Shadow And Bone Season 2 Just Got A Lot More Complicated


No fantasy adaptation can just be simple these days – something that’s alternately exciting and worrying for fans of the source material, and exhausting for any reviewer trying to write coherently about said fantasy adaptations. If it’s not Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings prequel series being pieced together from mostly contradictory notes, it’s The Witcher‘s first season playing chronological guessing-games with the audience – and then there’s Shadow And Bone, which perhaps takes the cake (or should I say, waffle) in this competition of complexity.

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

The Netflix show isn’t a straight-up adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s debut novel, Shadow And Bone, although it will presumably continue to bear that book’s title. It also includes characters from Bardugo’s fourth Grishaverse novel, Six Of Crows, which is set a few years after her first trilogy, in a different region of the Grishaverse. But rather than follow two timelines simultaneously, Shadow And Bone (the show) imagines an original scenario where these Crows characters and their storylines overlapped with the events of Shadow And Bone (the book) sometime between their canonical backstories and the events of Six Of Crows. The end of season one roughly matches up with the beginning of Six Of Crows.

Or at least, so we thought. Shadow And Bone‘s showrunner, Eric Heisserer recently declared that the plot of Six Of Crows can’t happen until after The Darkling is dead, a statement he reiterated in an interview with Variety where he suggested that, while the Crows offer a clear path forward for the show “once you get to the end of Alina’s storyline”, in the meantime their arcs will continue to interweave with Alina’s, “without really disturbing too much of the separate storylines that they’re on.” Heisserer’s reasoning is that the central premise of Six Of Crows – that a mysterious new drug named jurda parem has appeared in the Grishaverse, giving Grisha heightened abilities – would break the world’s established magic system too soon.

Obviously, this begs the question of why it was necessary to introduce the Crows this early, if the events of their own book won’t occur onscreen until after Alina’s journey is complete and they won’t substantially impact her arc in the meantime, but the real question we should be asking is what the Crows will do in season two now that the Ice Court heist is apparently off the table and jurda parem can’t yet be introduced. Put on your theorizing hats, people: we’re about to dive down a deep lore rabbit-hole.

First thing’s first, the Crows will have to deal with their mysterious client Dreesen once they return to Ketterdam in season two without a Sun-Summoner. That’s a given whether or not Dreesen is involved in the creation of jurda parem, as I had speculated (and still believe, although I no longer think it’ll be anything more than an undercurrent of a storyline in season two). But Dreesen doesn’t seem wily enough to handle Kaz Brekker on his own, so I’m sure he’ll turn to Pekka Rollins for protection from the Crows – positioning Pekka as a main antagonist in season two, and allowing for flashbacks to Kaz’s history with the ruthless gang leader.

The details of Kaz’s plan to defeat both men simultaneously are still unclear, although he informs his Crows that, for it to work, they’ll need to hire a Heartrender whom neither Dreesen nor Pekka are familiar with – and that’s where Nina Zenik comes into the picture. At the end of season one, Nina is on her way to Ketterdam alongside the Crows, and overhears them discussing Kaz’s plan – but we don’t see her actually join the team, so it’s possible that season two will find her loyalties divided for a number of reasons.

A peculiar plotline left dangling after the finale was the matter of Nina being a spy for The Darkling, and even being personally assigned by him to infiltrate a trio of rogues from Ketterdam who intended to capture Alina Starkov. It’s a significant alteration from the books, especially since it would have been easy enough to keep her canon backstory, but it doesn’t pay off…yet. If Nina joins the Crows, it’ll only be a matter of time before she realizes they’re the same scoundrels she was supposed to hand over to The Darkling, and that could be exactly the right kind of crisis to drive her into the hands of Pekka Rollins – taking a plot-point from Six Of Crows and giving it a fresh twist.

In the books, Nina is alone in Ketterdam and out of options when Pekka’s people find her and bring her to the Emerald Palace, where Pekka offers her a job at one of his pleasure houses. But Kaz sends Inej Ghafa to scale the six-story building at night in the pouring rain with his own counteroffer – a moment too cinematic to miss out on, in my opinion. Besides, returning to the Emerald Palace would give us an opportunity to check up on Poppy, an original character and breakout star from season one who would be a great foil for Nina’s humor.

Another source of conflict between Nina and the Crows could be Matthias Helvar, the Fjerdan witch-hunter whom Nina loves. Shadow And Bone dramatized a key scene from Six Of Crows in which Nina was forced to accuse Matthias of being a slave-trader and have him put in prison in order to save him from a team of Grisha who would have killed him otherwise – but now, with Matthias headed for Ketterdam’s notorious Hellgate prison, Nina will do anything in her power to free him and clear his name; and she might use him as a bargaining chip in her dealings with Kaz. The Hellgate prison break could be a pretty awesome set-piece, even if it would lead to complications with Matthias joining the Crows much earlier than in the books.

Then there’s Tante Heleen, who still has in her possession the deed for Kaz’s precious Crow Club – not only his primary source of revenue, but his headquarters and the capital of his sprawling criminal empire. I highly doubt the monstrous Heleen will hand it over without a fight, and she’s capable of prolonging that fight thanks to her resources and connections. But one thing she doesn’t have anymore is a Wraith, and Inej Ghafa knows her weaknesses and how to exploit them almost as well as Heleen knows hers. This storyline could also help Inej get closer to learning the truth about her family, from whom she was separated as a child by slave-traders who sold her to Heleen.

Shadow And Bone
Kaz Brekker and Inej Ghafa |

Shadow And Bone made the deliberate choice to give Inej a brother – despite her being an only child in the books – and indicated that her brother was also sold off somewhere, although where is a mystery even to Inej. Heleen won’t know either, most likely, but she’ll know the identities of the slave-traders who captured both children, and Inej will track them down: of that I have no doubt. Her desire to fight the slave-trade is a major part of her character arc in the books, and the way she memorized every detail about her captors’ physical appearances and advocates for the other girls indentured by Heleen suggests it’s no different in the show.

Inej’s dream of owning a ship from which to launch this valiant crusade is something she only properly formulates in Six Of Crows during a powerful epiphany in an incinerator shaft (long story), but Shadow And Bone can plant the seeds of this dream if Inej encounters Nikolai Lantsov, the charismatic and flirtatious Ravkan prince who first appears in the Grisha trilogy disguised as a privateer named Sturmhond. In the books, Nikolai seeks to redeem Alina Starkov’s image with the Ravkan population by having her pose as his bride-to-be – but to avoid a massive geographical division in the show, he could announce their “engagement” in Ketterdam. I’m brainstorming here, but some kind of plot to assassinate the prince could make for rather compelling television.

Who would be pulling the strings behind such a scheme? Well, a few candidates come to mind. Obviously, The Darkling is one of those, but another could be Jan Van Eck, the Crows’ nemesis from the books. Since we know Eric Heisserer intends to introduce Van Eck’s son Wylan in season two, it stands to reason that Van Eck himself will also make an appearance, and it wouldn’t even be that much of a spoiler to establish him as a villainous or antagonistic character this early, as long as he’s working with the Kerch Merchant Council on his plots.

Assuming we’re lucky enough to get a third season of Shadow And Bone, which would presumably cover the events of Ruin And Rising, the final book in the Grisha trilogy, we’d have to do this all over again with another original plotline for the Crows to fill the gap between now and Six Of Crows. But the books provide something in this case – something that could unlock a whole new corner of the Grishaverse, fix a major problem with season one, and seamlessly interconnect with Alina’s ongoing character arc.

Alina and Mal’s storyline in Ruin And Rising is heavily focused around returning to their place of origin, which in the books is the orphanage at Keramzin. But Shadow And Bone changed Alina and Mal’s ethnicities, making them both biracial – and establishing Alina very clearly as being half-Shu (Mal is possibly of Suli descent, based on actor Archie Renaux’s Desi heritage, which raises the way-too-complicated-to-get-into-in-this-post question of whether he’s Inej’s long lost brother). There’s a lot of valid criticism of the way Shadow And Bone uses Alina’s biracial identity as shorthand for a tragic backstory, subjecting her to a constant string of micro-aggressions, abuse, insults, and racist attacks, without ever bothering to show Shu Han culture except through racist war propaganda, or allowing Alina an opportunity to explore her culture.

That’s something that could change at anytime, but season three offers a tantalizing opportunity for both Alina and Mal to journey further into their past than the orphanage at Keramzin – which could mean traveling to Shu Han at roughly the same time that the Shu scientist Bo Yul-Bayur and his young son Kuwei will be perfecting the formula for jurda parem. At this point in the show, The Darkling will be on his way out, and Jan Van Eck will have already been introduced – all that’s needed is for the Crows to somehow end up in Shu Han. And Six Of Crows provides a precedent, in a Kerch-funded mission to the Shu capital of Ahmrat Jen that takes place shortly before the book opens. The aim of the mission is to capture Yul-Bayur, but he is accidentally killed in the crossfire without the Kerch ever finding out – and Kuwei is captured by a Fjerdan team who take him to the impenetrable Ice Court.

This mission would also allow Inej to meet her most notable opponent from the books, a Ravkan assassin named Dunyasha who was trained in Ahmrat Jen. Inej’s Suli region adheres that a person’s sum total of sins and crimes add up to become that person’s evil doppelganger, or “Shadow”, who will one day face them in battle – and Dunyasha is Inej’s Shadow. With Inej’s arc being heavily focused on her faith, it makes sense to introduce this concept as soon as possible and begin foreshadowing their duel.

Shadow And Bone
Kaz Brekker |

But if I’m rambling at this point, it’s only because I love my Crows deeply, and I want them all to have fulfilling character arcs while we wait for the Ice Court heist. Is that really too much to ask? Eric Heisserer got himself into this mess by insisting that the Crows had to be part of Alina’s storyline as his pitch to Netflix – now we have to hope his writers room actually has a plan for them beyond the initial “wow” factor of the Crows trying to kidnap the Sun-Summoner in season one.

“Shadow And Bone” Season 2 – What’s Next?


One week since the premiere of Netflix’s Shadow And Bone, and my series of individual episode reviews is finally complete…but I’m the type of person who becomes hooked on a single show for a lot longer than just one week, and I know a lot of you out there are the same way. And I know – from personal experience, because this is how Netflix is – that there’s nothing more agonizing than binge-watching a show in a single day and then having to wait for another season, sometimes for years.

Shadow And Bone
Alina and Mal |

In the meantime, obviously we’re going to have to speculate about Shadow And Bone season two – which Netflix is waiting to officially confirm, although What’s On Netflix, a site with a very strong track record specializing in exclusive information about the streaming service, reports that a second season was renewed behind-the-scenes back in March. And with the first season trending very well in its first week and word-of-mouth strong, it doesn’t seem at all unlikely that season two is coming. It’s just a matter of when – and of course, where we’ll pick up with our beloved cast of characters.

Now, most of my big elaborate theories about things tend to miss the mark by a couple hundred miles (i.e. the Grim Reaper hint in WandaVision means that Ultron is returning!), so this post is going to take each main character in Shadow And Bone one-by-one and just sort of…sketch out their potential paths forward, drawing on information given in the books but taking into account the sorts of changes that Shadow And Bone has already made to the source material.

Alina Starkov

Shadow And Bone
Alina Starkov |

Last time we saw Alina in season one, she and her best friend Mal (platonic soulmates until proven otherwise; sorry, Malina shippers) were headed into the unknown on a ship, but their journeys promise to run parallel to the Crows for at least a little while, and I won’t be surprised if the duo take refuge in Ketterdam now that they need a place to lay low while Alina works on a plan for how to destroy the Shadow-Fold. In Siege And Storm, the second book in the original Grisha trilogy, Alina and Mal hide away in the town of Cofton in Noyvi Zem (where they actually meet a younger Jesper Fahey), but having them stay in Ketterdam declutters the story and requires one less set. In the book, she goes hunting for the second of Morozova’s legendary Amplifiers, a leviathan known as the Sea Whip, crossing paths with the buccaneer Sturmhond (more on him in a minute).

But if Alina and Mal do stay in Ketterdam rather than Cofton, and with Shadow And Bone now caught up to the main events of Six Of Crows, Alina might come into contact with a very different kind of Amplifier without even needing to take her adventure on the high seas. The plot of Six Of Crows revolves around the creation of a mysterious and addictive new drug known as jurda parem, which affects Grisha, enhancing their powers enormously, and often to a dangerous degree. Squallers who take it gain the ability of flight, Durasts turn lead to gold…just imagine what a Sun-Summoner could do. The drug circulates in secret around Ketterdam, but jurda is grown in Noyvi Zem around Cofton, so Alina could come in contact with it there too.

Mal Oretsev

Shadow And Bone
Mal Oretsev |

In the books, you can usually expect Mal to simply tag along behind Alina wherever she goes, thereby robbing her and himself of much independence. His role as her protector quickly leads to him becoming obsessively overprotective, and it’s…a lot, honestly. Shadow And Bone‘s showrunner Eric Heisserer said he wanted “Malina” to share their first kiss in season one but that others on the creative team objected; and that he plans to get his way in season two (the only thing that could ruin this show for me). I’ve already made it clear that I’d prefer Mal and Alina to grow individually outside of their borderline constricting relationship with each other…but the fact that I can’t hazard a guess as to where Mal could go apart from her shows that they haven’t done enough even on the show to distinguish their arcs.

The Crows (As A Team)

Shadow And Bone
The Crows |

Although some fans have been pushing for the Crows to spinoff into their own series (and I’d love for that to happen), I suspect their story and Alina’s will continue to run side-by-side in Shadow And Bone. And while I do think there’s a good chance we’ll see them embark on their infamous Ice Court heist in season two, their first order of business upon returning to Ketterdam will be taking care of their current client, Dreesen, and Pekka Rollins – so far, all we know of Kaz’s plan for that is that he needs a Heartrender neither man would recognize. Thankfully, I have a theory about how this might play out. We never learn what Dreesen wants with Alina Starkov, only that he’s a “wealthy merchant”…and Six Of Crows kicks off with the death of a wealthy merchant who’s been taking Grisha captive and testing jurda parem on them.

In the books, this merchant character is named Councilman Hoede, but it would be easy to switch the name to Dreesen. Hoede, it’s later revealed, was working on the jurda parem with a merchant named Jan Van Eck (who needs to be played by Richard E. Grant; this is not up for debate), who sends the Crows on the mission to the Ice Court. My theory is that when the Crows return to Ketterdam in season two, Jan Van Eck will end up taking care of Dreesen for them – not out of the kindness of his heart, but to cover his tracks and erase evidence of the link between the two merchants. Then he’ll track down the Crows with his own offer of five-million kruge to break into the Ice Court and kidnap jurda parem‘s creator, the Shu Han alchemist Bo Yul-Bayur.

Kaz Brekker

Shadow And Bone
Kaz Brekker |

But if my theory is correct, that still doesn’t solve the problem of Pekka Rollins – whose agents will probably be waiting for Kaz Brekker and the Crows as soon as their ship docks in Ketterdam. Fighting Pekka gives Kaz a personal stake in season two, and provides an organic opportunity to peel back layers of his history with Pekka via flashbacks. In the books, this backstory is gradually revealed over the course of Six Of Crows, and I hope Shadow And Bone is similarly patient, rather than dumping it all at once. I also hope to see more of Kaz’s brilliance as a strategist: constructing bigger, more elaborate plans, and collecting information on everybody – including Jan Van Eck’s son, Wylan, whom in the books he lures into his gang as leverage over the merchant.

Inej Ghafa

Shadow And Bone
Inej Ghafa |

While Inej will always be a major part of the Crows’ storyline, she also has her own character arc apart from the team – and the end of season one hints at that, with Inej suggesting to Kaz that she’s not committed to staying in Ketterdam. This is true to the books, where Inej has a lifelong dream to explore the world on her very own ship, but Shadow And Bone gives Inej an opportunity to pursue that dream much earlier than the books – especially since the buccaneer named Sturmhond might be rolling into town any day now. Another storyline worth exploring (and one that could tie into Sturmhond’s arc) is one from Crooked Kingdom, where Inej is hunted by an assassin named Dunyasha Lazareva, who claims to be an heiress to Ravka’s royal family – and whom Inej believes to be her “Shadow”.

Jesper Fahey

Shadow And Bone
Jesper Fahey |

Shadow And Bone‘s first season dropped numerous hints to the fact that Jesper is a Grisha Fabrikator – specifically a Durast capable of manipulating metals and other solid materials, something that possibly contributes to his skills as a sharpshooter. Ivan the Heartrender senses his power during one of their duels, but Jesper later shoots him dead, thus protecting his secret; which he’s kept hidden since watching his mother – herself a Durast – die while using her power to absorb poison into her own body. This could be explored through flashbacks in season two, but a major element of Jesper’s story going forward will be his relationship with Wylan Van Eck; the Six Of Crows duology’s most prominent LGBTQ+ romance.

Nina Zenik

Shadow And Bone
Nina Zenik |

With Nina’s backstory having already been adequately explored in Shadow And Bone‘s first season, she can only go forward from here. As in the books, she’ll be entering Ketterdam on the same ship as Matthias Helvar, but whereas the Fjerdan will be shipped off to Hellgate prison, Nina will be in need of work to survive – and in the show, she’s just made the acquaintance of Kaz Brekker, who’s looking for a Heartrender. In the books, it’s mentioned that Nina was forced to choose between working for Kaz or Pekka Rollins when she arrived in Ketterdam, ultimately choosing Kaz after Inej hand-delivered his business-proposal by scaling a six-story building in the pouring rain (a scene I’d love to see reenacted). I think the same will hold true in Shadow And Bone, but Nina’s previous service for The Darkling might be a cause for conflict if it ever comes up again.

Matthias Helvar

Shadow And Bone
Matthias Helvar |

While Nina gets deluged with opportunities, Matthias will be rotting in Hellgate next time we see him – and blaming the Heartrender for his troubles. In Six Of Crows, he spends months imprisoned, but the physical and emotional toll it takes on him is apparent thanks to two things that won’t work in the show: firstly, his long golden locks are shaved off (whereas in the show, he’s only had short hair); and secondly, he’s forced to kill wolves, sacred animals to the Fjerdans, in prison cage-fights. Shadow And Bone worked some wolf-imagery into the Fjerdan costume design, but never touched on the significance of that choice, unfortunately. Regardless, it won’t be long before Kaz has a reason to break Matthias out of Hellgate, whether for his first-hand knowledge of the Ice-Court or something else.

The Darkling

Shadow And Bone
The Darkling |

After staggering from the Shadow-Fold with Volcra scars lacing his beautiful face and his fabulous black kefta irreparably shredded, The Darkling is going to be on a war-path in season two – and in Shadow And Bone‘s closing moments, he displays the ability to command an army of shadow warriors called nichevo’ya, who will become his greatest weapon in the ongoing battle for Ravka. In the books, he hunts down Alina, and forces her to join him on a quest for the second Amplifier, employing the privateer named Sturmhond to guide them through the frigid northern seas. In the show, if Alina remains in Ketterdam, that means The Darkling may have another chance to match wits with Kaz Brekker when he comes for her…but directly tying him into the Ice Court heist will be difficult.

Honorable Mentions:

Nikolai Lantsov

There are few characters who pop up more frequently throughout the Grishaverse than Nikolai Lantsov, the illegitimate prince of Ravka who first appears while disguised as a privateer named Sturmhond and pretending to work with The Darkling. Nikolai’s charisma wins him many fans among the general population, but he suffers the constant disdain of his older brother Vasily – an incompetent elitist who gets exactly what he deserves in the end. In Shadow And Bone, the Ravkan royal family hasn’t been very well-established yet, nor has any mention been made of the young prince and his flying ship, but Nikolai is coming in season two; and we can expect his casting to be a big deal.

Wylan Van Eck

Although I’ve never loved Wylan’s character as much as I love some of the other Crows, I’m very interested to see how he’ll be adapted. His backstory certainly lends itself to dramatic adaptation, with his father Jan Van Eck disowning him on account of his dyslexia and attempting to have him murdered to protect the Van Eck family’s reputation in high society. Wylan goes into hiding and changes his name, setting himself up as a “passable” demolitions expert while retaining some of his aristocratic snobbery. Ironically, it’s his connection to Jan that lands him on the Ice Court heist, as Kaz is under the impression that he can be used as leverage over Jan; learning too late that the merchant would happily kill his own son. Eric Heisserer has promised that Wylan will “a hundred percent” be in Shadow And Bone‘s second season.

So which Grishaverse character is your favorite, and where do you want to see them end up in season two? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“Shadow And Bone” Episode 2 Review!


The main selling point of Shadow And Bone for many viewers, Ben Barnes’ portrayal of The Darkling was a casting “secret” so thinly veiled – and so quickly uncovered – that it never should have been a secret in the first place. And not only because it was so obvious to book readers that even casual fans were soon made aware of The Darkling and his villainy, but because, even if I had never read Shadow And Bone nor ever heard the name, I’d still be ten times more likely to check out a new fantasy series starring Ben Barnes as a charismatic villain called The Darkling than a pretend good guy with the ridiculously bland code-name of “General Kirigan”.

Shadow And Bone
The Darkling and Alina Starkov |

The former exudes…confidence, mystery, more than a hint of sexuality. The latter just sounds flat and dull, and undersells Ben Barnes’ ability to make a character named The Darkling appear genuinely morally conflicted – which he does, brilliantly, over the course of Shadow And Bone‘s first season.

All of which is to say, nothing can convince me that the pros of preserving the once-and-done surprise of his villain turn outweigh the cons of losing the chance to extensively market Ben Barnes as a villain. But you’ll have to wait until episode two of Shadow And Bone to properly meet Barnes’ hotly-anticipated (and just plain hot) version of the controversial character, who is something of a lightning rod in the Grishaverse fandom, attracting legions of adoring fans and ardent haters who fight over him on Twitter constantly.

In just this one episode, the popular fan-ship between The Darkling and Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), dubbed “Darklina” by fans, springboards effortlessly from page to screen thanks to Barnes and Mei Li’s instant chemistry – though the episode is bookended by scenes reminding us of the even stronger bond between Alina and her best friend, Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux). Part of why Darklina is so popular still in the Grishaverse fandom is because “Malina” was so widely hated, but with Mal actually being an interesting and likable character in the Netflix adaptation, I suspect we’ll start to see an unexpected shift in ship loyalties (even though Malina work better as platonic soulmates than as lovers).

But the Darklina scenes still carry weight – particularly a sequence lifted almost word-for-word from the pages of Shadow And Bone, in which the Grisha are ambushed by Fjerdan witch-hunters from the north while racing back to the Little Palace with Alina, and The Darkling saves Alina’s life in the nick of time by using his most unique and terrifying weapon, The Cut. Best described as a bladed boomerang made of pure shadow, The Cut is capable of slicing people and objects in half; and is only used by The Darkling as a last resort when he’s been backed into a corner (something to keep in mind when he uses it later in the season).

Shadow And Bone
Shadow And Bone |

The Cut is very clearly the most powerful weapon in the Grisha’s Second Army (besides Alina herself), but this episode also gives us a good look at the abilities of Grisha Heartrenders, one of whom we saw in the first episode using her power to gently coax information out of an uncooperative prisoner by slowing his heart-rate and loosening his inhibitions. But that was in Ketterdam, and that was a very different circumstance. Here in Ravka, the militarized Heartrenders are used more often to gruesomely stop an opponent’s heart or manipulate their bodies, always accompanied by a sickening sound of bones bending and cracking.

But Shadow And Bone also makes it clear that Grisha aren’t invincible, and that they are in fact quickly becoming obsolete in the face of new technology and weaponry being employed on the front lines by both of Ravka’s hostile neighbors, Fjerda and Shu Han. Even their bulletproof kefta can’t entirely slow down a barrage of machine-gun bullets, and the walls of their Little Palace won’t protect them forever. And that in turn lends The Darkling’s mission to protect the Grisha more urgency, as we see how any fallout from their mistakes leads to Grisha being persecuted and slaughtered worldwide. If they lose their natural advantage over human weapons, they will lose everything they’ve gained in several centuries, all their accumulated privilege and power.

Meanwhile in Ketterdam, it’s nothing quite so noble that motivates Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter, whose eyebrow game is on point this episode) to begin assembling a team to cross the Shadow-Fold and kidnap Alina himself. He doesn’t care about the Grisha, or the Ravkan political situation – he’s in it for the prize of one-million kruge that awaits anyone who returns to Ketterdam with the Sun-Summoner. But this episode does layer in a personal level to Kaz’s mission, as he’s forced to outwit and outmaneuver his own nemesis, rival gang leader Pekka Rollins (Dean Lennox Kelly). The series never dives into the backstory between Brekker and Rollins, leaving that wealth of material for the second season to explore, but book readers will pick up on a number of hints.

The sequences in Ketterdam are already complex enough, however, with the addition of a subplot for Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), who has to pay off an existing debt to brothel-owner Tante Heleen (Deirdre Mullins) before she can leave town, by assassinating a smuggler. A bit of double-crossing ensues, we meet a truly wonderful side-character named Poppy (Micah Holmes), who gets far too little screen-time; and Kaz is forced to intervene just before Inej can strike down her target, who turns out to be the one man who could get them through the Fold – the mysterious Conductor, Arken (Howard Charles), an original character created for the series. Charles doesn’t ever make much of an impression in the role, but the character becomes quite significant later in Shadow And Bone as his own ulterior motives are uncovered.

Shadow And Bone
Inej Ghafa |

My biggest complaint with this episode, which is the last one in which we spend much time in Ketterdam, is that the canal city doesn’t feel as large or sprawling as it does in the books – most of the action here takes place in a variety of small, smoke-filled rooms and parlors; the city streets are very clearly a single refurbished soundstage; and there’s just one establishing shot of the entire location, at night. But this is still only an introduction to the Six Of Crows story, and I hope (and strongly believe) the whole city and its diverse cast of characters will get more screen-time in season two.

Episode Rating: 8.5/10

“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 |

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 |

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 |

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