High Five Review: Netflix’s New High Fantasy Series “Shadow and Bone”

by Jam Bufi
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As someone who has read the Shadow and Bone trilogy and considers the Six of Crows duology one of her favorite young adult fantasy series of all time, the Netflix adaptation was naturally one of my most highly anticipated releases of 2021.

Shadow and Bone is set in the Grishaverse in war-torn Ravka and follows the story of army mapmaker Alina Starkov. When Alina’s best friend Mal is attacked by malicious creatures called Volcra during a venture into the Shadow Fold – a large expanse of pure darkness that has torn the country in two – she discovers she has hidden powers that could finally save her country.

Since its release, Netflix’s Shadow and Bone adaptation has received fantastic reviews from critics, book fans, and newcomers to the Grishaverse alike. From its perfect casting to the detailed set, props, and costumes, seeing Shadow and Bone come to life before my eyes was an epic experience.

Here is SEA Wave’s High Five review of Shadow and Bone.

Rich and Detailed Setting

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The Grishaverse’s intensive world-building was one of the highlights of the book and it is the same for the show as well. However, this is also something that can be hard to follow at first as the show immediately plunges you into the world and leaves you to figure things out on your own as you go along. But take your time and it will be worth it.

The main setting of the show, Ravka, is inspired by 18th-century Tsarist Russia in terms of the place’s aesthetic, politics, and language. No detail was spared from costumes, to locations like the Little Palace, and even the language, which was created by David Peterson, the same person who created the Dothraki language in Game of Thrones. If you pay close attention, you will even spot a Ravkan version of the Shadow and Bone book in one of the episodes.

Through the Crows, viewers also got to see the expansiveness of the Grishaverse by taking us to Kerch, a trading country loosely inspired by Dutch Republic-era Amsterdam. Kaz’s cane, Inej’s knives, the playing cards at the Crow Club, and other items were all uniquely designed just for the show. Meanwhile, Nina and Matthias gave us a glimpse of Fjerda, which was inspired by Scandinavia. These are just some of the many other countries in the Grishaverse that are waiting to be explored in the next seasons and we can’t wait to get into them soon.

“Magic” System and Politics

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The magic system might also have been a confusing aspect to track during the show, but it remains an interesting concept. People who have power in the series are called Grisha. They don’t exactly call what they do “magic,” but rather a “small science” as they only manipulate what already exists. While summoning elements and manipulating bodies are not exactly new, what makes it interesting is the politics that the books’ author Leigh Bardugo has weaved in with the Grisha.

Each country in Shadow and Bone’s Grishaverse has their own social and cultural notions towards Grisha, something that affects the political situation in the books. Fjerdans such as Matthias see Grisha as unnatural and therefore makes it their mission to hunt Grisha down, while the Shu see them the same way but intermingled with curiosity, which leads them to experiment with Grisha to locate the source of their powers. In Kerch, Grisha are generally accepted but there are some who end up auctioning off their own indenture to rich merchants in order to live, which is considered legal in the trading country.

Another thing to note is the role of religion in the story. While the country of Ravka is a monarchy, one of the king’s principal advisors is called the Apparat, a priest living in the Little Palace. When rumors of the Sun Summoner (aka our girl Alina) spread, altars are put up by the people and they start calling her Sankta Alina (Saint Alina).

Character Relationships

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Alina is a character that grows on you the further you get into the series. While she starts off a bit helpless and reluctant, her character growth and transition into a stronger and more decisive character was satisfying to watch. The series also did a great job in developing Alina and Mal’s relationship, something I think the series did better than the books, and her tension with the Darkling provided a worthy competition for Mal.

The strong chemistry of the crows – Kaz, Inej, and Jesper – was undeniable and the show has barely scratched the surface in terms of these characters’ complex backstories, which I am excited to see in season 2. All actors embodied their characters perfectly but Kit Young, who played Jesper, was definitely a standout in the series playing the charming sharpshooter.

Meanwhile, the journey of heartrender Nina and Grisha-hunter Matthias from enemies to somewhat lovers was fun to watch, even though their relationship felt underdeveloped. This may have been caused by the limited screen time they had, but with them expectedly joining the Crows soon as they do in the books, hopefully the show gives viewers more time with the two star-crossed lovers.

Diversity and Representation

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While some shows often cast a few diverse roles just for the sake of being called inclusive, Shadow and Bone is not one of those shows.

The main character Alina is half Shu, something the actress Jessie Mei Li who is half Chinese said she was excited and proud of the representation it provides for people of mixed race, allowing them to see themselves on screen. Amita Suman, who plays Inej and is Nepali-British, stated that her character is proof that the industry is changing and is opening up more opportunities for people of color. Meanwhile, Jesper, who is bisexual in the books, is unapologetically shown to have attraction towards the same sex and being queer is portrayed as a norm in the world of the show.

Intersecting Storylines

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One of the major changes the series did was to integrate the Six of Crows characters in the storyline of Shadow and Bone, giving them a prequel and creating two storylines that we follow throughout its eight episodes – the Crows’ and the Ravkan’s. Including the Crows in the Shadow and Bone plot was a great decision by showrunners as it added more fun and action to balance out the gravity of the Ravkan’s storyline. While it may have felt like you were watching two different shows at the beginning, the two storylines converge in a tense, action-packed, heartwarming, and sometimes hilarious way.

A Formula You Can Take Because of the Good Taste

 Shadow and Bone still has the overly done “chosen one” YA trope, considering that it was released in the early 2010s, and may be something that turns people away from the show. The dialogue does have a few lines that you may cringe at, a main character that can feel a bit too much like a damsel in distress at times, and some romances that escalate too quickly. However, the intricate world building, engaging plot, and strong, charming characters make the world of Shadow and Bone easy for anyone, both readers and non-readers alike, to get into.

Among the young adult Netflix releases, you can include Shadow and Bone among the best ones they have released and certainly one of the best book adaptations in recent years. If you are simply looking for a high fantasy series that you can escape to, Shadow and Bone is the series for you.

We give Shadow and Bone Season 1 4 out of 5 waves!

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