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‘Shadow and Bone’ season 2 review: Bending the rules

By March 16, 2023No Comments9 min read
Freddy Carter, Amita Suman, and Kit Young in Season 2 of Shadow and Bone

This review contains spoilers for Shadow and Bone Season 2

By the end of Shadow and Bone Season 2, co-showrunners, executive producers, and writers Eric Heisserer and Daegan Fryklind have devised a near-complete off-book retelling of Leigh Bardugo’s original material. Book fans may be delighted and confused by some of the changes and liberties these writers have taken. Like most adaptations, these writers have tried to patch up plot holes or contradictions in the original material while simultaneously muddling other parts or outright cutting some things, all in the name of cohesion. For the most part, they succeed, although nothing is without its faults.

The second season jumps right into where we left off after the ship Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), Malyen Oretsev (Archie Renaux), Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), Jesper Fahey (Kit Young), Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan), and Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman) boarded heading to Ketterdam. Alina and Mal are on another ship headed to Novyi Zem, where they hope to lay low and search for the second amplifier. Meanwhile, like in the Six of Crows sequel Crooked Kingdom, Kaz and his band of crows have to win back the barrel from Pekka Rollins (Dean Lennox Kelly). Sturmhond (Patrick Gibson), revealed to be the original orchestrator of the first season plot to kidnap Alina, is introduced very shortly after the beginning of this adventure.

Alina and Mal’s visit to Novyi Zem is shortlived as they’re found by conveniently stationed First Army officers, including Mal’s old commander. This was a bit too convenient for me, but I loved the storytelling in this location. The world-building in this season is incredible—just this tiny piece of Novyi Zem was warm, vibrant, and filled with culture. It perfectly matched what was in my head when reading it in Leigh Bardugo’s original material. Every interaction Alina and Mal have with a local is brilliant. I loved every second.

Shadow and Bone Season 2 starts strong

The introduction of Sturmhond is clever, yet I still found interactions with this character too brief before he is revealed as Prince Nikolai Lantsov. I didn’t feel that his devilish charisma and scheming were given enough time to shine before the big reveal, which also didn’t feel like that big of a reveal. The elaborate display of Nikolai’s inventions was well done and felt true to the original character. Yet, aside from the flying ship, there’s a lack of these inventions in the rest of the season, which became a missed opportunity nearing the finale.

Now, I giddily gobbled up the first three episodes. Like, I was giggling and squealing, and my sister was concerned about my mental well-being because the first few episodes were an out-of-body experience for me. There was so much to love—the character interactions, laying the groundwork for the future plot, and seeing more world-building through the streets of Ketterdam. I gushed over the first shot of every character down to any cheese they threw around for OG fans.

Wylan (Jack Wolfe) was so perfectly cast; his every move, every line read truly felt like he walked right out of the pages of the books. The same with Tolya (Lewis Tan) and Tamar (Anna Leong Brophy); their introduction was a little washed over due to Nikolai, but their continued performances enhanced the action and joy throughout the season.

Combining books

Those first few episodes are like clockwork for these characters, everything fitting into place—moves, and countermoves. So much reflected faithfully to the original material until Episodes 4 and 5, which were rushed and messy.

Heisserer and Fryklind really said screw a trilogy and smashed Shadow and Bone sequels Seige and Storm and Ruin and Rising into one season. Around the midway point, some cracks and storylines start to feel rushed. This is the turning point for the season, our first big showdown, yet it’s a scramble, a mad dash, and paced poorly.

Due to combing these two novels, the confrontations between Kirigan (Ben Barnes) and Alina become muddled in the plot development and character arcs. With the rush to the finish line to tear down the fold, the slow burn of Kirigan and Alina’s connection is lost, and we’re left with a confusing bond between the two that seems to bounce around with no clearly defined structure in the overall plot. Somehow, Kirigan can suddenly appear to Mal in a dream, breaking the established rules about Alina’s connection with Kirigan.


Crowded screens

The use of the crows this season runs along the same lines as the previous season. They’re enlisted to aid in the fight against Kirigan and the destruction of the fold and tasked to find a special sword that can cut through shadows. This lore adds depth to world-building and helps flesh out the Shuhan nation and its history. I loved that they met a living saint. This element of religion based on Grisha’s martyrs is explored in the later books about Zoya (Sujaya Dasgupta) and Nikolai.

However, with so many characters to include in this showdown, the fight instead is stilted and drags on a little too long. I also found the hallucination element was paced poorly despite liking where each character went in their dream/nightmare. Between Jesper’s and Kaz’s origin stories, Jesper’s was executed much cleaner. I can see how translating Kaz’s trauma would be hard to portray on screen due to how internal it is, but they tried too hard—with that kind of PTSD, less is more in the retelling.

I admire how the writers have pushed forward with the reveal of Mal being the third amplifier. With all of the lead-ins from the first and second seasons, it became obvious that there was no point in paying someone to CGI the firebird. However, it became so obvious that the painstaking way Baghra (Zoë Wanamaker) had to break it down for Mal and the audience felt a little overkill.

After several times Alina’s power is amplified or dampened by Mal’s presence in Shadow and Bone Season 2 and before in Season 1, all it would take is Alina and Mal connecting and a joint realization. Instead, the writers relied on the original lore that suggested Grisha had to kill their amplifier to absorb their power. Now, I thought we’d disproved this already with the Stag in Season 1, but it seems in order to make this mashup work the writers had to do a little back peddling. Again, I wish Alina and Mal could have done it on their own—it would have been more meaningful that way and perhaps solidified their connection, but the writers clearly have other plans because they basically break up after Alina resurrects Mal. It’s painful, honestly.

Were Shadow and Bone not picked up for a third season, I would be sad, but because of how much the writers jammed into this season, I wouldn’t feel that the story they started to tell was without a somewhat acceptable conclusion. They tore down the fold, Kirigan is dead, the Crows rule the barrel, and Inej is hunting slavers. It could be considered an acceptable epilogue. Yet, they’ve also queued up the subsequent battles for these characters.

They’ve hinted at Nikolai’s infliction from the shadow monster, they’ve introduced the Grisha drug Jurda, Pekka Rollins runs the prison in his plan to regain power, other nations look to Ravka after the destruction of the fold, Mal is now acting as Sturmhond hunting slavers with Inej, and Alina’s power might be corrupted due to her use of Merzost. There is so much for the writers to explore; I hope they get renewed for the third season.

Missed opportunities

However, there are elements that I missed in this Shadow and Bone Season 2. Like the Apparat in Siege and Storm, a significant aspect of that story was the growing religious fanaticism in Ravka for Alina’s sainthood. The Apparat wielded his influence on pilgrims to gain power. I thought it was an incredible added layer of nuance to the story, adding a level of criticism for organized religion, praising the martyrdom saints while ignoring their suffering and applying prejudice to those in their shoes in the present day. It adds a whole new layer to the meaning of Alina’s story, but the writers cut this out completely. I suspect they may intend to add this element in a third season with the appearance of the Apparat at the end of Season 2. However, he doesn’t nearly offer the same challenge to Nikolai without the backstory of his rallying pilgrims.

Mathias’s storyline felt incredibly disconnected from the rest of the plot, and there’s hardly any plot progression for him. He’s still imprisoned. I didn’t see the point in many of his scenes throughout the season and would have preferred if he could interact with the crows, but it looks like they’ve tried to set that up for a third season as well.

Shadow and Bone Season 3 speculations

Should Shadow and Bone be renewed for a third season, I hope they avoid distilling the story so much. Despite the plot rush, I found moments of stilted conversation that objectively read like blatant fan service with little alternative implication story-wise. The merging of characters into each other’s storylines from differing books offers fun room to play, but left unchecked could run a bit superficial and take away from the gravity of the plot itself.

I also found that rather than the slow-burn nature of Leigh Bardugo’s writing, this series has taken a much more direct approach to intercharacter relationships. There is much more open dialogue about wants, coupledom, and sex, even. This came down to the rush of this season with the combination of novels and taking down the fold. Alina, Mal, Jesper, and Wylan enter their honeymoon era at lightning speed. It almost gave me whiplash how fast they ran through those OG ships. At the same time, Genya (Daisy Head) and David (Luke Pasqualino) are barely given any time, happily ever after, or honeymoon before David’s death. It makes it all the more heartbreaking—Daisy’s performance is admirable—but there should have been more to mourn.

The Grishaverse is enormous, with seven novels to pull characters, plots, and locations. There’s plenty to go through, and the fandom will have differing opinions on what deserves to shine and what can be forgotten. I’m sure that makes Heisserer and Fryklind’s job difficult, and I commend them for how they’ve managed thus far. Despite my grievances, I had a great time watching Shadow and Bone Season 2 and have every intention of re-watching and re-watching to catch every little detail I may have missed.

Feature image courtesy of Netflix.

All episodes of Shadow and Bone Season 2 are available on Netflix.

  • 'Shadow and Bone' Season 2 - 7/10
Isobel Grieve

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