Netflix’s collaboration with best-selling author Leigh Bardugo seeks to adapt the wildly successful Grishaverse series in a Game of Thrones -esque style with Shadow and Bone. The highly anticipated Netflix original series restructures the timeline of the books with the combination of both its namesake trilogy and the second extension of the Grishaverse, Six of Crows. Bardugo’s intricate fantasy world spans ten novels, yet Netflix has condensed its first season into a surprisingly concise eight episodes. Despite the seemingly inadequate run time, the show managed to maintain a spot at the top of Netflix’s most-watched list for weeks and received a positive reception from audiences and critics alike.
Shadow and Bone’s main storyline follows protagonist Alina Starkov, played by Jessie Mei Li, as she is swept from her life as a cartographer to realize her potential as the supernaturally powerful ‘Sun Summoner.’ Starkov checks all the boxes when it comes to a Young Adult (YA) fantasy protagonist: dead parents, a conflicted rise to ‘the chosen one’ status, and a surplus of love interests. Besides the conventional dramatic love triangle and a primary goal of saving the world, Starkov’s meteoric rise sees her thrust into an intricate geopolitical struggle. Had this aspect of the story been allocated the screen time to properly invest the viewer, it would have provided a welcome and engaging deviation from the archetype. Instead, its failure to correctly deviate from the conventional cast it aside in favor of far less imaginative plot points.
Meanwhile, the second of the show’s three narratives provide a much fresher take on the genre with the addition of Kaz, Jesper, and Inej, a gang of thieves hoping to move up in the world with a heist plot akin to Ocean’s 11. The trio, who are taken from later additions to the Grishaverse Six of Crows, neatly rounds out the cast while complimenting the main story. Further inclusions from Six of Crows are found in the final plotline, which features a Romeo and Juliet like relationship between characters Nina and Mattias. Though the duo is likely to play a larger part in future seasons, for now, their appearance adds next to nothing to the show.
While Alina’s arc suffers from its painful genericism, Kaz and his crew have a genuinely captivating story, stunted by a lack of meaningful backstory or context in what is a clearly rushed introduction into the show. The expedited nature of their storyline is highlighted when an attempt at a shocking betrayal comes off as relatively unimpactful, simply because the characters have yet to be given time to develop. It truly begs the question of why valuable screen time was sequestered to make room for Nina and Mattias’ puzzling side plot. Aside from a few passing references, the two lovers exist almost entirely separate from the rest of the show, appearing to exist purely as a springboard for the next season. Despite the evident hiccups, the crew’s heist plot remains the most interesting aspect of the show, in large part due to Kit Young’s superb performance as the gun-slinging, romantic Jesper.
Shadow and Bone has become yet another fan-favorite Netflix adaptation, boasting a 92 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Even with a few frustrating flaws, the show’s thrilling escapades and stand-out performances outshine its uninspired underbelly.