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Shadow and Bone (2021) | Review

by A.M. Kalus

“I’m old enough to know the only way out is through.”

When it comes to the Young Adult genre, I get sceptical. The stories are often full of exaggerations, cliché tropes, melodramatic dialogue, and a cluster of unrealistic expectations. However, every story has its charm - if you know where to look. That’s what I told myself when I finally sat down to watch Shadow and Bone (2021) .


The action-adventure fantasy is based on the so-called Grisha trilogy penned by LA-based writer and musician Leigh Bardugo. It took over the internet right after its official premiere on 23 April on Netflix.

photo courtesy of Netflix


The story follows protagonist and orphan mapmaker Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) as she discovers a power that can change the war-torn world. Alina is accompanied by her childhood friend and exceptional tracker Malyen “Mal” Oretsev (Archie Renaux), until she falls under the influence of General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), a powerful shadow-controlling Grisha with a mysterious background. In another part of Bardugo’s world, we’re introduced to an unusual criminal gang: the stylish sharpshooter Jesper Fahey (Kit Young), the deadly spy Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), and their leader Kaz Brekker (Freddie Carter). They set off on a dangerous errand outside the town of Ketterdam which leads them through the menacing Shadow Fold, eventually interweaving their story with Alina’s.


Curiously, the gang doesn’t belong to the Grisha trilogy, but to the duology Six of Crows that is set two years later. The show’s executive producer Eric Heisserer says he intentionally included a variety of characters so that everyone could find someone to like.


Shadow and Bone (2021) has its typical and expected turns, the same good-against-evil, and pauper-becomes-prince tropes, but with a cool twist. Bardugo defines the Shadow and Bone genre as tsarpunk a fantasy inspired from early-nineteenth-century Russia.

Despite the initially confusing abundance of fractions, places, and Russian-sounding names of characters who speak British English, Shadow and Bone (2021) is quite enjoyable. The faultless choice of the cast delivers an entertaining array of talent: from the stage-charged ebullience of Kit Young, to the well-established actor Ben Barnes, whose roles as The Chronicles of Narnia’s Prince Caspian and Westworld’s Logan Delos brought him world fame. Apart from the intriguing characterization and relationship dynamics, the show also comes with commendable special effects and attention-riveting fight sequences. Wendy Partridge, the show’s costume designer, is worth mentioning as she brings life to Bardugo’s world with her spectacular work and Russian-influenced motifs in both the outfits of soldiers and magic-wielders.


Netflix had settled on a first season with a total of 8 episodes The response to Shadow and Bone has been very high among professional critics and fans alike, so that the creators have expressed their hopes to deliver at least three seasons.

The vast fandom of the Grishaverse has certainly much to look forward to. It was recently announced that the show is officially getting a second season, reportedly introducing. Nikolai Lantsov and Wylan Van Eck, two dearly loved characters from the celebrated book series.
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