When it comes to shows with a massive fanbase, Shadow and Bone ranks pretty high in the world of fandoms. Based on the Grishaverse novels by Leigh Bardugo, the fantasy series takes place in a magical world where people called Grisha have the ability to control certain elements. The original trilogy known as The Shadow and Bone Trilogy followed the story of Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), a regular soldier in an army who discovers she has the power to summon light. Her power can be used to tear down the massive wall of shadow that cuts across her country.
After The Grisha Trilogy, Bardugo followed up her series with two duologies that explored different aspects of her Grishaverse. One was titled the Six of Crows duology and the other the King of Scars duology. While Season 1 of Shadow and Bone primarily focused on the very first book of this entire universe, aptly also called Shadow and Bone, the series also injected some originality into the show by incorporating characters from the Six of Crows characters. It’s easy to understand why they did this. Although The Shadow and Bone Trilogy kicked off Bardugo’s universe, her subsequent duology following a group of thieves called the Crows pulling a heist quickly won the hearts of her readers.
And while there was certainly an adjustment period with Season 1 of Shadow and Bone, it was received relatively positively by critics and fans and praised for braiding the two storylines together well. Unfortunately, Season 2 will not get the same type of praise. While Season 1 tackled one book, Season 2 pulls storylines from the remaining six books. Yes, from six other stories.
Season 2 of Shadow and Bone Is Overflowing With Story
In this season, Alina, Mal (Archie Renaux), and the Darkling (Ben Barnes) follow the storyline of Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising, the two remaining two books in the Shadow and Bone trilogy. The Crows, now consisting of Kaz (Freddie Carter), Inej (Amita Suman), Jesper (Kit Young), Nina (Danielle Galligan), and Wylan (Jack Wolfe), are once again folded into Alina’s story, though it is clumsily done. If you’re a reader, you might be wondering where Matthias (Calahan Skogman) is. The answer is … not present. Perhaps it is because Bardugo did not play a crucial part in Season 2, or perhaps there was a behind-the-scenes struggle with how to proceed with the Crows characters, but the lovable gang of thieves suffer the most this season.
Elements of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are jammed in to fill the gaps of very bloated episodes. And while it is clear the season ends with the intention of more to come, it’s hard to imagine what storylines are left to explore when so many have been wasted this season. On top of that, the season ends with small elements from the King of Scars and Rule of Wolves books, making the final episode feel more like a transitional period than a true finale.
Who Is Shadow and Bone Season 2 Written For Exactly?
I don’t say this lightly, because I do really love this series and the Grishaverse books are some of my favorites. But the season somehow manages to butcher the characters that were so thoughtfully crafted while also attempting to cannibalize some of Bardugo’s best lines and story arcs. I question what exactly showrunners Eric Heisserer and Daegan Fryklind were thinking while crafting this season and who exactly this show is for.
It certainly isn’t for book fans, because it’s hard to imagine any book fan, no matter who is their favorite, being satisfied with this season. And it also doesn’t seem to be for show fans, when it jumps from plot point to plot point casually, without lingering long on any of the moments meant to make us empathize or fall in love with new characters. It’s frustrating because in some episodes the viewer has to juggle up to six storylines, and if you haven’t read the series, you might have a difficult time keeping up considering you must keep up with the storyline of 15 characters.
The cast isn’t given much to work with, and it’s clear that despite best efforts on behalf of the actors, the direction and writing often aren’t there to help support them. Actors like Young, Carter, and Suman, who got to shine in the first season, barely get a glimmer through their storyline, and the story of the Crows still manages to be one of the most interesting. New characters like Wylan, Nikolai (Patrick Gibson), Tolya (Lewis Tan), and Tamar (Anna Leong Brophy) manage to get decent introductions, with Gibson being quite charming as the roguish Ravkan prince though often relegated to being a character foil.
But when the story goes barreling toward the end, it feels like the entire cast is sprinting for the entire marathon. There’s barely time to breathe as traumatic event after traumatic event occurs. The series is known quite well for its romantic relationships, as you might imagine from a series marketed to a YA audience, but the show utilizes none of Bardugo’s well-crafted slow burn and angst. Instead, it foregoes all of that, opting for either tooth-rotting fluff that feels off-kilter with the rest of the story or vague attempts at tension that don’t build and simply fizzle out.
Shu Han Is an Offensively Bad Depiction of Orientalism
On top of all of this, the show takes us to new places this season, to the countries of Novyi Zem and Shu Han. The former is a confusing amalgam of cultures and the latter is an offensive caricature of Chinese culture. This is hardly the first time Hollywood has bastardized Asian culture, but it’s a hard pill to swallow considering so much effort was put in in Season 1 to discuss Alina’s identity as a half-Shu and half-Ravkan character. The casting of Li was intentional. So why wasn’t the creation of the show’s Shu Han treated with the same kind of delicacy?
Shu is a country that looks like it was decorated using furniture from only a Pier 1 Imports. It’s an offensive copy of Ancient China. What dynasty? Of course, it doesn’t know. The Orientalism is off the charts. Ravkan in the Grishaverse is essentially Russian, with many words pulled directly from the Russian language. Meanwhile, the Shu language is some kind of hodge-podge nonsense language, despite the production taking direct inspiration from Chinese culture. The scenes we get in the country involve a dragon lady character whose main purpose is to fight our protagonists in sequences meant to emulate Wuxia style. It feels like someone took a bag and plucked out the aspects of Chinese culture they deemed to be cool and then decided to remix it a little because they could improve on it.
Shadow and Bone Season 2 Feels Uninspired
This is indicative of the larger problem of the season. It feels like Heisserer and Fryklind walked through the supermarket of the Grishaverse, plucked out what they liked, threw it all in a blender with more of their own ingredients from home, and tried to pass it off as original. There’s a distinct sense of laziness, and the season feels low-effort and uninspired, with a bloated and bumbling plot.
By the final episode, it was hard not to laugh at the mess that was left behind in the wake of this season. It’s clear that they want to tell more of the story, the season ends on a big cliffhanger. But, if you’ve read the books, you’ll know where it’s leading. Considering the Crows storyline is one of Bardugo’s best-written stories, maybe it’s best we don’t get more seasons. If you want to know how it all ends, just read the books because this show is a mess. It fails as an adaptation, but it also fails to be its own proper story, surviving off the bits and pieces of its source.
You are spot on with most of your comments. I was very disappointed and felt cheated on the Darkling and his mother’s story(in spite of the fantastic actors playing them). David and Genya was barely sketched out and Zoya seemed like an after thought. The choices made for which parts of the stories told and where seemed based on Netflix budget cuts? Way too many cave scenes yet we didn’t have the fight off in the Chapel or see the Sun worshippers living in the tunnels. The special effects also seemed cheapened and unpolished this time around. I ended up feeling like I watched the bullet point instagram moments instead of the craftsmanship of the first season. It hurt to see such a good cast not given the time they needed to tell their stories well.
I never read the book before (greshaverse noob here) but season 1 was very interesting to me.
Fast forward to season 2 release and I get to see a confusingly corny show. The last episode of season 2 was the most painful to sit through and I honestly don’t care to watch shadow and bone anymore
You put into words what I was feeling! It felt incredibly disjointed, uninspired, awkward, and unremarkable. So sad when you have SUCH GREAT material to pull from. I didn’t care about Alina or Mal, sadly not much about the Darkling either. They totally missed the slow born with Waylen and Jesper, and everyone is just so bleh! Nikolai was always presented as this “Scarlet Pimpernel” so sure of himself character and his “quoteable moments” were anything but quoteable. It was a sad mixture of trying to be serious, slapstick silly with grisha saying “uh-oh” before being blown up, and getting rid of Pekka Rollins in like the 4th episode!! Ugh! Great review!
Agreed. The first season was already different from the book for a few moments but it was managable. However, I have only seen 2 episode and its already a mess in this second season. From the book, Sturmhond is hiding his face and he is not good looking at all ! It’s only when he shows his real Prince face that we see him as good looking. Also, the brothers and sisters, OMG Tolya is huge in the books ! Anyway, like you said, definetely not for the book fans but maybe for netflix fans who knows !