Netflix’s Shadow and Bone review

Netflixs Shadow and Bone review

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Netflix’s Shadow and Bone is a live-action adaptation the Young Adult (YA) book community has anticipated eagerly for a while. Now that it is out, we can finally ask ourselves if YA books can be taken seriously enough to be adapted properly. Hollywood has had mixed results so far, The Hunger Games was a pretty good adaptation of a great trilogy. Percy Jackson? Ender’s Game? Less so. In Shadow and Bone’s case, the source material itself is … rather average. So before watching the show, I was looking forward to seeing the show improve on things I did not love in the books, but also fold in several of the things I did enjoy, such as the Darkling (Ben Barnes), our compelling villain. 

Shadow and Bone is based on Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels. Season one mostly follows the plot of Shadow and Bone, the first book of the Grisha trilogy. But it also incorporates several characters from Six of Crows, a standalone duology also set in the Grishaverse. 

The story is set in Ravka, a Tsarist Russia inspired fantasy country that is torn in half by the Shadow Fold a large swath of darkness filled with monsters that cut Ravka off from its only coast and turned it into a landlocked country. Ravka is at war with both of its border countries, Fjerda and Shu Han, leaving Ravkans with no choice but to travel straight through the Fold in order to reach their coast for supplies. On one supply run, our heroine, Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), discovers she possesses a power that might be key to destroying the Fold and uniting her war torn country. It also follows a group of criminals known as the Crows Kaz (Freddy Carter), Inej (Amita Suman) and Jesper (Kit Young) as they try to kidnap our heroine, Alina. Makes for a high-stakes story, right? That was my expectation, anyways, when I started watching it.

To the show’s credit, it tries to fix several of the book’s faults. We see more of the social and geopolitical tensions a large swath of darkness smack dab in the middle of the country might create, illustrated nicely by a few new characters such as Arken Visser (Howard Charles) and General Zlatan (Tom Weston-Jones). Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux), Alina’s best friend and love interest and also one of the most disliked Grishaverse characters is made more tolerable. Mal in the books despite being a character we are  meant to root for is hated by most book readers. The show attempts to fix this by removing Mal’s toxic traits and making his devotion to Alina more apparent than in the books.

However, these attempts to expand on the books mostly fall flat. There is only a surface level exploration of any tension between people living on both sides of the Fold, leaving you wanting more. Also Mal, while not as toxic as he was in the books, is still boring. Having watched the entire series, I cannot name a single personality trait he exhibited other than “hopelessly devoted to Alina.” 

Alina herself sadly failed to make much of an impression on me. She is your typical headstrong YA heroine and has little else to define her.

The show also fumbles on the inclusion of the Crows. They were not in the original book, so their plotline in this show is something the writers created from scratch. Despite being ruthless criminals and initially being presented as a threat to our heroine, the Crows have laughably little impact on the overall plot astonishing, considering they take up almost half of the screen time. Despite being rich and complex characters in the books, they are reduced to being the comic relief. The show does attempt to give Kaz and Inej a little more depth, though these efforts mostly fail. But poor Jesper, one of my favorite characters from the book, is turned into the stereotypical quippy Black best friend. 

The poor character development might have been forgivable if the plot was compelling enough. Sadly, it flip flopped between following Alina as she trains with her powers; Mal as he pines over missing Alina; the Crows as they journey to Ravka and try to kidnap Alina; and two other random characters who are important in the books, but feel out of place here with the way they are introduced. While shows that follow multiple storylines are not a bad thing, the problem with Shadow and Bone is that it does not give you enough time to be invested in any one of them.

Shadow and Bone might be a good adaptation of the source material, but with bland and generic characters, a confusing and split storyline that cannot figure out what it wants to be and a plot with too much filler, it just is not a good show on its own.