Every show has its enthusiasts and its critics. Netflix’s Shadow and Bone (2021) is no exception. As someone who has never read Leigh Bardugo’s books, I was skeptical of my own abilities to comprehend the show, but it sounded too exciting to miss out on. Having grown up obsessed with novels about fantasy worlds, and having watched series like Game of Thrones from the fantastic start to the bitter end, I was already excited for Shadow and Bone after watching the trailer.
My first thought watching it was: I’m impressed. I got sucked into the show’s universe for an all-too-short length of 8 episodes. This well thought-out fictional world is built in a thrilling manner, every fantasy enthusiast’s dream. I loved the dazzling costumes, the grand sets, the wonderful and diverse characters, the bewitching special effects, the well-written dialogues, the nail-biting suspense, and more. All the different elements combined to pull me right in. The acting was phenomenal, I enjoyed every actor’s performance and I think the cast showcased brilliant chemistry. The plot was intensely gripping, and I found myself getting immersed in the world of the Grisha and Ravkans with great ease.
What I didn’t realise was that all the elements that had impressed me made me forget certain aspects of my viewing experience. Half the time I was watching, I found myself pausing to go look things up on my phone: a result of how confused certain parts left me. The main reason is that a large portion of the terminology is unexplained and remains the viewer’s job to infer or to find out by conducting their own research.
The show combines two different novel series within Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha-verse which added more depth to the story. However, it was perhaps a bit too ambitious to try to incorporate so many main characters into such few episodes. The idea had a lot of potential, and many of the characters’ plotlines are extremely intriguing. However, I felt it might have worked better to spend more time on a few characters than trying to introduce more names and subplots than the average viewer can keep up with, given the short season.
A point of heated debate surrounding the show is, for many, the half-hearted attempt at addressing racism. Some viewers found themselves in Alina, as Alina is half-Shu half-Ravkan, mirroring Mei Li’s own experience of being half-English and half-Chinese. However others found that the issue of racism in the Grisha world, even seen in Zoya’s hostility towards Inej, was not done justice the way people expected. Meanwhile others that watched the show believed that since it falls in the category of fantasy, the writers could have done away with the topic of racism completely, allowing people that experience racism in their daily lives a place to escape from it. I agree with the view that the show could have done a lot more to address the topic in-depth and make that aspect more nuanced.
All in all, Shadow and Bone offers a compelling epic fantasy story which still has some room for improvement overall.