The new Netflix series Shadow and Bone, which lumbers into the world on April 23, draws instant comparisons to the giant upon whose shoulders it stands. One of the streaming network’s more anticipated recent releases, it’s an adaptation of the Grishaverse, a bestselling young adult fantasy series of novels by Leigh Bardugo based loosely on Tsarist Russia. But inevitably, what most viewers will be reminded of as they watch the eight-episode first season is Game of Thrones.
If you're looking for another fantasy series to spend at least eight hours with, then Netflix's Shadow and Bone will hit the spot. With tons of action, magic, and teen angst, this is peak young adult viewing -- to a fault.
In the Russia-inspired land Ravka, a stretch of monster-ridden terrain known as the Shadow Fold threatens magic and non-magic nations. At the center is Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), a young soldier and orphan who just wants to survive and stay close to her best friend Mal (Archie Renaux).
Throughout this first season, “Shadow and Bone” continues to adhere to the book’s original plan, deviate sharply from it, and borrow elements of Bardugo’s extended Grishaverse to create a thorny, immersive world all its own. It’s an ambitious approach, not least because the show only has eight episodes in which to tell the story, making for some whiplash transitions as it hurries to get to the next big plot point. For the most part, though, “Shadow and Bone” don’t bite off more than it can chew, focusing its energy on fleshing out its characters and universe in a way that could sustain it beyond any single book.
Alina’s story unfolds largely as it does throughout Bardugo’s first volume, but the season’s subplots borrow from other books entirely. A trio of “Crow” rogues — acrobatic spy Inej (Amita Suman), sharpshooter Jesper (Kit Young), and ringleader Kaz (Freddy Carter) — aren’t in the “Shadow and Bone” book proper, but are an integral part of the series with a mission all their own. The same goes for defiant Grisha Nina (Danielle Galligan) and her wary captor Matthias (Calahan Skogman), though they’re mostly stranded off at the fringes of the show in its least urgent storyline. By expanding “Shadow and Bone” beyond the parameters of Alina’s experience, the show makes her world feel that much bigger, denser, and complicated. This works especially well for the Crows, with Suman’s Inej and Young’s Jesper provide welcome depth and humor, respectively.
Still, the driving engine of the show is Alina, a challenge Li embraces. Whether portraying Alina struggling with her sudden new powers, longing for Mal, or finding herself drawn to the mysterious General Kirigan (an entirely committed Ben Barnes), Li makes for a compelling center of gravity. Her Alina is smart and loyal, annoyed and rash, heartbroken and headstrong. The show’s most obvious climaxes tend to involve Grisha throwing the elements at each other, but it's most effective unfold entirely on Alina’s face, lined with pain, joy, and worry.
Oftentimes, the Chosen One character is a story’s least interesting, beholden as they are to being the Sun everyone else has to revolve around. That’s not the case with Li’s Alina, a heroine as believably vulnerable as she is bold. Should Netflix give its “Shadow and Bone” enough time beyond this installment to unravel its many tangled threads, there’s little doubt that this version of Alina can sustain it.
In later episodes, she will be taken under the wing of General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), a Shadow Summoner and leader of Ravka’s army for rigorous training and honing of her powers. But if you think he’s doing that out of the goodness of a heart unstuffed with ulterior motives, then you, my friend, have never met a Shadow Summoner, a fantasy trilogy, or indeed any narrative fiction and are going to need to hold on to your hat.
Perhaps the savviest move in this season (hopefully the first of more to come) is to resist the temptation to let the existence of a potential superweapon overwhelm the rest of the series. There are points where the usual city-destructing climax feels inevitable — the places where “Shadow and Bone” can pull back from a preoccupation with destruction and focus on the power of specific relationships within a changing world make for a much more compelling story engine.
“Shadow and Bone” covers an impressive amount of territory in these opening eight episodes. Some may balk at how removed some of these threads are. (Though, this season’s most far-flung storyline delivers some of the series greatest charms so far.) Paradoxically, the density of this detail of the obligations to these characters — without going too much into the logistics of Bardugo’s books, this series is effectively combining two parallel series into one — is both a strength and a slight hindrance, given how much time and space there is to work with.
Final Score – [8.5/10]
Reviewed by – Ritika Kispotta
Follow her @KispottaRitika on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KispottaRitika)
Bringing Pop Culture News from Every Realm, Get All the Latest Movie, TV News, Reviews & Trailers
Got Any questions? Drop an email to [email protected]