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TV show review: Shadow and Bone

Fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels are excited for the new Netflix television show, “Shadow and Bone”, which combines both the “Shadow and Bone” trilogy and the “Six of Crows” duology.

The show follows Alina Starkov, a cartographer in the Ravkan army who discovers that she is a Sun Summoner, a person with the extremely rare ability to summon light. She is left charge of destroying the Shadow Fold, a place of darkness and monsters. Unbeknownst to her, three thieves from Ketterdam, a city across the waters, are tasked by a merchant, for a large sum of money, to plan a heist to kidnap Alina; whoever controls her also controls the Shadow Fold. As both groups get closer to their goals, a sinister plot emerges, resulting in betrayals and unexpected friendships, which begs the question, how far will they go to get what they want?

The original book trilogy of “Shadow and Bone” had many issues, including weak writing, a mediocre protagonist, and the uncomfortable portrayal of Alina’s romances with Mal, her childhood best friend, and the Darkling, otherwise known as General Kirigan. The show remedied these matters, beginning with its excellent dialogue. The conversations advanced the plot and every character had a purpose in each scene, effectively captivating the viewer. In the books, Alina gave off the “I’m not like other girls” female trope, but in the show, her wittiness, courage, and perseverance made her aspirational for the female fans. Lastly, I was pleasantly surprised by the depiction of Alina’s romantic relationships. The exchange of cute banter, selflessness, and love letters between Mal and Alina gave the viewers a reason to ship the two together. Alina and the Darkling’s scenes together did not look stilted but more conversational, which unsurprisingly made the pair look good together, regardless of prior book knowledge. 

I was also delighted to see how the show integrated the “Six of Crows” duology. Kaz Brekker, Inej Ghafa, and Jesper Fahey are a power trio in the books, and there was fear among the devoted fans that either the actors or the scripts wouldn’t capture the characters’ experiences well. Thankfully, the actors exceeded all expectations and created a show-stopper show. Amita Suman, the actress who played Inej, said that both Freddy Carter, the actor who played Kaz, and her, “cared about the relationship so much and … wanted to respect the fans and what Leigh had written.”

And lastly, I was overjoyed about the incorporation of underrepresented racial groups. The cast was mixed race, starring Jessie Mei Lei, who is half Chinese and half British, as Alina. Lei was enthusiastic about this role because she realized that when the studio asked for mixed-race people to audition for the role, “They’re not going to ignore this [biracial identity]. They’re not just casting a face and a look. They’re casting a person and a character who has lived this experience.” The show touched upon racism since Alina is also biracial, half Shu and half Ravkan, causing other characters to interact with her differently. In one of the scenes, a maid attending to Alina says to a Tailor, a person who can alter appearances, “to start by making her eyes less Shu.” Alina immediately becomes defensive and the Tailor removes the maid, effectively ending the discussion. 

Altogether, “Shadow and Bone” is worthwhile to watch for those who’ve read the books. I would not recommend the show to those who haven’t read the books because unfortunately, the show explains little for those who don’t know the fantasy universe, the original plot and the characters’ backstories.

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