Shadow and Bone follows Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li): orphan, cartographer for the Ravkan Army, and your average non-magical being. That is, until she’s not. Alina’s hidden powers are discovered and she gets whisked away to get trained and help destroy “The Fold”, a dangerous rip of darkness dividing the country.
Admittedly, I was an avid fan of the books, so I had high hopes. If you’re unaware, the show’s adapted from two series: Shadow and Bone, and the sequel duology Six of Crows, written by Leigh Bardugo. This leads to two (and a half) intertwined storylines. Though Six of Crows takes place after the events of the original trilogy, we get a mini unwritten prequel – an extremely clever move on the writer’s part as it is more widely loved by fans. The trio from the latter series also provides the show with a valuable break from the tried and tested chosen single trope. It stops the series from becoming just another repeat, giving some valuable insight into characters who will (I hope) play a much bigger part in what’s to come.
It doesn’t feel in the slightest like a shoddily written money-grab that a lot of adaptations tend to be
The Netflix show soars in its casting. The chemistry between all the characters is fantastic, adding to the depth that each of our main characters is attentively given and rapturously portrayed with. In particular, the relationship between our protagonist and her childhood friend Mal (Archie Renaux) is a lot more likable than is portrayed in the books. It feels more genuine because we see Mal’s perspective more in a voiceover of letters that he writes (the books are solely from Alina’s perspective). Kit Young’s depiction of Jesper notably shines (though I am definitely biased here as he was my favourite book character). Charisma and all, he could’ve been relegated to comic relief or a henchman, but instead he’s a nuanced addict who thirsts for approval.
There is also an easy sense of humour that I often find lacking in book adaptations. In both of the main storylines, I was surprised to be chortling regularly, and occasionally even laughing out loud, which doesn’t usually happen in this subgenre of adapted Young Adult books. What’s more, it doesn’t feel in the slightest like a shoddily written money-grab that a lot of adaptations tend to be. It’s remarkably well thought through, perhaps due to Bardugo’s very hands-on approach in the creation of the Netflix series.
The budget Netflix has given the show didn’t hurt either. From the delicate details of the Little Palace to a packed bar in the depths of Ketterdam, the Grisha-verse feels more than simply well thought through, but thoroughly lived in. The Fold, a daunting foe, brings out the best and the worst in our characters and adds an element of horror in all of its gruesome glory.
The characters are rich, the world is stunning, and there is everything I could hope for after the constant on-screen let downs
Now for the bad bits. The show’s approach to race did seem very (for lack of a better term) “Bridgerton-y”. Alina is half-shu. Nowhere is it apparent what this means and, apart from being mentioned a couple times, it doesn’t seem to have any reasonable effect on the plot or her character. The Grisha-verse proves overly complicated to a newcomer, too. Though this is clearly a show made for fans of the books, it sacrifices a lot in setting a fast pace and under-explaining the relevant nuances of the powers of the Grisha.
As a fan, I was delighted. The characters are rich, the world is stunning, and there is everything I could hope for after the constant on-screen let downs. Scenes have been plucked out of the books word for word, and classic lines delivered in a way that gave me butterflies. If you are new to the series, it is still packed full of fantasy, mystery, and romance, with surprises around every bend. That being said, of course, I strongly recommend the books.