Shadow and Bone (S1 Review) | Masterful Use of the Source Materials

Despite my thoughts on The Grishaverse books – they’re the only ones I’ve read so far. I always suspected that any adaptation worth its salt would make for a spectacular-looking film or TV Show. The teaser trailer comforted me in that assumption because no matter how great I found the official stills, I wanted to see them in action and it did not disappoint. The first thing I did after the trailer, was to check out who the series creator and showrunner is. Eric HEISSERER was not a name that I knew but I’m familiar with some of his work (Bloodshot, Birdbox, Arrival).
As for the cast, besides Ben Barnes (Dorian Gray, Seventh Son) whom I’ve seen in countless projects; who by the way is very well cast as the Darkling, I was only familiar with Zoë Wanamaker (Killing Eve, Harry Potter) and Luke Pasqualino (The Musketeers, Snowpiercer, Skins) that I almost did not recognize. However, I’m always excited to get to see new talent, so a cast made up of unknown actors does not scare me, and here they’ve done a marvelous job, I mean an award-worthy job with casting. It includes Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov, Archie Renaux as Malyen Oretsev, Freddy Carter, Amita Suman, Kit Young, Calahan Skogman, Danielle Galligan, Sujaya Dasgupta, and Daisy Head.

Premise: Based on a the novels by Leigh Bardugo the series is set in a war-torn world where orphan mapmaker, Alina Starkov, discovers she has an extraordinary power that could be the key to setting her country free from the darkness plaguing it. With the monstrous threat of the Shadow Fold looming, Alina is torn from everything she knows to train as part of an elite army of magical soldiers known as Grisha. But as she struggles to hone her power, she finds that allies and enemies can be one and the same and that nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. There are dangerous forces at play, including a crew of charismatic criminals, and it will take more than her new powers to survive it.

Review: Like it’s the case with any adaptation where I’ve read the book(s) beforehand, I don’t spend much of my time comparing the book(s) with the screen version(s). I’m more interested in how they adapted the story and try to understand and figure out why they’ve changed some things and or added other things. In this case, I can’t do that because I’ve only read the Shadow and Bone trilogy and I know that The Six of Crows duology is mixed into this show. So there are aspects of this show that I wouldn’t know if they came from the screenwriters or the books but from what I know of the trilogy I am very impressed by how the source materials were used.
The story in the show is complex but not too complicated. It gets more interesting as you go along and each storyline has a different vibe to it, kind of its own subgenre but it all fits together well as a whole. For example, one storyline is more romantic – an enemy-to-lovers story -, and another has more of a heist vibe to it. So going from one storyline to another then another gives the series an engaging rhythm. I mentioned romance and yes there’s a decent amount of it but it’s light on angst and drama – thank goodness. The geopolitical aspects of this world are easy to grasp and help ground the show despite the magic and fantasy elements.

The incredible world-building, with its beautiful set and costume designs, and the amazing visual effects are all great, but in no way do they overshadow this cast. They got it right, these actors are striking not just by their good looks but they can act. I don’t mean to sound surprised, that’s not the case, but it’s evident that these young actors did not rely on the costumes and visual effects to carry their performances. One tiny example, there’s one pairing that develops into a romantic one a bit too fast for my liking but the actors sold it. I have more examples like this but I want to keep the spoilers to a minimum.
Even though Freddy Carter, Amita Suman, and Kit Young, or Calahan Skogman and Danielle Galligan storylines held more of my attention – mostly because these characters were new to me I guess they’re from the Six of Crows duology – I also fell in love with Jesse Mei Li and Archie Renaux. The entire cast is amazing. I mean some of them made me care about characters that barely registered for me in the books.

Shadow and Bone is an intriguing, twisty fantasy series that’ll keep you engaged and it’s gorgeous to look at. With ADOW this show is another of my favorite adaptation, weirdly enough both are from book series that I have the same kind of feelings about. Eric Heisserer is now someone whose following projects will be on my radar – unless it’s horror.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

The source materials and other books by Leigh Bardugo are available on The Book Depository or through Amazon by getting them from the links below:

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