At the first teaser trailer for the upcoming fantasy series Shadows and bones was published by Netflix, I confess I was stunned. There were clearly strong production values, all of which supported a young and dedicated cast, but it was next to impossible to tell what kind of story was being told, aside from the fundamental recognition that there was some mystical darkness in which monsters lived . and a young woman whose existence seemed central to the plot. While the people I know who are familiar with the novels of Leigh Bardugo (on which the show is based) raved about this teaser and I was concerned that, as someone who never read the books, I might find the show an alienating experience.
Instead, I’m very excited to report that the first season of the series, which premieres on Friday, April 23rd, is a vibrant and compelling story that should engage book fans, but most importantly, works incredibly hard to keep it up To stand alone work – and succeed. Bardugo’s world adapted by showrunners Eric Heisserer, proves to be easy to spot and understand, but also feels special and different from other genre stories, mostly driven by its compelling characters and some exciting twists and turns.
Like so many fantasy stories, there is the battle between darkness and light, with a very literal interpretation of it: Years ago, the land of Ravka was divided by a vast and treacherous black mist known as the Fold of Shadows, which completely changed the landscape and leads politics to war. Not only ordinary men and women fight in this war, but also grishas, people who were considered supernatural at a young age and whom they automatically win to the battle. Mapmaker Alina serves in the trenches of this army (Jessie Mei Li) and her childhood best friend Mal (Archie Renaux), whose desperation not to be separated becomes complicated when Alina plays a much more important role in the fight.
Image via Netflix
To reveal a lot more about it would lead us into spoilers’ territory, and if you’re new to this story you’ll want to relive it fresh. But I will add that while Alina and Mal face threats on one side of the shadow fold, on the other side Kaz (Freddy Carter) who leads a tiny gang of thieves known as dregs. The score they are looking for promises a massive payoff that will change their entire life forever – all they have to do is survive, cross the shadow fold, not to mention the dangerous people who exist outside. And the way these storylines and more interact work together to create a wild narrative full of surprises. While there is a bit of resistance in the middle episodes and the occasional feeling that some threads are a little too disconnected, I can promise that season one is worth trusting to see how all of these elements come together.
And while there are many elements to this premise, Shadow and Bone does its best not to overwhelm newbies to this world (if you are wondering, the book series is known as the Grishaverse). Instead, this first season has been bustling around with some familiar tropes (“Hell, yeah, it’s raid time!” Is a literal line from my notes) but continues to focus on the characters and let them serve as your local guides for the terrain. Some of the players sparkle more than others, but overall they are all different and personable personalities … well with that said all will have their favorites, but if Jesper (Kit Young) is not in your top 5, then something is just wrong with you.
Image via Netflix
Young’s self-confident gunslinger is a clear highlight just like him Amita Suman as his knife-wielding compatriot Inej … Really, the casting in general is solid, especially Jessie Mei Li, who is proving to be extremely capable of handling the massive demands this show places on her – not just as a star, but as an emotional one Center of the show she engages immediately. Meanwhile, Ben Barnes (Who you may know from other wild sci-fi / fantasy adventures like Westworld and Stardust) serves as the biggest name in the cast, but not as the more flashy; As the mysterious and powerful Kirigan, his role on the series is complicated, but certainly fascinating.
Shadow and Bone is pretty solid PG-13, but that doesn’t stop some of the sequences from falling into the realm of fear. (Remember how scary the movie is Pitch black was? Shadow and Bone strives to achieve some of those moments when characters are inside the shadow fold.) In terms of production, it’s a beautifully done show whose best visual touch beyond the effects is the costumes they design Wendy Partridgethat rely heavily on Russian influences to make this world different and feel special from other fantasy stories.
That’s the real magic trick a show like this has to pull off – creating a universe that feels fresh to newbies without alienating them or feeling too confusing. Like so many things in life, the main ingredient is the people involved. And with the fictional characters as well as the cast and crew, the people from Shadow and Bone deliver.
The first season of Shadow and Bone premieres on Friday, April 23rd on Netflix.
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About the author
Liz Shannon Miller
(278 articles published)
Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has been speaking about television on the internet since the dawn of the internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider. Her work has also been published by Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She’s also a Produced Playwright, a variety of podcasts, and a collection of “X-Files” trivia. Follow her on Twitter at @lizlet.
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