A Searing Burst Of Light
Episode 1 of Shadow and Bone begins with an introduction to a young woman named Alina. She lives in East Ravka and is en-route to the Shadow Fold.
Alongside a group of other cartographers, she packs up her things and prepares to head out. The Fold is a strange, ethereal realm that divides up the different countries in this world. In the past it consumed her parents, leaving her an orphan. Now she’s with the First Army.
Stepping out the carriage, Alina and the boys are faced with the impending wall of doom before them. While they’re all taken aback by its breathtaking enormity, they comment how Mal is the only one who probably wouldn’t be afraid. Mal is Alina’s best friend and someone she’s known since childhood.
We first meet Mal fighting with another boy. He easily dispatches his foe but finds far tougher competition ahead. A man conjuring magic entices him to fight back. Mal knows how to pick his battles though and walks away.
When he does, he meets back up with Alina. The camp is abuzz with the First Army, as super-powered soldiers known as Grisha harness their powers to use against straw dummies.
It doesn’t take long before Alina and Mal attend a briefing. There’s a perilous journey needed across the Fold, fronted by Sergeant Yure Teplov. Unfortunately Mal is selected as part of this nightmare lottery.
That evening, Mal is approached by a Squaller girl called Zoya. She tries to convince him to bunk up for the night but he walks away. His fear for this Grisha is well-hidden, but something he admits to Alina later that evening. That’s not the only thing he’s scared of though, especially with the Fold rising up ominously before then.
In Ketterdam, Island of Kerch, counterfeit coins are caught out by a fellow trickster known as Jesper. His boss Kaz arrives and warns him, telling the boy he needs to head back on the door.
Upstairs Kaz is greeted by Inej, who feeds back news of a big job – one worth a million kruge no less. A wealthy merchant named Dreesen is the payer, and he wants to send a group through the Fold.
As fate would have it, Dressen is after a Heartrender but given the riches on offer, Kaz isn’t the only one interested. A rival gang known as the Dime Lions also rise up, fronted by Pekka Rollins.
In the morning, The Black General, known as Kirigan, shows up in camp. He’s looking to oversee the operation but Alina is having doubts. She burns a whole stack of maps, making sure to erase records of what’s on the other side of the Fold. The officers are not happy, and eventually this sees Alina and her entire crew volunteering to redraw the maps. This means they can board the same ship as Mal.
Onboard the skiff, the group lurch into the black jaws of death, plunging into the Fold and what lies beyond. Thunder rumbles in the distance while lightning strobes the dim outline of… something. When an officer onboard lights a lantern it serves as a homing beacon for these winged beasts, known simply as volcra.
Mal is injured in the ensuing skirmish, prompting Alina to grab a gun and shoot the creature as it holds on to his body. The damage has been done though, and Mal tells her he’ll meet her at the meadow. This winged beast grabs Alina from behind, prompting a bright flash of light to illuminate them all.
On the other side of the Rift lies West Ravka. The General stands with his troops, awaiting the crew of Alina’s ship to disembark. One survivor called Alexei stumbles out the shadowy curtain, stumbling across the beach and collapsing on the ground.
Meanwhile, Kaz shows up with his Heartrender, Milana, ready to take Dressen’s job. As we now come to see, these two timelines we’ve been following have been cleverly interwoven. The attack on Alina and Mal’s ship occurred 2 weeks prior to Kaz and the gang’s story.
While Alexei finds himself in West Ravka, Mal and Alina show up by the dock, bloodstained but still very much alive.
Anyway, Alexei’s being kept with Dressen and now we hear what happened. An event occurred within the Fold (that flash of white light) and a device detonated. This device is actually a Sun Summoner, which seems to be what Alina actually is.
Anyway, Alexei is killed after giving over Alina’s name, setting up a new mission for Kaz. He needs to bring Alina to Dressen. If not, he’s going to give the job to Pekka Rollins.
The Episode Review
Shadow and Bone gets off to a really impressive start, diving head-first into the high fantasy world and wasting absolutely no time with its plot line. The sheer amount of names, places and concepts will undoubtedly leave some people confused, but to be honest the show does a good job diving straight into both sides of Ravka.
This whole timeline distortion does bear some similarities to The Witcher, but the show manages to distinguish itself away from that nicely.
Alina and Mal’s friendship looks like it could well be pivotal going forward while this cat and mouse chase between Kaz and Alina looks set to give this show some much-needed urgency.
With a really unusual set-up and some fascinating ideas, Shadow and Bone could be one of the more promising fantasy shows in quite some time. Let’s hope the rest of the season follows suit!