Although it has been less than two years since the first season of Shadow and Bone debuted on Netflix, the brief recap of key scenes placed before the second season’s first episode, barely shakes the mind with enough force that an ‘ah, I remember…some of this’ erupts forth.
Shadow and Bone is an adaptation of five fantasy young-adult novels by Leigh Bardugo that span her “Grishaverse”. As the term young-adult fantasy entails, there is a lot of angsty-love and dark magic involved in the story.
The series sometimes focuses on Alina Starkov (Jessica Mei Li), an orphan cartographer from Ravka, who is inducted into the army and later brought to the castle because she is a natural-born Grisha — magic wielders who can manipulate particles on a molecular level. Their abilities — one specialty per individual — include warping of elements (fire, water, air), materials (metal, glass, etc), and choke-holding a person’s body (stopping hearts and twisting limbs).
Ravka and its surrounding kingdoms — two of which it has uneasy dealings with — reflects old Russia. The familiarity brings relatability in a story adapted to be as unrelatable to the audience as possible.
Shadow and Bone Season 2 plods around until the first three episodes then frantically rushes up the pace in the last five episodes, where the story finally ends. Or does it?
The two seasons adapt a trilogy of novels that span Alina’s story, as she realises that she is the prophesied ‘Sun Summoner’, a light bringer who can eradicate the ‘shadow fold’ — a sea of swirling thick black clouds reaching miles into the sky that house Volcra, demon bat-monsters that swoop people up and tear them into two. These bad entities, and their whirling domain, slowly spreads into the land, dividing most of Ravka.
In the previous season, Alina went from being an orphan to finding a suitable love interest, to training as a Grisha in the royal castle, to falling for the dashing General Kirigan (Ben Barnes, or as he is also remembered: Prince Caspian from the Narnia movies) who, surprise, surprise, is the Darkling. The Darkling is the immortal wielder of the dark arts, whose body gave birth to the ‘shadow fold’, and who feels that Alina, being the cute orphan, somewhat gullible girl that she is, should be his all-powerful companion.
She later finds amplifiers to boost her powers (a search party kills a fabled stag to join its bones into Alina) and escapes, while the show fleshes out a big roster of supporting characters called the Crows — a ragtag group of mercenaries with their own angst-driven love stories, that were originally in a spin-off novel series.
This group, and their many subplots, were too many to keep in one’s head, so this reviewer had to resort to the second quickest way to sort that information out: watch YouTube videos that explain it all.
What I learned was that the series is pretty well-adapted as far as the source material goes. Kirigan is fleshed out with additional backstory in the two seasons (he didn’t have this much backstory or motive in the novels), and that the inclusion of the Crows into the main story is a welcome addition.
While I had felt these two points in Season 1 — and these two points definitely come to the service of the story in the second season — the eerie feeling of amateur, schmaltzy writing of the source material is hard to put aside. The characters, save a few in the supporting cast (played by Daisy Head, Danielle Galligan, Freddy Carter and Patrick Gibson), have good arcs.
Unlike the first season, where the story plods around until the last two episodes of climaxing high points, Season 2 only plods around until the first three episodes. The series then frantically rushes up the pace in the last five episodes, where the story finally, finally ends.
Or does it?
Meagre, straggling plot points are amplified for what could be a third season — not that I’m complaining… that much.
The series holds your interest with the Crows, and another spun-off story involving Calahan Skogman and Galligan’s characters.
The biggest culprit, other than pedestrian screenwriting, is the weak direction of the series (the show reeks of routine television direction with uninvolving camera placements and moves). However, the edit of the show trumps the irk-factor of the two.
There are jumps of spatial continuity in the show. Time and space are irrelevant, as scenes splice and condense days, months and hours into concurrent moments between characters. When a rushed action sequence on one end of Ravka holds the same edit beats as a slow conversation at another far-off location, or when two plot points that don’t make sense are intercut or placed behind each other because there’s no place to actually put them in the story, you know somewhere, someone running the production of the show has botched things up badly.
Shadow and Bone (Season 2) streams on Netflix, and is rated suitable for ages 18 years and above
Published in Dawn, ICON, March 26th, 2023
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