What is the story about?
Alina Starkov, an orphaned girl residing in Rafka, forges a special bond with a friend Malyen Oretsev in her early years. The two inseparable friends eventually join the army – Alina turns a cartographer while Mal is deputed as a soldier. As they traverse past a dark/barren land (the Shadow Fold) over an army operation, Alina discovers her special talent to control light. The skillset is unique to a Grisha – a group of people gifted with a rare ability to wield control over earth, fire, wind, flesh or light. Alina’s rushed to the country capital to hone her skills for the larger good of the world. Does she have what it takes to survive in a land that’s more envious than charmed by her talents?
At this grim hour, all of us could do with an element of fantasy in a parallel universe where good triumphs over evil. Shadow and Bone, the Netflix show adapted from a three-book adult fantasy series written by Leigh Bardugo, is much more than a pleasant distraction. It’s magical, inclusive, adventurous, provides enough adrenaline rush and is bound by a strong emotional core. The show is a rare case where masterly writing is matched by emphatic visuals, rich characterisation and equally befitting performances.
Shadow and Bone ticks all the boxes of a folklore fantasy checklist right; there’s rarely a dull moment and the seven-hour length, though indulgent, does justice to the scope of the material. The writer’s deep-rooted understanding of interpersonal relationships and the various demarcations of this fictitious land hold a mirror to the caste/class prejudice prevalent in society.
The royal privilege of the leading lady and her transition from a neglected orphan to a treasured Grisha is portrayed with an element of caution. The show depicts how this new status clips her off her wings, diverts her from the larger picture, nearly alienating her from her modest roots. The show intricately captures the many moods of the royal household, be it the insecurities, the sisterhood, the gossips, the long-preserved secrets and whatnot. The minor grouses though are the abundance of the characters and the sluggish start to the show.
The delicate humour and the strong emotional undercurrent provides earthiness to the material beyond the swashbuckling action or the larger-than-life exterior. The metaphorical representation of a barren land akin to the dark corners of a human mind adds another layer to the storytelling. It’s the focus on the supposedly smaller aspects that give an edge to this show – from depicting the frivolity of patriotism to its subtle messaging about animal violence, the consistent emphasis on gender parity and the nearly unfussy depiction of a relationship between homosexuals.
Shadow and Bone subverts the tropes of a fantasy saga with great craftiness and yet doesn’t miss out on the thrills so very intrinsic to the genre.
Jessie Mei Li is more convincing as the orphaned mapmaker than the Grisha woman celebrated for her extraordinary talent. The child actor-turned-lead Archie Renaux has all the attributes to be a solid action star in the making – the good looks, the steely presence, the underplayed machismo, the boyish nonchalance and the effortlessness in his actions leave him in good stead.
Ben Barnes is quite a handful as the greedy army general with an insatiable lust for power. Freddy Carter lends authority to a grey role with which we empathise in the later episodes. Kit Young has a natural aura surrounding his presence and provides much-needed comic relief to the proceedings. It’s Anita Suman’s agile body language that makes the action sequences a delight to watch.
Music & Other Departments
Joseph Trapanese has his task cut out as a composer for the rollercoaster action/emotional ride that the show turns out to be. Yet it’s to his credit that the heaviness of the theme doesn’t spill over to the proceedings – the score is refreshingly lightweight and poignant goo. It’s incredibly heartening to notice the realism in the action sequences despite the show being a grand spectacle; the tension in the air lends to the action moments seamlessly and boasts of enough vulnerability.
The attention to detail with the art direction, adequately picturised by the cinematographer provide great visual finesse that multiples the joy of the viewing experience. The editing is at its imaginative best – the cuts come at the most unexpected junctures and help the viewer to look at a sequence beyond the obvious.
- Splendid writing, masterful execution
- Apt casting, befitting performances
- Strong emotional connect, terrific detailing
- The indulgent show length
- The overdose of characters leading to ambiguity
Did I enjoy it?
Do I recommend it?