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Shadow and Bone - Advance Preview: An Adaption Done Right

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I've been excited for the Shadow and Bone series ever since it was announced to be adapted by Netflix. The Grishaverse novels, written by Leigh Bardugo, are compelling and captivating on their own. I hoped that the TV series, written by Eric Heisserer — who wrote the screenplay for the acclaimed film Arrival, would do it justice. Adaptations are always a slippery slope, but I had faith in the production.

It was well worth the wait.

If you’re not familiar with the novels, don’t worry. The story is still fairly clear and concise, hitting all the major beats in a way that keeps even the casual viewers in the loop. The addition of the Six of Crows prequel storyline has old fans graced with something new. There’s something for everyone!

Alina Starkov is the main character of the show. She’s an orphan girl who has the power to summon the sun and becomes Ravka’s only hope of destroying the Shadow Fold — a dark mass filled with monsters that splits the country of Ravka into two. She’s suddenly thrown into a life of training to learn how to become the great Sun Summoner and work with General Kirigin to fulfill her destiny.

The story of the first book — as well as a sort of prequel for the Six of Crows duology — is told in a beautiful eight-part structure. We see several groups of characters explore the vast universe of the fantasy story, delicately bringing the world to life. You feel the whimsy of the Little Palace and the roughness of Ketterdam. The Fold is particularly haunting and the show doesn’t ever let you forget it for a moment. The only time I felt like the exposition of worldbuilding stuck out was at the very beginning of the show, when Alina and Mal were being introduced as characters. Their little quips at each other’s personalities were a little on-the-nose, but it faded quickly and the rest was feeling much more natural.

At some points, the plot does feel a bit slow-going, but it keeps you entertained. If one storyline is slow, the next one will make you feel like it isn’t. While watching, I was immensely worried how rushed things might be at the end, given how little the plot seemed to have moved within the first half of the series. I think it could have benefited from a minor pacing adjustment, but nothing that took away from my experience as a viewer.

I genuinely think that adding the Crows characters into the mix of Shadow and Bone was one of the best decisions that could’ve been made. The two storylines balance each other well; their humour is a great foil to some of the darker moods the stories have to offer. The mischief that Kaz, Inej, and Jesper get into is so much fun and is definitely my favourite part of the whole series. I’m sure Alina’s story would’ve done fine as its own series, but the Crows storyline elevates the whole show so much more.

It’s also integrated seamlessly. As a prequel, I had no clue as to how they would fit the two storylines together, but within the first few scenes at Ketterdam, the future path is immensely clear. And it makes total sense. I think that’s also what brought so much intrigue to the Crows plot — while book readers are familiar with what is bound to happen with Alina, Mal, Kirigin, and the rest of the Ravkan characters, the story of the Dregs are nearly uncharted. Apart from being pretty sure that none of the characters from the books would die (unless the show really wanted to go left-field), their next action was always keeping me on my toes.

On a more logistical note, the cinematography of the show is stunning. The special effects were pretty amazing, which isn’t a huge surprise with Netflix’s track record. I found myself in awe with nearly every aspect of this show.

The MA rating was incredibly light (at least, for Season 1). There’s nothing majorly explicit (I counted one butt) or gorey (the Cut can be pretty extreme, but it’s cleverly cut to avoid anything too intense), but there are some darker themes. Viewer discretion is advised, but so far, it’s not on the rating level as Game of Thrones or The Witcher.

All in all, it’s a fantastic watch, whether as a brand new fan, or someone who has been a dedicated Grishaverse fan from the beginning. There’s little to find disappointment in. I think Rotten Tomatoes’ current 94% rating is accurate.

If you take anything from this review, let it be that Milo the Goat is the best. Or the worst. It all depends on your allegiances.

All eight episodes of Shadow and Bone premiere on Netflix tomorrow, April 23.

Happy viewing!

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