Based on the popular Grishaverse novels by Leigh Bardugo, Netflix's Shadow and Bone brings the fantasy world filled with powerful Grisha to life with stunning clarity. Created by Arrival and Bird Box writer Eric Heisserer, the eight-episode season follows Bardugo's first novel in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, but includes characters from the Six of Crows duology as well - with their story in the show set before the events of that first book. As such, Shadow and Bone is a mixture of storylines that will be familiar to fans of Bardugo's books as well as to those completely new to the series. Shadow and Bone is a masterful interweaving of Bardugo's stories, with captivating characters set amidst a beautifully realized fantasy world.
Shadow and Bone season 1 follows Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), a simple cartographer serving in the Ravkan army who, after her and her childhood best friend Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux) are attacked in the Shadow Fold, discovers she's a Sun Summoner - a Grisha with the ability to summon and wield light. As a type of Grisha so rare they weren't believed to be real, Alina is quickly taken under the protection of General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), who himself has the rare power to summon darkness. But together he believes they'll be able to destroy the Shadow Fold, a blight of darkness separating Ravka from the rest of the country. Meanwhile, gang member Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter) learns of a lucrative thieving job that requires he cross the Fold, enlisting his most trusted accomplices: sharpshooter Jesper (Kit Young) and the wraith-like spy Inej (Amita Suman). A third storyline follows the Grisha Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan) who's captured by an elite Fjerdan soldier named Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman).
Because the characters of Shadow and Bone are spread so far out across the world (and, in the books, throughout the timeline), Heisserer was faced with no small feat to tell a complete and cohesive story. Bringing the Crows to Ravka to cross the Fold and establishing a link between Nina and General Kirigan's Grisha army are smart ways to connect the disparate story threads, though it requires some changes to certain aspects of the books that fans may take issue with. Still, for much of Shadow and Bone's first season, the characters are spread far and wide, forcing the story to jump around in terms of setting and tone. While Alina is following the now-archetypal journey of a YA heroine who must save the world, the Crows are sneaky criminals who pull off multiple heists. Then there's Nina and Matthias, who confront the Fjerdans' prejudices against Grisha, whom they try and execute as witches. Though it can feel a little disjointed at times, Shadow and Bone cleverly uses the world to unify the stories so that they become different perspectives set within that world.
What also helps to keep viewers engaged are the strong characters and the performances from the main cast. Li has perhaps the biggest role as Alina, and she carries off the YA heroine well enough. Still, Alina is sometimes overshadowed by the characters she's surrounded by, though Li manages to hold her own. Barnes as Kirigan is magnetic and fascinating, playing the tortured character exceptionally well, evoking sympathy and fear at all the right moments. Renaux is also extremely charming as Mal, bringing a balance to Li's portrayal of Alina that gives the characters' relationship a tender quality.
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