Reviews

SHADOW AND BONE SEASON 1 (Netflix series) – #Wyrdandwonder

Before embarking in the review for the first season of the series inspired by Leigh Bardugo’s trilogy I need to state that I have not read her books, so I came to this story in total ignorance of its background and characters, which makes me unable to compare the two mediums – although, from what I was able to gather on various comments online, it would seem that the translation from books to screen was reasonably faithful to the source material.  I also learned that the script is a mix between the Shadow and Bone trilogy proper and the story portrayed in the Six of Crows duology, which for me added a nice counterpoint to the core narrative (and compelled me to finally add Six of Crows to my reading queue, after leaving it to languish on my TBR for far too long).

The story, in a nutshell: the kingdom of Ravka (which bears an uncanny resemblance to Tsarist Russia from the 19th Century) is split in two by a phenomenon called the Fold, an area of turbulent darkness inhabited by the Volcra, ravenous and nightmarish creatures. The kingdom is further divided by the separation between its mundane inhabitants and the Grisha, people with the ability to manipulate elemental forces, and for this reason both feared and despised. Young Alina Starkov, an orphan serving in the military, discovers that she holds a unique power, that of summoning light – a power that might vanquish the Fold and its terrible creatures forever: for this reason Alina finds herself at the center of a power struggle whose main strings are connected to General Kirigan, also a powerful Grisha, whose goals might not be completely straightforward…

As I said, I came to this series with no previous background, and at first I was a little lost in trying to connect all the dots, particularly because there are three main narrative lines in the story: the one focused on Alina, the one following the Crows (a band of thieves looking for the heist that will make their fortune) and the one about a Grisha who’s been kidnapped by enemies of Ravka.  Once I got my bearings however, I was able to enjoy the story and get invested in it, although I have to admit that sometimes it felt as if the viewers were forced to bite off more than they could chew: my lack of knowledge of the books series played a part in this, of course, but I had the impression that a couple more episodes, besides the eight slated for this first season, might have given the narrative more room to breathe.  The crowded storylines, while offering the possibility of moving across Ravka with the change of POW and therefore exploring the setting in its different locations, left little room to truly grow attached to the characters who seemed to me more like archetypes than living and breathing creations with which to establish the necessary emotional connection.

And indeed the archetypes abound in this first segment of the story: Alina is the classic orphan, shunned and underrated, who is later discovered as the holder of a vital power that will turn her into the proverbial Chosen One. She moves through all the required stages of… chosenhood (is that a word? 😀 ), from denial to wonder to acceptance and for most of the time she lets herself go with the flow, sometimes making ill-advised choices or trusting the wrong people, in what are the established canons of YA literature. There is also the hint of a love triangle that – to my enormous relief – did not last long, momentarily shifting Alina’s affections from her childhood friend Mal to the enigmatic General Kirigan, the Shadow Summoner.  This latter represents another YA firm staple, that of the darkly brooding character who serves as the antithesis to the shining wholesomeness of Mal, who in turn is not exempt from the expected mix of courage and willing sacrifice.

The three Crows, while following some of the genre’s criteria, appear more intriguing, mostly because we are shown only the surface of their personality and perceive that there is much more in their backgrounds worth exploring: Kaz, their leader, clearly suffered some tragedy in his past, which forced him to don a cynical protective armor; Inej is a former slave with the skills of a ninja and a powerful drive for freedom; and Jesper (my absolute favorite) is a sharp-shooter and a lovable maverick.  I liked very much how their narrative threads intersected with Alina’s and even more the fact that they might feature more prominently in the seasons to come: nothing like a good crew ready to launch into a daring heist to keep my attention focused, even more than the main events did, at times.

If the characters still need more room to grow and expand, the series’ settings are its best feature so far: from the hints about the social and racial divides at the roots of Ravkan society to the gorgeous costumes to the amazing visuals, all contribute to paint this world quite vividly and turn it into a believable reality.  The scenes alternate between the bright light of some interior settings to the outside panoramas of chilly, snowbound vistas that give way to the fearsome darkness of the Fold, in my opinion one of the best CGI creations of the series: when the characters travel through this area where thunder rumbles constantly, you are instantly assailed by the ominous sensation that something terrible is about to happen, and the choice of not fully showing the predatory Volcra, but rather offering only swift, almost subliminal glimpses of their appearance, makes them even more terrifying than a full manifestation and intensifies the sense of fear they must inspire. 

This first season of Shadow and Bone might not have been perfect, and was certainly too brief for the huge amount of information it had to deliver, but when all is said and done it shows great promise that I hope to see fulfilled in the seasons yet to come, and I’m looking forward to them with great interest.

My Rating:

image by Svetlana Alyuk on 123RF.com

23 thoughts on “SHADOW AND BONE SEASON 1 (Netflix series) – #Wyrdandwonder

  1. Perfect rating and I’ve read the books series although it’s been YEARS. I think this show would have been more successful if they had spent more time world building for people who have not read the books. My husband watched with me and I had to explain a lot to him that they never covered.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had indeed to stop watching after the first episode and go ask for some Wikipedia help 🙂
      The choice of concentrating this first part of the story in only 8 episodes might have clipped the narrative proverbial wings a little, indeed…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I only read the first book in the trilogy and despised it strongly enough not to endeavor reading any other books set in Bardugo’s “Grishaverse” (with the exception of a fairy tales collection, which was enjoyable). Despite your positive rating the criticism you offer ensures me to steer clear of the series – the YA vibe is strong with this one, to misquote Yoda’s wisdom 🤣

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yoda would be right, I agree, but I can tell you that the YA vibe is not ultimately annoying – and that from someone like me who tries to avoid YA tropes like the plague. I would probably not read the original trilogy for this reason, but I have high hopes for the Crows’ storyline… 🙂

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  3. I’ve enjoyed the few episodes I’ve watched so far despite not finishing the Grisha trilogy. I love that they mashed the Six of Crows cast in too – they’re my favorites!!

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  4. I’m so glad you reviewed this, because I’ve been curious about it. I haven’t read the books either, but I’m intrigued with the way the two series are mashed together, at least that’s the impression I’m getting😁

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    1. The two storylines are melded quite well: I don’t know if and how they are crossed in the books, but on screen the presence of the Crows gives the story the energy it needs to move past what I see as the usual YA “quagmire” 😉

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  5. Not sure about this one. I have read six of crows but not the first series and although this is receiving favourable reviews I think I’ll sit on the fence for a while.
    Lynn 😀

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  6. Yeah, for the amount of information they had to cram into a limited number of episodes in one season, I’m impressed. But my poor husband who didn’t read the book was very confused, and even I had some trouble following when I’ve read both series. They also cut some corners for the sake of simplifying the story, and lost some of the coherence along the way. On the whole though I think they did their best to streamline while keeping the most important bits!

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    1. Adaptations are never easy – if nothing else because the book fans are always ready to step in an point at the flaws 😀 – but it’s encouraging to learn that in the end the creators did a decent job. I’m curious to see where they will go with the next season…

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  7. It’s so interesting to see what people think who’ve not read the books – I thought the same though mostly, bit confusing at the beginning but picked up and really promising for next series! I think basically everyone thinks the Crows are the most interesting characters so I’m excited for them to be all together.

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  8. All of the reviews I’ve read have been from folks who’ve read at least some of the books so I appreciate yours as, like you, I’ve not read anything from the Grishaverse. I hope it continues getting better and that you keep enjoying it.

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  9. I think indeed if you had read the books that your rating would probably have been higher. And Jesper is a favorite of mine in the show LOL

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  10. Great review – I’ve not read the books either and would likewise settle on 3 stars for the show for being very glossy but very tropey (especially in the principal plot) and rather thinner than I’d like in the character department. Thank heavens for the Crows, who are far more engaging and having rather more fun 😉

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  11. I have watched 3 episodes of this one and I generally agree with you, at least so far as I have watched. I have read both series and I have some mixed feelings here, because I really enjoyed the first book of Alina’s trilogy, but not the other two books. They weren’t bad but they were not good either. And I enjoyed Six of Crows and loved, absolutely loved Crooked Kingdom. And as far as the tv show went (I am always speaking for the episodes I have watched but I have a feeling that I won’t get any surprises in the next ones) I think that it is pretty nice to watch, but they have taken the boring and more YA part of the trilogy and combined with a ghost of the duology. The best part of Kaz and company is their banter and their dialogues, that are always fun and that create some real and complex characters that we can see here in shadows. I prefer the part of the shows in which we follow Kaz and co. but, at the same time, I find them a bit disappointing. But it is a nice thing to watch, and the visual part is really well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true that the on-screen sections dedicated to Alina and her journey were very YA-oriented, and I have grown a little tired of the Chosen One theme which invariably meet its companion of the Reluctant Hero, so I was glad to see the Crows because to me they were the true soul of the story. On the other hand, the visuals were indeed amazing and that did mitigate my feeling of “been there, done that, got the T-shirt”… 😉

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