Shadow & Bone Netflix Review:
Starring: Ben Barnes, Jessie Mei Li & Archie Renaux |Genre: Fantasy | 1 Season | 8 Episodes
Shadow & Bone is one of the recently added titles on Netflix. The show invites us into the world where “dark forces conspire against orphan mapmaker Alina Starkov when she unleashes an extraordinary power that could change the fate of her war-torn world.” (IMDB) The series currently has season 1 available to stream and was confirmed for the second season of Shadow & Bone, which was adapted from the fantasy book series. Yesterday I binge-watched all 8 episodes of Shadow & Bone. For context, I have read book one, “Shadow & Bone” and am currently reading “Siege & Storm”, which the show is based on. However, this review is simply based on the Netflix series and how I felt the script was executed and what I understood from the story/production. This review will not discuss the book. Click here to read my review of book one in the Grishaverse trilogy, Shadow & Bone. I will indicate where the spoilers are, so read ahead until you hit that stop!
Fantasy can be a difficult genre to execute when based on a book. Details are trimmed to fit the 45-ish minute timestamped episodes. I appreciated how Shadow & Bone jumped right into the story with episode one. There wasn’t an entire episode or elongated period of time dedicated to providing context for us to understand what this world is. Instead, the use of dialogue, cinematography, and props supported the viewer’s understanding of what was going on. The first scene showcased the realities of war as soldiers were at odds with their neighbors. Immediately we know there’s a conflict large enough to die for. We’re hooked and wanting to learn more. In particular, I didn’t find myself wondering “what’s going on” the way I did when I was watching The Witcher. If you watched that series you would know it was difficult at times to understand what was happening in “real-time,” if characters were fantasizing/dreaming/in their mind, or if aspects were a flashback.
Use of Flashbacks
Like my Witcher binge-watching adventure, I hadn’t read the Shadow & Bone books or familiarized myself with the world until I sat down to watch the Netflix adaptation. I’m a sucker for flashbacks as I think it’s a great way to clue the audience in on what’s going on and provide context to the character’s journey without spending too much time setting up the scene or overall series to communicate the story that wants to be told. Shadow & Bone included a few flashbacks that were some of the most well done and strategically placed I have ever seen. What stood out to me was how simple the flashbacks were. At first, I thought they were irrelevant but the simplicity of those moments is what built the characters—and this was a major part of what would happen in the second half of the season. They were not overdone, used as a crutch, or placed in the middle of an episode where I had to pull attention or rewind to remember where the present tense scene was picking up from. If you enjoy action, adventure, fantasy, friendship, magic, and the complexities of humanity, you will love this series! I highly recommend watching.
I love all of the characters. The show did a GREAT job following multiple people without the storylines feeling boring. Oftentimes I fast forward when shows follow more than the main 3 or 4. But, the Shadow & Bone character’s storylines were connected in some way—either through people, ideas, location, or a goal they were pursuing. The additional supporting character’s journeys and episodes dedicated to them helped me to understand what exactly was going on in the world and why the conflict is exactly that—a conflict. I didn’t appreciate one aspect of a character’s journey, which I will go into detail on in the second part of this post. In the meantime, my spoiler-free version is that I didn’t enjoy the progression of General Kirigan. The last few episodes seemed to jump. There wasn’t the best build to establish the end goal and it felt as if he were two entirely different people.
There were certain elements of Shadow & Bone that I did not like, it was to do more with the direction of the script and particular character development and not the overall production or writing. Without spoiling my curiosity for where season 2 will pick up or what happened in particular episodes (like the 5th one!!!!), I would say this show is worth the time investment. Go watch Shadow & Bone on Netflix then come back to read the second half of this post.
Click here for an overview of the rating system!
The rest of this post contains spoilers. continue reading at your own risk.
We Need to talk about Shadow & Bone
The rest of this post contains spoilers
Y’all, I am so salty. I binge-watched the show last night before bed and woke up kinda crabby. My biggest complaint about the show is how it ended with Kirigan/the Darkling/Aleksander
I loved the dimension of him from episodes 1-5. We were introduced to him as an aggressive and infamous general. He was a powerful man who despite being Grisha had amounted to the level of success and obtained respect from many key leaders and people. We were shown what he had built and his attempt at a safe haven for himself and Grisha people who were hated by everyone. When we look at life through his/ the Grisha lens, it makes sense why they’re so guarded and on edge. I would be that way as well, to some degree. What I didn’t like about his character was the progression of making him the villain. I’m all for if they want him to be a villain—that wasn’t my decision to make. I’m not a writer on the show—but, it could have been done better. It was confusing because for a few episodes after the big reveal that he was the Darkling, we were presented with an episode showing why he is evil when I didn’t think the backstory communicated that as strongly as the showrunners had intended it to (unless this sets us up for season 2’s “redemption”?). I had paused the show to rewind because I was confused—what were the writers trying to communicate? It felt as if they were as confused as I was watching and the writer’s room was torn with him being either the “good guy” or the “bag guy” and left him floating in between the two…and not in a relatable or understandable humanistic way. Aside from my hardcore shipping of Alina and the Darkling, the progression from Aleksander the great man we were introduced to with a spotty past (like many people have), would have been better if it were slowed down and placed out more. Since we were making him be the season 1 villain, a more natural progression would have been for him to “flip the switch” from the approachable, caring, trustworthy General that Alina had come to know. He could have chosen to lock her up/drag her along for the Stag, which would then lead to the same happening in the Fold. To me, there would be more of a steady progression and easier for the viewers to understand not only HOW he became who he is but WHY he is still this way despite having the opportunity to begin again with Alina. There were too many “good” moments where we saw him in an honest and vulnerable state—caring for someone else, thinking of a future that wasn’t entirely based on a war plan, and revisiting a painful spot, this time creating a positive memory with an important person (the well). I didn’t like that the writers and Alina made him go from someone making hard war-time decisions to the literal Darkling who wants to ruin everyone who questions him. The trigger of Alina running away seemed to provide too little fuel for the amount of fire at the end. It just didn’t add up in my book. I get the whole trauma angle, but what triggered him? Her wanting to do good? That wasn’t news. Or, him wanting love? He also made this big speech to Mal then went and tried to destroy her after saying he’d wait for her? There was too much bouncing back and forth with what he was saying his character is and the actions he was taking to back that up. It was confusing—who really is the Darkling? We all make choices and having Aleksander as the villain/play into the stereotypical Darkling is evil narrative was worthy of quite a few eye-rolls as I sat and watched. I was waiting for it to not be predictable and for there to be a redeeming moment or a thread of hope for him to tap back into that vulnerability we saw episodes before.
I felt like for the Alina we saw at the beginning, it was odd that she went along with Baghra’s assumption about Aleksander instead of checking the facts for herself and making up her own mind…especially since 5 minutes before her tongue was down her throat. Alina was easily swayed and in my opinion, manipulated into seeing Aleksander as a villain/monster instead of the man who was standing in front of her. Let’s pretend that we’re keeping the ending the same and not changing the fact that she turned on him, I would have found it more powerful if Alina had denied Baghra’s invitation to flee and refused to leave the palace.
Initially, what stood out to me with Alina’s character is how she didn’t let stereotypes and other people’s hatred/disapproval impact her. While she may not have liked someone or their specific background, she joked about it with Mal and let it go. She wasn’t hardened by it. I found Alina to be refreshing because she also didn’t have hard opinions on everything like protagonists so often have. She was average (until she wasn’t). A powerful defining moment for Alina’s character was when she was faced with two options: 1) run away and escape the potential future or 2) make her own. She chose an excuse-filled hybrid of the two and ran away instead of following through with her declaration of interest and care for Aleksander. I would have had more respect and seen Alina as a leader if she were to boldly have said, “no. I’m going to come to a conclusion on my own.” I’d rather have her make bad decisions in good faith than a good decision because she’s going along with what someone else has said. Granite, Baghra was her teacher and she knew the woman to some degree, but it wasn’t as if this woman was a confidant as Mal was to her. How did she know she could truly trust her? The first thing I thought of was how corrupt HER opinion could be based on history that we don’t know yet. And, to a degree, this was true. We all perceive people differently—I wanted to see Alina journey through a great ally/love with Aleksander or lead herself into a trap that she would later have to free herself from. Either way, it would be phenomenal grounds for her character and pave her journey for the next seasons.
He’s great but bland. Please, don’t come at me for saying this. I don’t know, I guess it was because the storyline was so predictable with Alina and Mal. I would have liked to see them continue being friends and pushing her to work with the Darkling to convince him to destroy the Fold or to protect more Grisha/learn about her history. Their relationship was too co-dependent for my taste, which, in context is understood because of their traumatic childhood. But, I would have liked to see more of who he is outside of finding Mal, saving Mal, and talking about Mal. He can be all for those things and love her, but he is still a person with his own identity outside of her.
In conclusion, justice for The Darkling. I want him to be redeemed in season 2 and get Alina. I want to see the journey of him inviting her into his pain—opening up, sharing the memories, how exactly the Fold was created, what it was like to feel those arrows graze his heart—with each beat and shortened breath he knew he was running out of options and had to make a decision that would change the realm and himself, forever. He was a good guy who had to make a hard decision. Should he be punished for trying to be happy and trying to find his personal balance? And, should he be so harshly judged by society for a decision gone wrong? He has faced a lot of trauma. An eternity will be spent replaying that very moment and heartbreak over and over. Where are the Grisha therapists and support? He’s looked out (or at least attempted to with the little palace) for people, but where is the return? I get it he doesn’t have a spotless record…but neither does Alina. She lied and escaped the test, participated in fights, and at times made snap decisions without thinking. She also manipulated her way onto the ship into the Fold which killed some of her friends. She has blood on her hands too. Why was her choic to be with her loved one more important or better than General’s decisions and attempt to save his love?
Click here to read my (spoiler-free) book review of Shadow & Bone
Updated June 2021.