This review relates to season 1 and 2.
I very badly wanted to enjoy Shadow and Bone based on the enthusiasm I’d seen online, but the best I can say for the show is “meh”.
This show is… very “Young Adult”. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but Shadow and Bone seems to embody all of the bad things about YA and doesn’t do anything truly interesting with it.
One first thing to note: the first season of this show is very dark. Not like, in tone. Just in colour. I know this is kind of the theme of the show of
light in the darkness, but please just let me see what’s happening on screen. I’ve been squinting for hours. I’m tired.
Let’s start with something positive: I really enjoy the costumes in this show. The Slavic inspiration and embroidered Kefta’s are stunning and it’s always nice to see fantasy with a different inspiration than medieval England.
Now for the… I wouldn’t say bad? Just mediocre.
One of my major qualms with this series is that none of the characters are very interesting to me. Alina doesn’t have much that drives her other than wanting to stay with her childhood buddy Mal. Mal is… a soldier? That’s it. To no one’s surprise, they’re secretly in love with each other. This would be a spoiler if it weren’t for the fact that it’s so painfully obvious that the only reason to miss it would be that you can’t see what’s happening on the screen because it’s SO DARK.
It’s not that I dislike the show, it’s just that it’s not DOING anything for me. The most excited I got was for Alina’s relationship with the Darkling. He got so close to being interesting but lacked depth. He’s pretty though.
Then there’s Brekker’s little gang of thieves. Their entire storyline felt very separate from the main plot. Like, it was connected? But at the same time, I felt like it was a whole different show. The same goes for the side plot of Nina and Matthias. They contribute nothing to the story, and their enemies-to-lovers narrative is a poorly executed cliché. They do become relevant to the main plot in the second season, but the whole first season it’s like they are from different books (spoiler: it’s because they are).
To end on a positive note: I really enjoyed some of the female side characters. Inej is interesting. I love a mean girl, so Zoya was right up my street. I would have liked to see a little more background on her, but I guess we had to spend that time on Alina? Sure. Genya was also a standout character for me, and she deserved much more screen time than she got. Fortunately, she became more important in season 2.
Shadow and Bone season one consists of 8 episodes. I feel like this was the root of most of my problems. With more time, they could have developed the relationship between Mal and Alina, and spent more time in each location, like the magic school that Alina obviously has to go to because magic schools are a YA staple. They might also have been able to better explore how the characters that existed mostly in side plots actually mattered for the main plotline.
I watched season two as well, but it was really hard to get through because it still just… wasn’t that interesting. I legitimately stopped watching at the start of the very last episode and didn’t continue because I just wasn’t interested in how it was going to end. I’m only watching it now in order to finish this review. It’s such a shame because the show really has potential, it just doesn’t get the time to develop it. I’ve heard people speculate this is because Netflix keeps cancelling shows after two seasons so they tried to get as much into the show as possible. It’s just sad.
On the plus side, the second season is much better-lit than the first. At least you can see what’s happening on screen!
(This review relates to season 1)
I must admit, I was a little bit wary to watch this show. Although the internet seemed predominantly thrilled, Lotte’s lukewarm reaction and my previous experiences with disappointing fantasy adaptations kept me from jumping right into it. However, I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I liked what I saw.
Is the story very original? I don’t believe so. The plot works, however. It’s (mostly) well-executed, fast-paced, and it contains a few interesting twists at the right times. All in all, there were only a few bothersome tropes along the way.
Shadow and Bone’s worldbuilding, a setting inspired by Russian and East-European cultures, is certainly the most original element of this series, perhaps even its main saving grace. It lends itself to some refreshing designs and it suits the dark cinematographic aesthetics that seem to be so popular these days.
As for the characters, none of them are particularly gripping. Subservient to the plot, each of them could be boiled down to just an archetype and a few traits. I don’t believe more screen time would have necessarily benefitted their depth. That’s not to say I found them boring, though. In concept, each one of them is interesting/entertaining enough to carry the scenes they’re in. Furthermore, the acting in Shadow and Bone is solid. I believed the emotions that the characters conveyed, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with the sentiments.
Before I move on, I feel obliged to clarify that I absolutely loved Brekker’s crew and their inherent chaos. I would gladly watch a whole episode of just their shenanigans.
Though this is not really a substantive remark, I’ll share it anyway: while Jasmijn and I were watching this series, we couldn’t help but notice that almost all characters/actors seemed to have some sexual tension between them. Interpret this titbit how you see fit.
In summary, although I wasn’t blown away by Shadow and Bone, I was entertained while watching the first season. I’ve yet to pick up the second season, though, and don’t believe I’ll do this anytime soon. That’s saying something.