Here’s the thing, I have not read the books from which Shadow and Bone derives. I, honestly, didn’t even know they existed until the series was announced and then reminded of it once the first teaser dropped. Since then, the book series got added to my always exhaustive list of books I will get to read one day when time permits it, and so I went into the show without any idea or knowledge about what the show was other than what had been shown to me before my viewing.
Please note that this is a rare instance for me. I love to do my research before starting a show. Before Netflix’s The Witcher arrived, I replayed the games, read the books and deep-dived into the lore. I knew what was coming. This time around, I decided to do the opposite. Why? I don’t know, maybe I wanted to be surprised and have no expectations. Or, maybe I was just lazy and didn’t want to tackle another book series where, maybe, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much I wanted and hoped to.
But the truth is, going in blindly made this so much more enjoyable because everything was new and I found myself surprised over and over again.
I can’t say if the book lovers will love this series, I also don’t know how faithful it is to the series, so I can’t comment on that. But Shadow and Bone is enjoyable from start to finish, with great world-building and a story that had me captivated and excited for the future of the show.
(This will be as spoiler-free as possible, but some might fall through the cracks.)
Shadow and Bone finds us in a war-torn world where a lowly soldier and orphan Alina Starkov has just unleashed an extraordinary power that could be the key to setting her country free. With the monstrous threat of the Shadow Fold looming, Alina is torn from everything she knows to train as part of an elite army of magical soldiers known as Grisha. But as she struggles to hone her power, she finds that allies and enemies can be the same and that nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. There are dangerous forces at play, including a crew of charismatic criminals, and it will take more than magic to survive.
What this show does so well is to build the world it is set in. Pretty quickly, the show is capable of establishing the rules of the world. Sure, as a non-book reader, I had to wonder at times who were the different nations that inhabit the story, but once I became pretty familiar with them, it became easier to understand. The characters all were so different that I didn’t find myself thinking two were the same and the core characters of the show were developed enough that I had a sense of who everyone was.
The only thing I knew about Shadow and Bone is that the show would adapt both the original trilogy from Leigh Bardugo, who also serves as an executive producer on the show and the Six of Crows duology. While doing research for this review, I found out that the show decided to combine the two. While the story diverges from Six of Crows, it takes the idea of the book itself and most importantly, Kaz, Inej, Jasper, Nina and Matthias. I am highly interested to see how fans of the book series react to the changes made and how they welcome it because, to me, the addition of this story might have felt disjointed at first, but once the stories merge, they work so well that I didn’t even realize that this was a major difference from the books.
The midseason point is really when the show starts to pick up. I have to say that I was getting a bit bored with the show until the fifth episode happened and everything just fell into place. Because the show had to introduce so many characters as well as establishing the world, the show felt a bit slow, but for the last four episodes, Shadow and Bone goes full speed and doesn’t stop even as the credit rolls at the end of the first season. Every episode just upped the stakes and never backed down. By the end, I was captivated and didn’t want it to end.
Because I went into Shadow and Bone with no expectations I found myself fascinating by the world that I found. The fact that the show was original with it’s inspirations, I know this is also from the books but the costume designs and set designs inspired by Russia was incredible, and that the story flowed so well when it could have been too much. The characters were great, especially the perfectly cast trio of Kaz, Inej and Jasper, who was my favourite character of the show and has some incredible one-liners.
Fans of the Shadow and Bone book series should be excited because even with the changes to the story, this is a home-run for Netflix and I, for one, am excited to see the future of the show and where it will lead.