duology set in the same universe, does not disappoint.

There will be spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.

First off, the production values were stellar. From the grandeur of the Little Palace to the squalor of Ketterdam, there was a realism that only comes from meticulous design. Right down to the soldiers with their frayed collars and the faded glory of the orphanage in Keramzin. Add in beautiful music, gorgeous camera work, and better than expected special effects, and I was sold. This is a world I’d gladly get lost in for far longer than the eight hours we saw this season.

Our story begins in Ravka, a realm loosely based on Imperialist Russia. I was pleased to see something other than the medievalish settings we commonly see (I’m looking at you, GOT). Ravka is currently at war with the Nordic seeming country to the north called Fjerdan, and at odds with an Asian-like country to the south called Shu Han. To make matters worse, Ravka has been torn in two by the Fold. The Fold is a mystical darkness populated by vicious flying creatures called Volcra. Traveling across the Fold is possible, but the losses suffered by the perilous journeys are destroying both Ravka’s economy and morale.

Yet, for me, characters reign supreme. Give me well-defined characters to love (or hate) and I’ll follow a show just about anywhere. Shadow and Bone had a plethora to choose from since the show follows three separate story lines. The first is Alina’s journey from an innocuous map-maker to the Sun Summoner, the fabled Grisha destined to banish the Fold and reunite Ravka. The second is a trio of thieves charged with capturing the Sun Summoner. Lastly, is the story of Nina, a Grisha Heartrender, and Matthias, a Drüskelle (Fjerdan soldiers who capture Grisha).

Alina may be cut from the Chosen One cloth, but she neither begins her story as a damsel in distress nor ends it as the typical "Strong Female Character" (read: just like a man but with lady parts). Instead, she remains a bully-hating introvert who prefers Mal’s company above all others. Only now the bully in question must be defeated by finding allies and acknowledging the power she spent years suppressing. We should also take a moment to appreciate the fact the show stars an Asian female who does not succumb to any of the typical stereotypes. And while this was shot pre-pandemic, the show feels on point in its depiction of the racism Alina faces due to her Shu heritage.

We also have Mal and General Kirigan vying for Alina’s attention. And for once, the love triangle felt like a tough choice. Mal could have been the typical White Knight, willing to do anything to protect Alina. But their relationship is one of equals and began when she defended him from bullies and not the other way around.

As for Kirigan, being the center of attention of someone that powerful has its own allure. Especially when Alina’s the only witness to his apparent vulnerabilities. I also appreciated the fact that Kirigan is not a mustache-twirling villain. We get to see why and how he’s justified his actions, no matter how abhorrent we might believe them to be.

Despite the empathy we have for Alina and Mal, the show makes us root for Kaz and his crows to succeed in their machinations. Even when they include whisking Alina away to Ketterdam. The trio’s ability to pull off increasingly complicated heists were some of my favorite moments in the show.

At first blush Kaz comes off as cold, materialistic, and permanently in search of his next score. However, his single-mindedness is driven by the need for enough money and power to protect the people he cares about. Inej, a master of knives who refuses to kill on religious grounds and seems to appear and disappear at will. And Jesper, the goat-loving gunslinger who stole every scene he was in.



If there was a weak link, it was Nina and Matthias’s storyline. Both characters were engaging, and their chemistry was off the charts. However, the enemies to lovers story had almost every trope you’ve ever seen, complete with the need to sleep together in the nude to conserve body heat. In fact, the only surprise was Matthias’s renewed hatred at the end of the season. Besides, it was hard to stay invested in their story when it only tangentially related to the main arc. Luckily, it appears that will change if the show is picked up for another season.

While there are many twists and turns in the series, I doubt anyone will be surprised with the ending. But that’s hardly the point. This was always more about the journey than the destination and what a fun ride it was.

4 out 5 Grishas

Parting Thoughts:

The younger version of Mal looked so much like him I checked to see if they were related.

If only tailor's were real...

Quotes:

Mal: "They can't keep best friends apart for long."

Jesper: "Sounds like a trap."
Kaz: "A trap would sound easy."

Alina: "Look at me. Do I look important to you?"
Ivan: "You look like trouble. Which is nearly the same thing."

Kaz: "Never make decisions out of fear, Jesper. Only out of spite."

Alina: "Is this my life now? Hunted wherever I go?"
Kirigan: "You get used to it."

Nina: "I thought you respected your women."
Matthias: "You're not a woman. You're Grisha."

Baghra: "You skipped through the cracks and stayed where you didn't belong."

Kaz: "No one's dying today. No mourners."
Inej: "No funerals."

Kirigan: "It's just you and me now, Alina. And we are all we need anyway."
Alina: "You may have needed me. But I never needed you."

Shari loves sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural, and anything with a cape.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Long-time lurker posting first comment, but I'm glad to see this show being reviewed on my favorite review site! Pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it!

TJ said...

I loved this one. Started watching this at the same time as The Nevers, and this was so much better (don't know yet about The Nevers). I haven't read the books myself, but as I understand it, the readers are very pleased with the results.

I really really hope this gets a season two.

Josie Kafka said...

Shari, what a great review!

I gave this a try with very, very low expectations and wound up binging it in just a few days.

Although the Alina plot was fine, I thought it felt a bit too YA. I'm also quite biased, in that I've sort of lost my taste for fantasy stories where we follow an elite bunch of people as they try to save the entire world.

But the B-plot, with Kaz's crew, was pure delight. Those actors did such a wonderful job bringing those characters to life.

Such a wonderful job, in fact, that after watching this season I read all three books in the first trilogy so that I could fully understand the Kaz/Jesper/Inej subsequent duology, which I have also read.

Shari said...

Thank you all so much. I agree with all of you. Given the success of the first season, I imagine it'll be picked up. I can't wait to see how all the stories will evolve given the little I know of Siege and Storm (I've just started it).

TJ said...

Like Josie, I binged this in a couple of days. I just couldn't stop watching.

Is binging the new normal...or the new pandemic?

Billie Doux said...

Notes that there is bingeing certainly does one thing -- it makes me more likely to try the show, which I haven't yet. :)

TJ said...

Yes, go for it Billie! I know you sometimes feel a bit meh about fantasy but this one has characters! And I know you love that.

Billie Doux said...

TJ, you're right. I'm definitely meh about fantasy. Unless there are vampires, and I didn't see vampires mentioned in Shari's review.

Shari said...

No vampires. But what's your position of dragons? The Volcra are at least dragonesque.

Billie Doux said...

Yeah, not much for dragons. Couldn't get through GoT. Can't think of a book fave that has one.

Anonymous said...

Great review! I was surprised and excited to see the review here!

I really really like this series and the books! I've read Six of Crows before, but don't remember it, so I'll re-read it soon. I'm currently reading Siege and Storm for the first time. It's good, and I'm excited to see where things will go!

I also really like the characters! I've come to realize, for me, that characters are the most important. It helps when a plot is interesting, but it's always the characters that keep me coming back. I just really love the characters in this one from the Crows to Kirigan to Alina and Mal, and everyone else!

One of my favorite quotes from season one was "Fine, make me your villain." or something along those lines. Just the way it was delivered was so good and heartbreaking, even if it was deserved.

I second TJ, in that, Billie, you should give Shadow and Bone a try!

Also, Billie I don't know if you've read any of these, but The Dragonriders of Pern and The Temeraire Series are good series with dragons. I realize this next one is not everyone's cup of tea, but I liked Eragon as well.

Anyway, that was a bit rambly, but that's because this series is so good, and I'm happy being able to discuss it on one of my favorite sites!

Again, great review! Thanks for writing it!

Shari said...

Thanks so much. And, no Worries. We appreciate rambly around here. I agree with you. The more I read the more I realize that I will choose characters I care about over a well-written plot rather than vice versa. Although, I'd prefer both, obviously.

I haven't read Six of Crows yet, but I'm looking forward to it. I'm still making my way through the Shadow and Bone trilogy. So far so good.