“Shadow And Bone” Episode 4 Review!


Although Shadow And Bone never pauses to translate the intimidating subtitle of its fourth episode, Otkazat’sya isn’t merely a full mouthful of syllables – it’s also the Ravkan term for any human not gifted with the Grisha ability to manipulate matter. And thus, it’s only fair that this episode shines the spotlight on the best and worst of regular human behavior: our endurance, our ingenuity, our capacity for heroic deeds and unforgivable cruelty (ahem, Matthias). Even though Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) is still the main character, her arc in this episode is masterfully counterbalanced by that of her best friend, Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux), himself an otkazat’sya.

Shadow And Bone
Mal Oretsev | esquire.com

Yes, this is the episode where the earnestness and humility of Renaux’s performance, combined with some excellent screenwriting, actually forced me to like Mal…the same character I swore up and down I’d hate simply because of how awful he was in the books.

It’s not even that Mal shares equal screentime with Alina, because he doesn’t – but as The Darkling (Ben Barnes) bends his will and effort toward seducing Alina and wrapping her ever more tightly around his finger, who Mal is and what he represents takes clearer shape in both her mind and ours’. The episode does a good job of leading Alina to the reasonable conclusion that Mal has abandoned her, without losing her any audience sympathy in the process even though we can see for ourselves that Mal has been fighting to get back to her in any way he can, and that he would never have intended to hold back her power because he never feared her strength – an impactful deviation from the books.

Mal, in fact, spends the entire episode tracking down the legendary beast known as Morozova’s Stag – a living Amplifier, which can dramatically enhance and focus the power of any Grisha who kills it and possesses its impressive rack of antlers. Shadow And Bone could perhaps have done a better job of portraying Alina’s lifelong spiritual connection to the Stag (it pops up in her dreams and childhood drawings a few times), not to mention Mal’s awareness of that fact, but he only ends up on the Stag’s trail after The Darkling issues an order to find the creature and bring it to the Little Palace – where Alina needs all the help she can get to tap into her Sun-Summoner abilities.

The episode works genuinely hard to show the difficulty of Alina’s training – and, importantly, the ease with which she embraces her power any time she’s near The Darkling, himself a living Amplifier (a fact that was revealed to Alina on the previous episode, only increasing her confusion over what’s a result of her emerging feelings for The Darkling, and what’s entirely his doing). Her entire training with Baghra (Zoë Wanamaker) could easily have been summed up into a single montage, but is wisely spread out over the course of the episode, allowing it to play a more integral part in Alina’s character development as Baghra coaxes her power out of her wholly removed from the influence of either The Darkling or Mal, strengthening her confidence.

But as Baghra’s training intensifies, so too does the irresistible force of The Darkling – who strategically opens up to Alina about his own (mostly falsified) lived experience of oppression; even revealing his true name, Aleksander. The “Darklina” scenes in this episode are brilliantly written, though they wouldn’t work half as well as they do if it weren’t for Mei Li and Barnes’ chemistry, and the undercurrent of romantic – and to an even larger degree, purely sexual – tension that ripples beneath the surface of all their interactions.

By the end of the episode, when Alina sneaks from her room to speak with Aleksander in the map room, and the two come dangerously close to sharing a first passionate kiss, you’ll find yourself rooting for Alina to make her move even as you simultaneously acknowledge that Mal is probably a better option in the long run (something I’d never say of book Mal, who is every bit as possessive and emotionally manipulative as The Darkling). Ben Barnes had fascinating things to say about how much of The Darkling’s attraction to Alina was real, but handling the subject in future seasons of Shadow And Bone is sure to be a tricky tightrope act.

Shadow And Bone
Darklina | sea.mashable.com

And speaking of tightropes (I promise this will make sense)…let’s turn our attention over to the Crows, who represent what I described earlier in this post as the best of human ingenuity. Without Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan) around to help them infiltrate the Little Palace, Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter) is forced to quickly devise a backup plan that involves breaking into the Ravkan Archives: a little warmup for the team’s future heists, the biggest and most daring of which are being reserved for later seasons. Kaz’s teammates Jesper Fahey (Kit Young) and Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman) both get to play a critical role in the heist, particularly Inej – who displays the quiet tenacity and flexibility (both literally and figuratively) that makes her so valuable to the team.

Fans of Six Of Crows know that the popular fan-pairing known as “Kanej” is destined for future seasons of Shadow And Bone, but there are unmistakable hints of the bond between Kaz and Inej in the way they share a deep understanding of the other’s exact movements and motions, acquired from a long partnership on the streets of Ketterdam. In Shadow And Bone, much is made out of their differences – particularly Inej’s reliance on her religious faith to help her cope with trauma and Kaz’s lack of faith because of his trauma – but that only helps to make their shared experiences a more powerful link between the two.

Inej isn’t defined by her pain, however, which is very important: and we see more aspects of her character emerge in this episode. When Kaz decides to infiltrate a traveling circus troupe to get into the Little Palace, Inej is called upon to play the part of a high-flying acrobatic dancer – a clever callback, which casual viewers might miss, to her backstory as a tightrope-walker (told you that reference would make sense) in the books. Jesper adds his sharpshooting precision to the mix, and two of the Crows have themselves an act worthy of Ravka’s upcoming winter fête. Kaz, the drama queen that he is, decides to make his own way to the Palace – brilliantly establishing his distaste for any theatrics but his own.

Beginning to edge towards the outskirts of the story and the limits of my interest, Nina Zenik reappears – only briefly, in the grand scheme of things, but the sequence in which she confronts her captor Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman) seems excruciatingly long. The worst of human behavior is on display here, as Matthias trots out the vicious (and these days, all too familiar) rhetoric of a bigoted ideology that’s been brainwashed into him. Shadow And Bone seems like it wants to depict Matthias as conflicted and sympathetic, but his and Nina’s subplot never has enough screentime to achieve that.

Shadow And Bone
Inej Ghafa | trendsmap.com

But if Shadow And Bone pulled off the impossible and made me like Mal Oretsev, I want to give the showrunners (and Skogman too, though I still don’t think his acting is on the same level as many of his costars) the chance to do the same with Matthias Helvar, as difficult as it may be. All the more reason to officially greenlight season two right about now, Netflix…

Episode Rating: 9/10

“Shadow And Bone” Episode 1 Review!


At long last, the entire first season of Netflix’s Shadow And Bone has landed on the streaming service – but while it would be customary for me to binge-watch the whole season and review it in a single post, I’m trying something a little different in this specific instance. Shadow And Bone is so personal to me that I feel I have to give the adaptation the respect it deserves by reviewing each episode individually, as I would a weekly release.

Shadow And Bone
Alina Starkov | npr.org

Don’t be mistaken, however…I have in fact already finished the first season. So these individual episode reviews will take that into account, and as such will include spoilers for the entire series.

If you’ve been reading through my coverage of Netflix’s Shadow And Bone, you’ve probably gathered that, while I’m a huge fan of the Grishaverse – the sprawling fantasy world in which Leigh Bardugo’s original series of novels are set – I’m not quite as devoted to Shadow And Bone itself, Bardugo’s debut novel and the first installment in the three-part saga of Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), an orphaned girl who discovers she can conjure and control sunlight, giving her the unique ability to save her home-country of Ravka from a wall of liquid, semi-sentient, monster-infested darkness called the Shadow-Fold that divides the nation in two.

In the books, Alina is…well, not all that interesting as a protagonist. She lacks some of the moral complexity and charisma that make Bardugo’s later heroes (several of whom also appear in Netflix’s Shadow And Bone, courtesy of fantasy timeline compression) so instantaneously fun and lovable by comparison. But when the series opens, the first significant change to the story is one made with Alina’s characterization in mind – and it benefits her arc in every way imaginable. In the Netflix adaptation, Jessie Mei Li is playing Alina as a biracial woman, and drawing from her own lived experiences in so doing.

Alina is half-Ravkan, and half-Shu Han, both fictional countries but with the former being very clearly inspired by late 19th-Century Russia, and the latter by East Asia. And with Ravka and Shu Han currently waging a war for control over the trade routes that bypass the southern edge of the Shadow-Fold, Alina’s heritage makes her a target for racism and xenophobia everywhere she goes, long after she is revealed to be the legendary Sun-Summoner and her country’s government starts to take an interest in her – if anything, the pressure on her to firmly “choose” a cultural and racial identity only increases at that point, with some hoping to exploit her Shu Han background as propaganda, and others wanting to erase it entirely.

Although Shadow And Bone‘s method of depicting Alina’s childhood through increasingly sporadic and fragmented flashback sequences does become grating after a while, those golden-tinted scenes are necessary to fully understanding the lifelong bond between Alina and her best friend Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux), probably one of the most universally hated characters in YA literature. The changes to Mal are very subtle at first, only gradually adding up to create a vastly different version of the character – one who seems genuinely kind and endearing, cute rather than clingy, precious rather than possessive.

Shadow And Bone
Mal Oretsev and Alina Starkov | netflix.com

Alina and Mal both serve in Ravka’s First Army, which co-exists alongside a Second Army comprised entirely of Grisha – who are best described as advanced alchemists, their powers deriving from the precise manipulation of matter. The first episode doesn’t dive too deeply into the distinctions between the factions of the Grisha, but the heavy focus on Squallers (Grisha who control wind and air-currents) and Inferni (Grisha who control fire) allows for plenty of CGI spectacle, as members of both groups are critical on the perilous journey across the Shadow-Fold. The Squallers, in particular, are well represented by Zoya Nazyalensky (Sujaya Dasgupta), the first Grisha we meet up close in the show.

Almost everything about the passage through the Shadow-Fold is handled brilliantly. While Alina’s motivation for actually being there is a bit unnecessarily complex (she destroys the only maps of West Ravka in the army-camp so that she, as a cartographer, will be dispatched on the journey across the Fold to create a new one), the blend of suspense and horror when she actually gets on the sand-skiff makes for a thrilling sequence – but I think the oppressive darkness could perhaps have been even darker, giving the occasional bursts of Inferni flame and Alina’s sudden explosion of sunlight a more visually striking appearance.

Shadow And Bone has to do double the worldbuilding because it’s also adapting very specific plot-points from another of Leigh Bardugo’s novels, Six Of Crows, each of which have been reconfigured to fit into the new series…though unfortunately, we don’t get to spend as much time among the winding streets and waterways of Ketterdam as I would have liked, only getting a taste of the lush Baroque setting before we’re whisked away to Ravka. That being said, the three main characters from Six Of Crows who have been integrated into the Netflix series are each handled beautifully.

Freddy Carter’s interpretation of the beloved gang-leader and criminal mastermind Kaz Brekker is probably the best live-action adaptation of a character I’ve seen in a long time. I was scared Brekker’s layers upon layers of devious wit wouldn’t translate well to the live-action medium, which is usually all about simplification, but much to my relief that is not the case. And Brekker’s teammates, Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman) and Jesper Fahey (Kit Young), while not extensively used in this episode, still make strong impressions with clever individual storylines. I’m going to be brutally honest here – I was never really into Jesper’s character in the books, so discovering that I actually adored his live-action counterpart was a genuine surprise for me.

Shadow And Bone
Kaz Brekker | elenasquareeyes.com

Alina’s storyline only properly intersects with that of the Crows at the end of the episode, and from afar (and at the expense of Ravkan cartographer Alexei, who survives past his original death date in the books just to get shot in the head), but the development still seemed to come shockingly early in the season – and it immediately frees up the Crows to do more scheming, less stalling.

The scheme in question: to locate and kidnap the Sun-Summoner herself, Alina Starkov.

Episode Rating: 8/10

Get Ready For Shadow And Bone With Only 6 Days Left To Go!

A lot of people are going to be rushing to Netflix next Friday to binge-watch the entire first season of Shadow And Bone as soon as it drops, but only a portion of that audience will have a chance to read or even page-skim through the entirety of the series’ literary source-material in the six days we have left before the hotly-anticipated premiere. But that’s okay, because I’m here to give you the rundown of everything you need to know about the world of Leigh Bardugo’s twin series’ of fantasy novels, the Shadow And Bone trilogy and the Six Of Crows duology, and the premise of the Netflix show, which will draw inspiration from the first books of both series’.

Shadow And Bone
Alina Starkov | tvinsider.com

The expansive world of Bardugo’s novels, dubbed the “Grishaverse” by fans and author alike, is largely similar to the Europe and West Asia of our own, but for the most part grounded in the aesthetics, societal norms, and steam and gas-powered technology, of the late 1800’s. Some might call this steampunk, but Bardugo coined the more unique term “Tzarpunk” to describe the setting of her debut novel, Shadow And Bone, and its direct sequels, which take place in the northerly region of Ravka – unmistakably influenced by Russia under the final Tzars, from the opulent lifestyle of the country’s royalty all the way down to the brutal oppression of the working class. If history is doomed to repeat itself even in fantasy, then Ravka is in for a communist revolution any day now.

But while Ravka is a straight-up monarchy, the true power lies in the hands of the Grisha – an elite, militarized order of humans gifted with the ability to manipulate or alter matter. And although the Grisha describe their “magic” as being scientific in nature (and a bunch of them are employed only for their ability to de-age Ravka’s upper class), the misconception that they’re a coven of evil witches persists among the general population, and they are widely hated and feared. Nonetheless, they make up a small but deadly faction of Ravka’s army, and they get to live in a palace near the capital.

The Grisha are also quartered off into numerous subdivisions, something I hope the Netflix adaptation explores in-depth – because J.K. Rowling ruined Hogwarts Houses for a lot of people, so we need a new method of separating personality types by way of pop culture references…and “Heartrender” sounds a lot cooler than Hufflepuff anyway, I’m just saying. But there’s one person in a category of her own, and that’s Alina Starkov, Shadow And Bone‘s protagonist. The only Sun-Summoner in the world, Starkov has the ability to control light – a power-set that might seem of limited use until you remember that Ravka is split down the middle by a literal ink-stain on the map, a wall of darkness named the Shadow-Fold.

Blocking most trade between Ravka’s coast and its more densely-populated interior, the Shadow-Fold can only be traversed by tiny skiffs that must pass through the wall and avoid encountering the horrific winged demons that roam in the darkness, known as Volcra. Shadow And Bone kicks off with Alina Starkov, still just a humble mapmaker conscripted into Ravka’s non-Grisha army, joining one of these routine trips through the Fold: and when she discovers that she’s a sentient nightlight that could potentially eradicate the Shadow-Fold entirely, well, things happen. This post is free of any major spoilers about the books, so I’ll refrain from saying what those “things” are, but come on, the show’s only six days away, people! Be patient!

Shadow And Bone
Jesper Fahey, Kaz Brekker, and Inej Ghafa | popculture.com

Just a few years after the events of Shadow And Bone and its sequels, Six Of Crows picks up the story in a vastly different corner of the Grishaverse, in the bustling, grimy, canal-laced port-city of Ketterdam, separated from Ravka by many miles and an entire ocean. Modeled off of Amsterdam at the peak of Dutch imperialism in the 1600’s but with a bit of Bardugo’s signature Tzarpunk mixed in, Ketterdam is home to several street-gangs which fight for control over the flow of imports and exports through the city’s docks, trade-districts, and markets.

When Six Of Crows opens, the gang known as the Dregs (who operate out of the infamous Crow Club) are already a feared and respected force in Ketterdam’s criminal underworld, thanks to the strategizing skills of their highest-ranking member, Kaz Brekker. To account for the time-gap between Bardugo’s two series’, the first season of Netflix’s Shadow And Bone won’t be adapting Six Of Crows, but will instead follow the founding members of the gang prior to the events of their book – or at least, so Netflix says. A recent trailer (my breakdown linked below, but watch out for spoilers!) revealed that Netflix is basically just using the plot of Six Of Crows but weaving it into the events of Shadow And Bone in a bold and risky move that I hope pays off.

In the books, the strongest link between the two series’ is the character of Nina Zenik, a Grisha from Ravka who gets taken captive by her nation’s unfriendly neighbors to the north, the Fjerdans – specifically by a group of Fjerdan religious zealots named the drüskelle, who despise the Grisha. Nina’s interactions with them lead to her eventually finding refuge in Ketterdam and joining the Dregs, and her knowledge of Fjerda helps the gang when they take on their most dangerous mission ever as a team – to break into a heavily-fortified Fjerdan palace and abduct a valuable prisoner. A waffle-loving bisexual style icon, Nina unfortunately seems to only play a small part in Shadow And Bone‘s first season.

Shadow And Bone
Kaz Brekker | cbr.com

Sure, there’s a couple of world-building details I’ve left out, but that’s essentially all you need to know about the Grishaverse before watching Netflix’s Shadow And Bone. I mean, technically, you shouldn’t even need to know anything because a good adaptation allows even the most casual viewer to ease into the story, but hey – if I can exploit the fact that very few adaptations remember that golden rule, I will absolutely continue to do so because I have fun writing these breakdowns, and they drive traffic to my blog (*prides himself on his Kaz Brekker-like business savvy and exits, pursued by disgruntled readers*).

“Shadow And Bone” 1st Trailer Needs More Crows


I like the Six Of Crows duology more than the original Grisha trilogy. I know, I know, real original, right? But as someone who infinitely prefers reading an action-packed heist adventure with a diverse crew of antiheroes to wading through endless chapters of Alina and Mal bickering over literally everything, I’m going to stick with my boring Grishaverse opinion. And thus, it’s no surprise that the first trailer for Netflix’s adaptation of Shadow And Bone didn’t really pique my interest fully, because…there’s a lot of Alina, and a lot of Mal, and while I believe actors Jessie Mei Li and Archie Renaux are probably going to put in the work to try and make their characters engaging and relatable…I’m still not convinced that’s possible yet.

Shadow And Bone
Alina And The Darkling | deadline.com

To give credit where credit is due, the Grisha trilogy (the first of multiple series’ by Leigh Bardugo set in the Grishaverse, where magic runs rampant in a gritty late 19th-Century-inspired fantasy world) does incorporate one of my all-time favorite tropes: palace intrigue and political scheming. And the first season of Shadow And Bone, which will adapt the first book in the bestselling trilogy alongside some wholly original stories featuring the Six Of Crows cast, seems to feature just as much palace intrigue as the books – if not more. For those unfamiliar with the premise of the book, Alina Starkov (played by Jessie Mei Li in the Netflix adaptation) starts out a humble orphaned mapmaker before discovering her magical ability to conjure sunlight: a gift that comes in handy when your kingdom is split in half by a demon-infested ocean of inky, uncharted darkness, hindering trade and leaving those trapped behind “The Shadow Fold” struggling. Alina gets recruited into the Grisha, a small army of sorcerers who operate at the upper echelons of high society, all while maneuvering political and religious crises, and a love-triangle involving her best friend Mal and her Grisha partner: the infamous Darkling.

The love-triangle is fairly unpopular in the fandom, with both of Alina’s potential love-interests being widely hated-on for various reasons (the Darkling is a backstabbing tyrant, Mal is…Mal), and it doesn’t feature too heavily in the first trailer for Shadow And Bone, which wisely focuses attention on the series’ spectacular CGI budget and action sequences, some of which seem to be infused with a dose of horror. The catalyst for Shadow And Bone‘s events, Alina’s attempted crossing of the Shadow Fold and the reveal of her powers, is getting a perfect page-to-screen adaptation, by the looks of it – the dreadful silence inside the Fold, the rush of wings as volcra demons amass in the darkness, the suspense, and then the reveal of one monster about to bite a man’s head off from behind: good stuff. Don’t be fooled by the books’ YA rating: the Grisha trilogy and particularly the Six Of Crows duology get really dark (and not just because the Darkling can literally conjure up shadows).

Shadow And Bone
Six (well, three) Of Crows | syfy.com

Unfortunately, the trailer just barely squeezes in individual shots of the three main Six Of Crows characters who will be introduced in season one, implying that they and their subplots will not be a primary focus until season two at least. That saddens me greatly, because I already think I’m going to love them: Freddy Carter has won me over with his portrayal of crime lord Kaz Brekker, just from the intensity of his glare and the confidence with which he swings his cane; Kit Young looks radiant and fun as chaotic bisexual sharpshooter Jesper Fahey; and Amita Suman as assassin Inej Ghafa appears to be taking the lethal energy she displayed in her first-look image, and applying it brilliantly to her physical acting. Of the three Crows, she stands out the most – ironically, since her whole storyline revolves around being undetectable. I want her to have epic fight sequences, Netflix! Don’t force me to sit through hours of “Malina” content when I could be watching Inej brutally knife people!

With the series’ in-universe timeline still a confusing mystery and plot details for the Crows’ subplot a secret, I still don’t understand how the two vastly different storylines will intertwine organically – though the showrunners insist there’s a connection. But with the characters of Nina and Mathias still completely absent from the conversation (except for an embarrassingly bad first-look image that conveyed nothing whatsoever of their characters’ rich and unique backstories or personalities), and Wylan Van Eck not appearing in season one, don’t expect any tease of the actual Six Of Crows plot until the season finale, at least.

I feel like Shadow And Bone fans will collectively raise their eyebrows at me if I don’t talk about the Darkling at all, especially given that he’s the series’ main selling-point, but honestly – what is there to say? He’s got fantastic hair, the kind of luscious mane that practically requires a soft breeze to be rippling through it at all times. But Ben Barnes, despite looking and sounding the part, isn’t really radiating the kind of palpable seductive charisma I had anticipated from arguably the only truly iconic character in the Grisha trilogy. I’m willing to believe this is the fault of Netflix’s marketing, though, as it seems reluctant to reveal the Darkling as the series’ main villain.

Shadow And Bone
The Darkling And Alina | tvinsider.com

So while the rest of you are busy digging your trenches in the endless Darklina vs Malina shipping war, I’ll be over here minding my own business (I always preferred Alina’s dynamic with Nikolai anyway, and he won’t be in season one), and happily stanning my Six (well, three, for right now) of Crows.

Trailer Rating: 6.5/10