Netflix’s latest fantasy series is a hit for both the Grisha series lovers and new audiences, detailing the story of an underdog soldier in powerful and gripping ways
Those who could not put the Grisha trilogy down may understandably be hesitant to dip into Netflix’s Shadow And Bone series adaptation. After all, television adaptations have often run across the spectrum from bland and disappointing to outlandish and disloyal in regards to the books.
Thankfully, fans of Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy novels will not be disappointed with the series that takes typical fantasy tropes and augments the experience for the modern-day binge-watcher that has been sitting in the top 10 for the past week. But I wanted to know how this works for those just tapping into this world of spells and war.
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Shadow and Bone follows a war-torn world in which a cartographer Alina Starkhov (Jessie Mei Li) resides. A sudden turn of events sees Alina realising she has extraordinary powers that could be the key to setting her homeland free from a dark entity called The Fold filled with monstrous creatures called volcra. But as knowledge of her powers spread across the lands, malicious forces plot to take her down. Along the way, Alina meets friends and foes who either help or harm her journey.
Admittedly, I went into Shadow and Bone thinking it was yet another fantasy world with the very typical tropes, but I was pleased that the stories offered up served originality in droves, as mentioned several times over by a friend who is a Bardugo superfan.
Cast with magic
I rarely am able to empathise with a lot of protagonists in such roles, but Li managed to sell vulnerability and strength when playing Starkhov. As she gives an illuminating performance from start to finish, she is supported by a talented cast.
Playing Inej Ghafa, the spy for the Dregs (a gand of thieves in the district of Ketterdam) is the talented Nepali actor Amita Suman. Suman shines in this role, and often a scene-stealer making her one to watch for the years to come. Then there is Zoya, played by Indian actor Sujaya Dasgupta; Zoya is Alina’s rival a
Portraying tracker Malyen Orestev is Archie Renaux; Malyen is Alina’s true soulmate and Renaux approaches the role with equal measures of grit and thoughtfulness instantly turning him into a favourite.
And of course, is there Ben Barnes – is there any period fantasy drama he isn’t a part of these days? – playing General Aleksander Kirigan, a mysterious Shadow Summoner (the group that is responsible for The Fold) with an epic past of love and loss. Barnes is charming and magnetic as usual but I see how he has levelled the playing field with a dark side worth digging into. Watching the interactions between Alina, who is the Sun Summoner, and Kirigan interact is a treat to watch as the chemistry between the two is undeniable on the surface, but audiences can tell there is something much more cloying about their relationship.
Rightfully, Netflix has invested heavily into the production design of the show. Shadow and Bone has thrived not just because of striking character builds and arcs but also the mesmeric worlds. The creature designs of the show are also Witcher-quality, so you will not see any holdbacks here. Plus, the score is a soul-stirring sort, heavy on the bass with bone-chilling trills occasionally. Watch this on a home theatre – do not do this show injustice on a small screen or puny speakers.
It barely took a while to catch on to the various clans and groups, as well as the magical jargon thrown into the mix, the team is mindful to ensure new eyes would be hooked into this series. Give Shadow and Bone a solid weekend and you will undoubtedly fall in love with the story arcs, and there is plenty of re-watch value.
Much of the OTT approach to social issues is littered with moral smothering on important issues such as race, sexuality, immigration and conflict. But Shadow And Bone weaves these issues into the adaptation effortlessly. The best part is how it takes every sexist cliche we see in titles of this genre and turns them on their head.
I am already looking forward to a second season though it will take a while, no doubt. Keep this one on your watchlist and you will not be let down.
Shadow and Bone is currently streaming on Netflix