Book to movie adaptations are often hit or miss, particularly for fans of the source material. Luckily, Shadow and Bone is an immersive, intriguing and fun experience that stayed true to Leigh Bardugo's novels, and intertwined the two Grishaverse series masterfully. For many readers, the characters and settings will be exactly as they imagined them, and although the script took the approach of having characters coming together that never cross paths in the books, it definitely worked a treat.
Written by Becca Johnson
The new Netflix original fantasy series is set in an intricate world based on Imperial Russia, and introduces audience to the 'Grisha', a group of people who refer to their magic as 'small science' and harbour many different powers mainly focusing on manipulating matter. The series combines author Bardugo's original trilogy named Shadow and Bone, as well as the Six of Crows duology based two years after the events in the original trilogy. Audiences will see both stories collide in a story full of magic, mischief, romance and darkness.
The best element of this series was easily the story-line. Bardugo's Grishaverse is a very complex world, and the script did a good job in explaining all the different locations and terminology, as well as giving enough time to the plot to ensure it had an impact. The world was introduced perfectly, with many likeable characters. The main plot follows Alina Starkov, a map-maker who discovers that she has an exceptional gift that could change the world. We follow her as she navigates how to use her gift and most importantly, who to trust with it. We also follow Kaz Brekker and his rag-tag group of criminals as they embark on a dangerous heist. Both storylines were equally as engaging as each other, and most audience members will find joy and excitement following both.
All visual elements from the costuming to the set design came to life and created a very immersive experience. Not only do the locations and outfits match the book descriptions flawlessly, but they create a very unique feel that is very different to other fantasy worlds that audiences are used to. It is impossible to compare it to anything we've seen from this genre. Although based on novels that are written for a young adult audience, the world as a whole was very dark and political, and the show didn't hold back with the violence and destruction. The stakes are high, the plot is tense and the villains have very menacing and catastrophic motives.
Shadow and Bone is admirably very diverse. Although the novels discuss main character Alina as being born on the border between Ravka and Shu Han, two opposing nations, her race is never fully disclosed. However, the show made the decision to write her as half Shu, which is the Grishaverse equivalent of half Asian. The writing team, including author Bardugo, highlighted how important it was to create a culturally diverse show, and this was definitely achieved. Creating on-screen Alina as half Shu opens up some very important discourse about how people can be treated differently due to their race. Not only is Shadow and Bone culturally diverse but also features characters of many different sexualities. Main character Jesper, a member of Kaz's group of criminals is just one example of an openly gay character in the series.
Although the characters were extremely likeable, some of the performances were not up to scratch. The show did have some star power with Zoe Wanamaker (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone), Ben Barnes (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) and Luke Pasqualino (Skins) who all gave great performances. Jessie Mei Li and Archie Renaux also gave believable performances as our two leads Alina Starkov and Malyen Oretsev. However, some of the other supporting members unfortunately gave poor line delivery resulting in performances that failed to feel believable. This paired with the occasionally cringe-worthy script that didn't always come across as perfectly written sometimes hindered enjoyment.
To summarise, Shadow and Bone was a great on-screen introduction to the Grishaverse, that both stayed true to the source material and made changes that felt necessary and worthwhile. The diversity was admirable, the characters were strong and likeable, and the setting was highly unique and immersive. Fans of the books are going to love seeing much loved characters including Alina Starkov, Kaz Brekker and The Darkling come to life, yet those who aren't familiar with the source material will not struggle to bond with the characters and the world as a whole. Sub-par writing and weak performances occasionally let the show down, but regardless of this it was enjoyable and tense from start to finish.