Review: Shadow and Bone, season 1

Jessie Mei Li in Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone is a fantasy adventure epic. Unlike some of the fantasy series of late, Shadow and Bone has no rapes, no gratuitous nudity or sex, and no gore. It’s aimed at a younger crowd (although I enjoyed it very much). It features a big, inclusive, cast. It’s streaming on Netflix.

The series is based on novels by Leigh Bardugo. There were several women on the writing staff, but only one woman director for season 1. Mairzee Almas directed two episodes.

Jessie Mei Li in Shadow and Bone

Jessie Mei Li played Alina, the main character. She grew up in an orphanage where she was treated as different because of her race. Racism is the motivator for much of the action in Shadow and Bone. Other themes include toxic nationalism, greed, and abuse of power.

Archie Renaux and Jessie Mei Li in Shadow and Bone

Mal (Archie Renaux) was Alina’s best friend in the orphanage, and they were still close as adults. They protected and supported each other. I wouldn’t call their relationship a romance, but there was some sexual tension underlying the love they had for each other. Perhaps someone who has read the novels will know if a romance develops between them.

Alina belongs to a group of people with special powers. They can heal, fabricate, create wind, create fire, and more. Alina doesn’t realize she has special powers, but in a particularly harrowing moment when Mal’s life is at stake, they appear spontaneously.

She is a sun summoner. This is a special category of power because sun summoners were thought to be myths. A real one is capable of banishing a hellscape that divides the country. This hellscape is called The Fold, and getting through it is perilous. It’s full or murderous creatures called Volcra.

The good guys, the bad guys, the greedy, the worshipers (the sun summoner is considered a saint) and everyone else wants to get their hands on Alina and her powers.

There’s a magical stag with an amazing set of antlers that can give her powers a boost that she dreams about. Hunting for the stag is an important subplot.

Ben Barnes and Jessie Mei Li in Shadow and Bone

Alina is taken to the Little Palace, where General Kirigan (Ben Barnes) explains her powers to her. He sends her to be trained with Baghra (Zoë Wanamaker). As her powers increase and she learns to control them, more and more people hear about her and want to see her or kidnap her.

Kit Young, Freddy Carter, and Amita Suman in Shadow and Bone

There are many subplots in the story. A chief one involves Kaz (Freddy Carter), Inej (Amita Suman), and Jesper (Kit Young). This group call themselves The Crows and are after Alina for a million in ransom. All three were important players, but Jesper was a treat for the comic relief and some LGBTQ representation.

With such a big cast, there were characters to love and characters to hate. I liked Inej very much. There was a character for every archetype. I liked the ‘heartrender’ character played by Danielle Galligan because it reminded me of the succubus Bo Dennis in Lost Girl.

You might begin by trusting a character and thinking they are a good person on Alina’s side, only to discover they are double crossers or sellouts or liars. Lots of twists keep you interested.

The names of countries and races were all fictional, but the setting was clearly in the far north. Certain elements had a Russian look while others seemed Scandinavian. The effects were well done and added excitement to the action.

The final episode of the season was a regrouping of forces in order to carry the fight into a second season. I don’t think it’s been announced yet, but I’ll bet it’s coming. With such a big cast, so many powers and thematic possibilities, this group of characters could carry on for a long time with more danger, excitement, and adventure.

Poster for Shadow and Bone

Here’s a look at the trailer.

Are you planning to catch this adventure series? Who is your favorite character?

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