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Shadow and Bone, the new Netflix’s original, is a dense YA fantasy that follows Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) once she discovers she has a power that will play a major role in saving her home, Ravka. It feels familiar to other fantasy and adventure shows, but it’s also pretty unique! Especially with its representation, Russian influences, and incorporation of the heist genre. Adapted from Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology, this show has a lot of moving parts.
Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) is a map maker for the Ravkan army. Her best friend is Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux), a skilled tracker and fighter. They’re both orphans who grew up together. Their country, Ravka, is split into two by a giant shadowy wall, called The Fold. People have to cross The Fold for trade purposes, but it’s extremely dangerous and filled with bat-like monsters called Volcra. However, Grisha can help with crossing.
Grisha are powerful Ravkans who can use “Small Science.” They are either etheralki (who can manipulate air, water, or fire), corporalki (who can heal or manipulate the human body), or materialki (who can work with metal and chemicals). They build skiffs, or boats, that Squallers (Grisha who can manipulate air) use to cross The Fold. The Grisha are part of what is called the Second Army, led under General Kirigan (Ben Barnes). He is a special type of Grisha, a summoner who controls shadows. However, he cannot destroy The Fold. Only the Sun Summoner, a mythical Grisha of legend who can control light, can destroy it.
After Volcra attack her and her friends, Alina’s power awakens. It turns out, she is the Sun Summoner of legend, and she is whisked away from Mal to the Ravakn capital, where she grows close with General Kirigan, trains under the harsh Baghra (Zoë Wanamaker), and learns that everything is not what it seems.
West of Ravka is Ketterdam, a dark and dangerous place filled with vices of all kinds. It’s here where we find most of our Six of Crows characters, Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), the bastard of the barrel and leader of the Crows, Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), and dangerous and sneaky Suli tracker, and Jesper Fahey (Kit Young), a silver tongued gunslinger with a charming smile. They are a rowdy group of rogues, taking all sorts of odd and illegal jobs.
Two other crucial Six of Crows characters make appearances in their own plot lines: Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan) and Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman). Nina is Grisha spy and Matthias is a Druskelle, a witch hunter from the neighbording country of Fjerda. In other words, Druskelle hunt Grisha. Nina is caught by his band of Druskelle, but they have to work together to survive once the ship goes down.
I found it odd when I first found out Six of Crows was being incorporated into the show. The duology takes place after the Shadow and Bone series so I was unsure of how they would be incorporated to take place at the same time. In a clever twist, Kaz and his crew have to find a way to cross The Fold and bring back something that’s worth $1,000,000 Kruge, the currency of Ketterdam. They have to seek the help of the mysterious and secretive Conductor, Arken, to get across the fold. I thought it was a smart way to center the plot around The Fold and develop the characters’ relationships so that they truly shine and feel more fleshed out once their story is adapted.
This was also done with Nina and Matthias plot line because it is one that happens in the books. However, it’s told in flashbacks. They have a very complicated relationship, and telling their history now allows them to focus on their deep and multifaceted dynamic in the future.
Overall, I thought the show handled the sheer amount of characters well. The episodes are dense and jam packed with action. That being said, there are times where it feels a little overwhelming. I was able to keep up from reading the books, so I imagine it might be difficult for those going in with no background. However, you can boil it down to four plot lines with a total of eight primary characters, which may help.
Another aspect I appreciated was the casting of Jessie Mei Li. In the books, Alina is white. Li is half-Chinese, and her ethnicity is incorporated into the show. Not only does this offer a more accurate reflection of our world, but I truly think this helps develop Alina’s character, as it adds to how alone she feels in Ravka. Not only is she an orphan, but she is half-Shu Han. She is ostracized by her comrades and experiences racism despite the fact that she is deeply Ravkan. While at times it’s frustrating to watch because even in fantasy, we cannot escape the cruelties of racism, it does serve as a point of discussion which I appreciate.
I think the show fell a little flat when it came to the time Alina spends at the capital in the Little Palace. Because the show has to balance a lot of characters and plot lines, we spend less time with Alina. As a result some of her relationships don’t feel as developed as they do in the books. It makes them feel less crucial. There were some great scenes with Genya (Daisy Head) and Alina, but I would’ve loved to see a bit more of them. I also would’ve liked a bit more of David (Luke Pasqualino).
There are few twists involving Alina’s new friends that lose some of their punch because we don’t know the characters as well. In addition to this, Alina doesn’t have the same attachment to the Little Palace that she does in the books, which makes some of her decisions seem a little less personal. But I also understand that the show was juggling a lot of characters and had to cut back on Alina’s time at the Little Palace.
That being said, this show also absolutely had me switching up on some of my favorite book characters. When reading Shadow and Bone, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Mal. But when watching, Archie Renaux had me rooting for him the entire time! I think it also helps that the show switches perspectives, so we’re not with Alina the entire time. We’re able to see what other characters are doing which helped me connect more with them than I did in the book.
Fun Fact. This was my final audition scene and in the audition it was the first time I met @FreddyCarter1 and the next photo was my first ever audition for Jesper and first time I met @amitasuman_ so shooting these were extra special. Can’t wait for you to see them! pic.twitter.com/0YEVFuzbak
Another stand out performance was Kit Young as Jesper. He stole the show for me in every scene he was in. Nina and Matthias were my favorite Crows in the books, but I found myself waiting for Jesper to be on screen. Charming, suave, and full of mischief, Young brings Jesper to life in an impressive way. He successfully breaks tension, while also showing courage when need be. Jesper is whitty and full of one liners, and truly shines on screen.
While the show can be dense, if you enjoy fantasy, adventure, and heist films, I would definitely give Shadow and Bone a watch. I think it’s a push in the right direction in regards to diversity and representation, and I really want to see what direction the show would go for season two! So give it a watch! If anything, do it for Kit Young.
You can stream Shadow and Bone on Netflix starting April 23rd.
Daniella Baltazar is a senior at Emerson College currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Media Arts Production with a minor in Global and Post-Colonial Studies. She is a spring 2021 intern for AfterBuzz TV and is hoping to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
Founded by Emmy winning journalist Maria Menounos and Producer Keven Undergaro, artist-friendly AfterBuzz TV is the world’s largest digital broadcast network and pop culture news platform, producing post-game ‘after-shows’ for nearly all favorite TV shows, interviewing cast and showrunners and providing the widest video, audio and article coverage of shows, content and influencers than any entertainment news platforms in existence
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