On April 23, new fantasy show Shadow and Bone is reaching Netflix. Based on Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling “Grishaverse” series, hundreds of fans, myself included, are waiting for the first episode to air. The show will recount the adventures of Alina Starkov (played by Jessie Mei Li), an orphaned girl with dangerous powers, as she attempts to save her homeland. The released trailers look promising, but I’m still wary of how the show may interpret these books.
One of the classic traits of a young adult novel is a romance, and Shadow and Bone is no exception. A prominent feature of Alina’s journey is her relationship with childhood friend Malyen Oretsev (played by Archie Renaux) and brooding stranger General Kirigan (played by Ben Barnes). Although these characters do play a key role in Alina’s development, her strength as a character is not defined by her romantic endeavours. One of my fears for this show is that much of Alina’s character will be parcelled out to other characters, and she’ll become nothing more than a vessel for romance. It’s not uncommon for shows to turn strong, dynamic female leads into flat and boring romantic interests, a change that would definitely ruin the show. The trailers do seem to capture much of Alina’s character, so I’m hopeful that honesty to the character will carry through the show.
A large portion of the books this series is based on relies on a well-built depiction of trauma. The characters all go through different events both in and out of the book, allowing for a more darkly realistic telling of the story. So much time and effort was put into the building of these characters in relation to their trauma, it seems unlikely that it could all be shoved into an eight-episode series. From the short trailers that have been released, it’s difficult to say if the show will give these characters the depth that they deserve. It’s very easy for shows to have snappy one-liners or interesting special effects (all of which Shadow and Bone will surely have), but an accurate portrayal of trauma is far more difficult. Though author Bardugo was said to be involved in the writing of the show, the timeline makes it unlikely that the characters will be given the time and depth they deserve.
One of the things the show does have going for it is its diverse cast. Lead actor Jessie Mei Li is of asian descent, while actors Amita Suman and Kit Young are of Nepali and Ugandan descent respectively. With so many fantasy-style shows involving a solely caucasian cast, the wider array of actors is refreshing to say the least. The more inclusive casting bodes well for the show, as many of these characters are canonically people of color.
Overall, the show has a lot of things going for it. The cast is filled with amazing actors, the books are great material to draw from and there’s already a huge existing fanbase. As long as the show gives all the characters the screen time they need to develop, Shadow and Bone is in line to be the next big thing for viewers nationwide.