I have now watched the first season of Shadow and Bone twice all the way through and guys, I have a lot of feelings, And a lot of those feelings are so good.
As I mentioned a few days ago, Leigh Bardugo is easily one of my favorite authors and the Grishaverse means so much to me. I have been so excited, on the edge of my seat, waiting for it to be adapted at some point in time – its been optioned in one way or another ever since it was released in 2012. But I was also incredibly nervous. While YA contemporary adaptations seem to be consistently successful, YA speculative fiction – fantasy, science fiction, dystopian and so forth – seem to do not so great. So while I was really excited to see this world I love so much come to love, I was also incredibly nervous.
I honestly had nothing to worry about.
Guys, this show is absolutely brilliant. From beginning, I was absolutely hooked and yes, I do think a big part of that comes from being a huge fan of the series but I do think the other big part of that is, regardless if you’re a fan or not, its just a great show.
There has been an emptiness in television with the end of Game of Thrones. Often times when something is popular, people try to reach for the next big thing. For example – when Twilight was at its height, everyone was trying to find the next big “Twilight” but the fact is, people were pretty burnt out on that and so it just didn’t work. It’s not quite the same with Game of Thrones. That show had an obsessive following and its left quite a gap in its absence, especially with the less than satisfactory ending to the series. Now, I’m not saying Shadow and Bone is the next Game of Thrones, because I hate those kind of comparisons and think that stories should stand on their own, but I do think it has the potential to fill a need that is so obviously there.
Shadow and Bone brings to life the best parts of both the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology. It has the brilliant fantasy and worldbuilding, the complicated romances and relationships and the all around darkness that permeates each page. People seem to have a very firm idea of what YA fantasy is – vampires, romance, etc – but if you pick up a Leigh Bardugo book, that notion is immediately destroyed. Leigh doesn’t write just great young adult fantasy – she writes good fantasy, period. Her books are dark, romantic, powerful and the creators and cast of this show really do a great job at representing that on screen. The story, the characters, the world building is all there on screen and they are so compelling that its easy to sit on the couch and blow through all eight episodes in a day. I liked that they kept so true to the first book and that they kept the dark story that Leigh wrote. They didn’t curb it and I appreciated it – the violence, the terror of the Fold and the volcra, all of that – its all there and I think it only does the show a favor, especially with new viewers.
The thing that I think really makes this show, the thing that I was honestly most impressed with was the casting. With Leigh so involved in the making of the show and as an executive producer herself, you can feel her influence and you know that she had a hand in picking those to bring her characters back to life. I can’t imagine any other actors playing these characters. Even when they were not necessarily what I had pictured in my head, they were exactly right. I was so impressed – it honestly felt like the actors understood the characters they played and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they had read the books because they just really got it. I was especially impressed with Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker, Kit Young as Jesper – omg he was brilliant – and Danielle Galligan as Nina. They just blew me away.
I want to talk about the story of the first season in two parts. At this point, there will likely be mild to medium spoilers for both the books and the TV show so keep in mind that this is your only warning and to back away if you don’t want any spoilers! Look for the bold words below to return to non spoiler review!
SPOILER SECTION BEGINS
First off, let’s talk the Shadow and Bone plotline. Genuinely I was so impressed by the adaptation of it and I think that’s probably largely to do with Leigh’s heavy involvement with the show. (Side note – Leigh’s cameo in the show is absolutely adorable and she ROCKED that kefta) While there were minor changes here and there, the show stuck very closely to the book, I think, and really hit the important markers of the book. The minor changes that were there still felt in line with the story. A friend of mine mentioned how it was a little disappointing that they didn’t have Russian accents and I agreed but I got over that quickly. There was something with the Darkling and his true name that happened early in the show that irritated me a little bit but not enough to be super upset about it or anything. It is genuinely a great adaptation of the first book; the beginning, middle and end match what happens in the book, to an extent, and any changes from the book really come from the Crows being involved in the story when they obviously aren’t in the books.
There were two changes in the tv show that I did actually really appreciate. The first was that they made Alina part Shu. I think that this accomplished two things. One, I think it made Alina a more interesting character. In the book, she falls prey to the kind of early YA tropes – she’s small, skinny, not super pretty, not super special until suddenly SHE IS and I was worried that would hold back the show a little bit because we’ve had that with Bella, Katniss and so on and audience are so over that. Making her Shu made her different in a way that really worked to propel the story. Two, I think it was super relevant to make her race an issue in the show because race is such a hot topic right now and it really fits the sort of stories that teens – and frankly, adults as well – are looking for. I think that was a great bonus.
THIS is a spoiler for sure so please look away – I really liked the changes they made in giving the stag antler amplifier to Alina. In the book it becomes a collar and I was actually really excited to see that part. When David puts it on her collarbone, I was like, wow I kind of like it and then the scene changed with David melting a part of the antler into the Darkling’s hand and the antlers into Alina’s body, leaving ridges under her skin and horns peeking out of her shoulders. It was dark, visceral and so much different than the book but I liked it a lot. I think it fit into the darkness that Leigh creates at the end of book one and I just thought the change was perfect.
Talking about the Crows involvement in the story – it was so bizarre but I loved every moment of it. What it was, basically, was a prequel to the story we know in Six of Crows. They blended the characters into the story of Shadow and Bone and it honestly worked well. Kaz, Inej and Jesper being in Ravka, trying to seek out Alina and bring her to Ketterdam was wild but it felt authentic but the three characters felt authentic and so it felt possible that this is what the three of them were up to prior to the events in the Six of Crows storyline. The Nina and Matthias storyline felt even more true, as we know there is complicated history between the two of them prior to Six of Crows, and it felt genuine and true to what we know and it was actually really cool as a big fan to see that part of the story come to life in a way we hadn’t before.
spoiler section end!
The show is also just plain gorgeous. The effects were done so well – which was definitely something I was nervous about because special effects can often take a hit in adaptations and can be a part of why they fail. The Fold was creepy and scary as hell, the volcra are so real and nightmarish and the display of various Grisha powers was awesome and honestly just like I pictured in the books. Any fear I had of them looking cheesy or lame was totally banished – they look so badass and it made me want to be a Grisha even more. It actually made me think of the terrible Avatar movie and how they made bending look so freaking terrible. I was afraid of that but they did the absolute opposite and just made all of it look so AMAZING. I loved it.
I also loved both the costuming and the setting as well. I’ve always wanted a kefta – the robes that Grisha wear in colors coordinating with their specific powers – but my god, the show made me love them even more. They are gorgeous and I think the costuming department did a wonderful job with them. They are what I pictured from the books and are just plain beautiful. Then there are the locations they used for filming. They brought all the places in the books to life and and made them feel so real. The Little Palace, the Fold but especially Ketterdam all looked so phenomenal. They put so much effort into making these places feel unique and real and I felt like I was genuinely transported into this world.
Guys I could go on and on forever about this show and all the wonderful things about it but I won’t because I’ll probably drive you insane. But I’m just so incredibly happy with this show. I felt emotional the entire time, even during scenes that weren’t necessarily meant to be emotional, because I was just so happy with how it turned out. The settings all looked amazing, the keftas were perfect and the casting was just…beyond perfection. I laughed, I cried, I quoted along with some of the lines directly from the book (I died at No Mourners, No Funerals, man, I DIED). I think the show did the books and the fans justice but I also think that the show did a wonderful job at creating a great show in general to make it appealing to all audiences. I think those looking for a compelling fantasy show are going to find what they are looking for in this show.
I’m obviously not the only one who thinks so either. At the moment of writing this, the show is #1 on Netflix not just in the United States but, according to Leigh’s Instagram, also in the UK, Germany, Brazil, France, Canada and Denmark. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 91% rating from critics and a 96% rating from viewers. It’s safe to say that its doing really well, both in viewing and in ratings, and that’s only two days in. It gives me high hopes for the show and it gives me high hopes for a season two. I want to see Nikolai and Wylan and I want to see the showdown that begins in Ravka. I am so impressed with season one that I just want more and I hope we get more!