Review: ‘Shadow and Bone’ radiates excellence in every aspect

Astounding acting performances, attention to fine details exceed all expectations


Morgan Vehige

‘Shadow and Bone’ released on April 23 as a Netflix Original. Following the story of Sun Summoner Alina Starkov, the eight episode show has ranked in Netflix’s Top 10 all across the globe.

Morgan Vehige, Image Editor

Leigh Bardugo released her book Shadow and Bone on June 5, 2012. That book, along with the rest of the trilogy and the two spin-off duologies that followed allowed thousands of fans to flock to the young adult genre of novels.

This year, on April 23, Netflix released their TV show adaptation, Shadow and Bone and it became a worldwide hit. It quickly rose to the number one series in Netflix’s top 10 in the United States and other countries such as the United Kingdom and France.

Initially, fans were very excited about getting an adaptation of their beloved series, but it eventually gave way to nervousness and dread about casting and story development.

However, when Bardugo became an executive producer of the show, Eric Heisserer signed on as showrunner and sneak peeks were given of the setting and costumes, paired with the cast list drop on Oct. 2, 2019, it sparked enormous flames of hope.

Set in the fantasy country of Ravka, the show follows orphan Alina Starkov on her journey as she discovers her power as a Grisha Sun Summoner. It also follows many other character developments and subplots that revolve around Starkov, and her newfound duty to save the world from the Shadow Fold, a blight that is darkness personified and leaves very few survivors.

To put it simply, the show is phenomenal in almost every single way imaginable. Not only as a TV show but as an adaptation of the original book series. While it seems evident that Netflix is gearing up for the show to be the next Game of Thrones or something to that caliber, Shadow and Bone makes and deserves its own place.

Often it is difficult to live up to the expectations of the fans of the books while still doing a good job of presenting the storyline to those who haven’t even seen a trailer. Shadow and Bone did both.

While difficult to digest unless having previous knowledge of the series, the worldbuilding still remains spectacular. There was no stone unturned and no detail too small not to include. From the “small science” of the Grisha powers to the varied yet hauntingly beautiful settings and the visually stunning CGI, it was proven to be a worthy adaptation of the original.

Costume design and the music score also contribute a large part to the world, even if more subtle. The costumes were stunning in every sense of the word. Not only did they make complete sense no matter where in the setting the characters were, but they also add to the depth of the storyline. For example, the Grisha keftas looked just as important as the power that they symbolized and contributed to Alina’s growing acceptance of her newfound talent.

The score, composed by Joseph Trapanese and played by The Budapest Art Orchestra, was a masterpiece from the very first scene, to the very last. Inspired by some Russian and Slavic music, it was breathtaking and completely overwhelmed all auditory senses. From the lighter scenes to the more intense, the score was artfully created and perfectly placed in each episode.

What really carried the show, though, was the astounding plot development and the extraordinary acting performances for every single character.

Eight episodes did not leave Bardugo, Heisserer or the rest of the storytelling team much room to work with, but it was not a letdown. In fact, the plot moved forward at a rapid, gripping pace that refused to allow attention to drift.

Mainly, the story focused on the entire first book. However, a large chunk was devoted to the Six of Crows prequel storyline that definitely stole the show. While there were a plethora of moments that weren’t in the book, or moments that were significant in the books that didn’t seem as such in the show, the heart of the story still beat proud and true.

Currently, the show is based on five of seven books set in Bardugo’s “Grishaverse”. The first three are the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and the last two are a part of the Six of Crows duology. (Morgan Vehige)

The dedication is evident in some of the lines of the show. Lines like “fine, make me your villain” and “no mourners, no funerals” have been iconic in the young adult genre for years now, and hearing them on screen is enough to generate chills.

The plot was a living, breathing story that was somewhat complicated, but captivating nevertheless. However, the exceptional storyline would’ve been reduced to nothing if it hadn’t been for the absolutely sensational performances from every single actor.

Jessie Mei Li shined just as the Sun Summoner should do. While the “chosen girl has to master her powers surrounded by dark influences” isn’t the most original archetype, her portrayal of Alina allowed for a multifaceted version of the protagonist that didn’t fall flat. She was able to demonstrate Alina as a flawed but admirable heroine in the best possible ways, all the way from the most minuscule of facial expressions to the harsh determination of her words.

Meanwhile, Ben Barnes did just the exact same thing. Playing General Kirigan, or better known as The Darkling by all the book fans, Barnes was perfectly cast to play the morally gray summoner of darkness and shadows. His character had very many layers to uncover, but the portrayal was spot on, and arguably brought even more depth to the incredibly complex character.

Archie Renaux played Mal Oretsev, Alina’s closest friend, in the adaptation. While his character wouldn’t matter without Alina Starkov overall, his performance was still enjoyable to watch, and his emotions and character’s need to protect Alina were palpable.

Arguably, the most perfect casting of all lies in the casting of Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker, Amita Suman as Inej Ghafa and Kit Young as Jesper Fahey.

Often it is difficult to live up to the expectations of the fans of the books while still doing a good job of presenting the storyline to those who haven’t even seen a trailer. ‘Shadow and Bone’ did both.”

Kaz Brekker’s character is one of the most intense and hard-to-play roles in the show, but Carter executed him perfectly. Although those who don’t read the book don’t fully understand his motivations, Carter’s performance was still immaculate and very true to the character.

Suman was able to do the same with Inej’s character. She was able to detail Inej’s trauma and religious beliefs artfully in a way that created a lot of empathy for the character.

Young’s performance as Jesper was also spot on. He definitely had the most humorous role, but he was still able to dig deeper into the character and unveil his motivations.

Overall these three had incredible chemistry when they blessed the screen together, and their accurate portrayals of their characters contributed to the show in immeasurable ways.

Overall, the story is so wonderfully done. It’s thrilling, heart-moving and awe-inspiring. The adaptation remaining true to the books did the show wonders, and it is so evident, down to the very last detail.

The show leaves viewers with an intense appreciation for the characters and their storylines and creates a love for the “Grishaverse” that withstands beyond the last episode. It provides a light worthy of the Sun Summoner and leaves much anticipation for what will come next.

Final rating: 10/10