“Fight me as long as you're able. You will find I have far more practice with eternity”
Shadow and Bone reviewed by Jennifer Ariesta
In a world filled with supernaturally gifted individuals called Grisha, a plucky orphan discovers that she’s the long-prophesied Saint who can liberate their world from a sinister force that’s been plaguing it for centuries.
That is the gist of Shadow and Bone, the Netflix series adapted from Leigh Bardugo’s YA fantasy book series of the same name. Heavily influenced by Russian mythology and culture, the show gave us a sumptuous fantasy adventure filled with deep lore. Characters from Six of Crows - Bardugo’s next book series set in the same universe - also appeared in Shadow and Bone, giving fans two stories for the price of one.
The story takes place in a fictitious nation called Ravka. For centuries, Ravka is split in two by The Fold, a wall of dark force stretching across the middle of the country. When orphaned map maker Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) is discovered to be the Sun Summoner - an extremely rare Grisha with the ability to conjure Light out of her hands - she quickly becomes the key figure in the brewing battle between good and evil for Ravka’s future.
Following the season 1 finale showdown between Alina and her mentor-turned-lover-turned-enemy Darkling (Ben Barnes), season 2 picks up immediately afterward with Alina and Mal (Archie Renaux) on the run. Desperate to find the amplifiers needed to destroy The Fold for good, they strike up an alliance with mercurial
pirate privateer (Patrick Gibson). Meanwhile, fresh off assisting Alina’s escape, The Crow is back in their home turf of Ketterdam - only to discover that they’re now wanted for murder.
Shadow and Bone season 2 gave us double of what they delivered on the first. It’s double the action, and also double the frustration. Let’s talk about the former first. The sophomore season has amped up the thrill considerably. The battle sequences became more elaborate and had higher stakes. New faces were introduced, with new dynamics forming - mostly to positive effect. The characters also became more layered and intriguing. Everyone made mistakes and was forced to face their demons. The Crows’ arc, in particular, was outstanding: being less attached to Shadow and Bone’s main storyline, we got to freely explore their respective backstories amidst all the heist and hijinks.
The same can’t be said for the main storyline though. In fact, it’s the source of our frustration this season. Alina had grown more confident, but her judgments were often clouded by sentimentality. It was clearly meant to paint her as the selfless leader the show wanted her to be, but it just highlighted her inexperience further. It’s so frustrating because everyone around her is more competent, especially new ally Nikolai Lantsov. But since the YA fantasy trope dictates that the Chosen One is always right, she ended up bulldozing over the counsels of wiser allies. It's awkward, inorganic, and plain annoying. As the story continued to expand to more territories, the amalgamation of cultures the show took inspiration from also began to show its shortcomings. As an Asian, it’s particularly awkward to watch the Shu Han-centric episode where customs and costumes from various Asian countries were Frankenstein-ed into one. They need to do better with the research.
Overall though, Shadow and Bone remains the better fantasy offering currently airing. It has its kinks, but it gives you enough of the magic to keep going.
Published on April 12th, 2023. Written by Jennifer Ariesta for Television Heaven.