Episode 1 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 4/5
Shadow and Bone is fantasy done right. Netflix’s latest Original is a fantastic, exciting, well-written series that manages to adapt its source material to the small screen in the best way possible.
Based on the popular Grishaverse novels by Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone essentially adapts the first novel while taking elements of its ‘Six of Crows’ follow-up. The result is a wonderful medley of influences that deliver 8 episodes of enthralling action and consistently interesting world-building.
Shadow and Bone though takes place in a relatively small chunk of a much larger world. Specifically, our tale predominantly takes place in the divided country of Ravka. A large shadowy wall (known colloquially here as The Fold) divides the country in half, towering over everything like the Ice Wall from Game Of Thrones. Its origins are stepped in mystery but across the season we do find out where it came from – and why.
This fantasy world also plays host to a number of superpowered beings known as Grisha. Their powers range from detecting heartbeats and throwing fireballs, right the way through to light and dark projections.
With these two continents divided, the focus shifts across both sides of the Fold into both East and West Ravka. In East Ravka, cartographer Alina joins her best friend Mal on the front lines. Unfortunately, Mal is tasked with a perilous recon mission through the Fold. Alina follows though, and in doing so inadvertently shows off her mysterious powers.
You see, Alina is the fabled Sun Summoner, a Grisha so rare and powerful that they could change the fate of the world. Sensing this could change everything, General Kirigan takes Alina to the capital city to train her up. Mal is left behind though, eventually doing everything he can to get back to his best friend.
Complicating matters further are a rogue band of misfits in West Ravka. This is where the Six Of Crows story comes into play. At the center of this is gang leader Kaz Brekker, who learns of a lucrative job worth one million kruge. The only trouble is, he’ll need to cross the Fold into East Ravka. This leads him to team up with charismatic gunslinger Jesper and the intriguingly complicated spy Inej. Together, they set out to find and capture Alina.
These two stories are then joined by a third, where Grisha Nina is captured by an elite Fjerdan (see: witchhunter) soldier named Matthias.
Interestingly, each of these separate subplots do cross paths at random intervals, with episode 5 in particular seeing all three of these plotlines converging together in the best way possible. These reunions are short-lived though, especially as the story branches further late on, with Mal given his own sub-plot to contend with as well.
Fans of The Witcher will notice immediately similarities between the two shows, especially with the way these separate story threads are woven together. No spoilers of course, but a few of these episodes have some lovely twists and turns that keep things exciting.
On their own, these plot lines are actually quite archetypal. Alina finds herself on the well-worn path to becoming the young adult chosen one. Kaz and the gang take part in numerous heists. While further still, Matthias and Nina play off the forbidden love angle.
However, bringing them together in the manner they are here – with some rich history and world-building to boot – gives the series a sense of freshness lacking in recent fantasy offerings.
There are moments of confusion, especially early on as the scenes jump between both sides of the Fold. However, the cast here do a fantastic job to keep things engaging throughout. There’s just enough of a comedic angle without falling into cheesy or cringy territory. There’s just enough action to keep things tense and suspenseful. And there’s enough intrigue between the characters to keep things engaging.
Too often in these shows the antagonists fall short and end up as cartoony caricatures. While the whole “taking over the world” crutch is still here, it’s woven through a tragic backstory of loss and pain that makes the villain a lot more interesting than newcomers may be expecting.
No spoilers here of course, but while many people will figure out the antagonist early on, their motivations are nicely realized.
Shadow and Bone is a beautifully written adaptation and one armed with a really solid soundtrack too. In fact, the musical score Joseph Trapanese has crafted here is beautifully laid out across this world and really helps this one stand out.
While there is a cliffhanger ending, Shadow and Bone makes the 8 episode journey to reach that point worth every second. There’s some excellent world-building and the characters are consistently engaging.
The plots may be a little generic but everything around that layers this show with a sugary sweetness that will leave you longing for more. Shadow and Bone is not just the best fantasy series of the year, it’s the best Netflix Original since The Queen’s Gambit.
Shadow and Bone releases worldwide on Netflix 23rd April!
Verdict - 9/10