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Shadow and Bone: Season Two

“There is no light without darkness.”

Shadow and Bone remains an enjoyable high-fantasy romp. Even though the second season ramps up the action and the angst at the expense of nuance and depth.

There will be spoilers for seasons one and two. You’ve been warned.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve read nearly every book in what is lovingly referred to as the Grishaverse, including the novella that delves into the Darkling’s origin story. So, it was sometimes hard for me to divorce my knowledge of the books from the events of the show. I’ve tried to be objective, as the show should be judged on its own merits.

Our story picks up mere weeks after last season’s finale. Alina and Mal are searching for the two remaining mythical amplifiers – the Sea Whip and Firebird. By absorbing their abilities, Alina hopes she’ll have the power to destroy The Fold and restore Ravka. The Crows have returned to Ketterdam only to discover they are wanted for murder. And Nina must find a way to rescue Matthias from the prison she consigned him to. Unfortunately for all, the Darkling is very much alive.

Season one spent a considerable amount of time explaining the Grishaverse to the uninitiated. No longer burdened by such constraints, this season ratchets up the tension and the pace and never slows down. Yet, while The Powers That Be were still able to take time for important (and usually gut-wrenching) character beats, multiple storylines suffered from limited screen time. The season would have been better served by a few more episodes.

We are also introduced to a few new characters. Sturmhond the infamous pirate, ahem, privateer, less commonly known as Prince Nikolai Lantsov. A man more comfortable wandering the seas, gathering information, and recruiting allies for Ravka than roaming the palace halls as the third in line to the throne. The twins, Tamar and Tolya, who, like Alina, are part Shu, part Ravkan, and pure Grisha. Outsiders in both countries, they’ve found a place in Nikolai’s retinue where their prowess with weapons and the “small science” are put to good use. Finally, there’s Kaz’s newest recruit, Wylan, the reluctant explosives expert. His passing fling with Jesper (and his secret shame) only adds to the Crows’ dysfunction. However, his skill more than makes up for it. Unfortunately, the lack of time mentioned above also meant that none of these new characters were developed with the same level of care as those of the previous season.

This is partly due to the sheer amount of plot they’ve shoehorned into relatively few episodes. While last season the Crows’ story dovetailed neatly into Alina’s thanks to an invented prequel storyline, this season not so much. Now that the Crows and Ravkan plots relate to events in their respective books, it sometimes felt like two separate shows. When you add in Nikolai’s royal family drama and the odd side quest, you can see how the season could feel overstuffed.

And you’d be forgiven for not realizing Alina’s quest was the main storyline, considering the Crows steal every scene they are in. Though the Crows’ adventures are just as life-threatening, they feel more lighthearted and less angsty than the Ravkans’ thanks to an influx of banter and the fact the fate of the world (or at least a country or two) doesn’t hang in the balance.

That is a shame. Because Alina’s narrative was worth unpacking. While the love triangle may be over, the tug of war continues. Alina is now pulled between her love for Mal and the power needed to defeat the Darkling. Or, as the Darkling would argue, the power to protect Grisha and save Ravka from itself. And though the Darkling may be evil, he may not be wrong.

The Darkling's role as a potential love interest for Alina for most of the first season meant we only had a hint of the danger he posed. This season he lets his villain flag fly. Everything felt darker and more dangerous because this time the violence was personal. Destroying cities with the fold may have a higher body count, but the brutality of a man who will dismember his mother, maim a subordinate and literally rip people apart is on another level.

Unfortunately, Matthias remains the weakest link. This time, it has more to do with the lack of a storyline rather than a trope-filled one. It’s hard to be compelling when you spend the entire season trapped behind bars while everyone else is out gallivanting.

Purists looking to see the books they love recreated on screen are bound to be disappointed. Character traits are bent or even dispensed with in service of other characters or to condense a book-long arc into an episode or two. And while we loosely follow the arcs for book two of both the Shadow and Bone trilogy and Crows' duology, fan-favorite moments were pulled from multiple Grishaverse novels and put to use in new ways.

Personally, I didn’t mind. I knew where the Sun Summoner’s story was headed. Just as I knew how the Crows’ war with Pekka Rollins would end. Having no clue how our heroes would get from Point A to Point B kept me engaged.

I know it may seem like this is a negative review. I don’t mean it to be. The talented cast and consistently high production values help compensate for the relentless pace. Despite my few qualms, I still thought it was a fun ride. It’s just a step down from last season’s admittedly high bar. And I will definitely be watching season three. Which luckily has already been green lit, quelling any fears of being left with a cliffhanger.

4 out of 5 amplifiers


Mal: “You came here for Ravka. I came here for you.”

Wylan: “Why isn’t it just ‘good luck’ or ‘be safe’?”
Inej: “We like to keep our expectations low.”

Kaz: “Do your worst.”

Alina: “Understatement is overrated.”
Nikolai: “I love it when you quote me.”

Nina: “He’d rather push you away than admit he feels anything for you... Oh, was I not supposed to say that out loud?”

Kirigan: “The world doesn’t need a saint to protect it, it needs a monster.”

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

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