Review by Sean Boelman
Based on the Grishaverse books by Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone is Netflix’s latest attempt to launch a massive IP, and it is largely successful. Packed with great action, compelling characters, and immersive world-building, this seems destined to be the next binge-worthy series to earn a rabid fanbase.
The series is set in a world where people with extraordinary abilities are exploited as weapons, as an orphan girl discovers that she may have the power to change the world. At first, it seems like this is going to be a standard prophetic savior storyline, but what makes this special is how it blends fantasy with heist and Western tropes.
There is a lot of exposition in the first episode in order to set up the world in which the show exists, but then the other seven episodes move along at a very steady pace. And while there are a lot of moving parts in the series, with multiple parallel storylines happening, they are all developed equally.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the series is the world. It may take a bit of time to fully understand what is happening and why, but once things fall into place, it’s easy to get invested in the greater conflict that comprises the main series arc. And of course, the final episode leaves more room for these details to be further explored.
The protagonist of the series isn’t the most compelling character. The final few episodes make her into the strong heroine that we want, but for the most part, it’s the supporting players that are more interesting. Every viewer will likely have their pick as to who their favorite character is, and every character will have their fans.
Most of the cast is made up of fresh faces, but they do an excellent job in their roles. Jessie Mei Li gives a strong leading turn, bringing a grounded take to an archetype that is usually a bit more bright-eyed. Freddy Carter is probably the best of the other performers in the cast, but Ben Barnes and Amita Suman are also memorable.
The visual style of the series is also very effective. There is frequent juxtaposition between light and darkness throughout, and it’s really beautiful. But most impressive are the action sequences, which are an inspired combination of CGI effects and exciting choreography shot in a way that is entirely cinematic.
Shadow and Bone is a very promising series that will set the internet ablaze when it’s released. It’s the type of fun escapism that viewers want to see in their Netflix content, and it’s much better-made than most series that fit that bill.
Shadow and Bone streams on Netflix beginning April 23. All eight episodes reviewed.