Shadow and Bone

Two people using magic in Shadow and Bone





Lauren Cook
Paul Asay

TV Series Review

None of us are scared of the dark. Not really. It’s the stuff in the dark that freaks us out.

Take the Fold, a huge mass of magic shadow that bisects the land of Ravka. People who dare enter the fold might make it through. Then again, they might not. Flying critters called volcra haunt its inky domains, which makes it rather inconvenient to cross from the east side of Ravka to the west.

The Fold was created by a Grisha (a sort of element-bending sorcerer) a few hundred years ago. And no man or woman, soldier or Grisha, has been able to find a guaranteed safe passage through in all that time.

Well, not until Alina Starkov, that is.

The Fold and the Bold

For most of her young life, Alina was nothing all that special. In fact, many were prone to take an instant dislike to the woman, given that the orphan bore the ethnic characteristics of someone from the nation of Shu Han, Ravka’s hated enemy. Even though she worked as a cartographer in Ravka’s own sprawling army, her friends were few: She’s known her best friend, Mal, from childhood, and they’ve been inseparable ever since.

But that was before Alina’s curious gift manifested itself on a trip through the Fold. While most Grisha have the ability to manipulate fire or air or even the beating of a human heart, she can actually conjure light itself—a super-helpful skill to have in the shadowed Fold and its dark-loving creatures. In fact, such a Grisha had only been prophesied before now, which makes Alina in some people’s eyes a literal saint.

But others see her more as a tool: to gather wealth, to wage war or perhaps bend the entire land to someone’s will. Everyone, it seems, wants to find her; and, in many cases, use her. And there’s no guarantee that Alina’s power will be enough even to save herself, much less the world.

Tamer Groans

Netflix’s Shadow and Bone is based on Leigh Bardugo’s young-adult Grisha trilogy (the series bears the title of the first book), and some have compared the show to HBO’s Game of Thrones—only more teen friendly.

And that’s true—to a point.

Keep in mind, Game of Thrones was famous for its violence, gore and multitude of unclothed bodies, and the sexual content it showed (even in scenes featuring mainly plot-setting dialogue) was so extreme that it coined a new word: sexposition.

Netflix seems mindful—initially, at least—that Shadow and Bone will be mainly embraced by teens and young adults, and it adheres to Bardugo’s relatively clean-ish tomes in spirit, if not always in substance. And again, in comparison with Game of Thrones, the first episode was comparatively well-mannered.

But Netflix originally rated the series TV-MA for nudity ( a female character is briefly shown naked from behind). The streaming giant has since done some editing, so the series lands, barely, in TV-14 territory; you see some sensuality, and suggestive references are occasionally made, but not nearly as much skin is shown.

Even without the skin, Shadow and Bone comes with some issues to be aware of:  One of our heroes is Kaz Brekker, leader of a gang attempting to kidnap Alina. The gang is perfectly willing to lie, cheat, and steal its way to the prize. Characters drink and gamble, often losing most of their money in the process, and a male performer is shown in heavy drag before his show. Romance is definitely in the Ravkovian air, and characters kiss and make out. Sex is in the air as well, with brothels and even sexual enslavement being part of the story’s mix. A same-sex couple is also depicted; the pair kiss and are shown in bed after a romantic encounter.  Language can be an issue. And violence? In this war-torn land filled with soldiers, wizards and monsters, it’s a given. And it can get pretty bloody at times.

And then there’s the show’s spirituality.

Certainly, any fantasy yarn is going to contain anywhere from a dollop to a huge helping of magic. But Shadow and Bone takes a step further, giving us religion, too. As in our own world, Ravka contains atheists, agnostics and believers. Often, the latter focus their devotion on “saints,” building shrines and altars to these powerful people.

And for some, the mere presence of these so-called saints also points to a higher power—though that power here is rather non-specific. Oh, and for those so inclined, one need not squint very hard to see a hint of divine duality in the show’s most powerful Grisha, those who can summon shadow and light, respectively, which seem strangely drawn to one another.

Netflix’s new show offers a fresh story for fans of fantasy yarns. It’s not as gratuitous as Game of Thrones. But perhaps fittingly for a show predicated on dark and light, Shadow and Bone still packs plenty of gray.

Episode Reviews

April 23, 2021, Episode 8: “No Mourners”

Alina, along with stowaways Mal, Kaz, Inej, and Jesper, is taken deep into the Fold to demonstrate her sun-summoning abilities, and a battle is waged for control of her powers.

The final battle is here, and a battle it is—characters brawl and wrestle, fire guns at each other, and stab each other with knives. Heartrenders (Grisha with the power to physically control a person’s heart) use their abilities to crush people’s bones and either incapacitate or kill them. Alina has a crown of stag antlers melded with her collarbone, a result of amplifying her powers in a previous episode, providing a rather grotesque image. Since our characters are deep within the Fold, the volcra (clawed, flying creatures that prey on anyone who enters their domain) are very much present, flying around and attacking those on the skiff. Blood flies and splatters, and by the end of the fight, very few people are left completely unscathed.

Nina, a Heartrender stranded in a strange country with a Grisha hunter named Matthias, references a foreign tradition where participants get drunk and ride naked through the streets. She and Matthias almost kiss but are interrupted. People drink beer at a pub. Foul language is fairly sparse, with one use of ‘d–ned”, and characters use the word ‘saints’ as a replacement for taking God’s name in vain.

[Spoiler warning] General Kirigan, who we’ve learned at this point is the infamous Black Heretic and maker of the Fold, uses his creation to engulf the town of Novosibirsk. We hear screaming and watch from a distance as the volcra pick up helpless citizens and carry them away.

April 23, 2021, Episode 1: “A Searing Burst of Light”

In a flashback, we see Alina and her best friend, Mal, in a Ravkan orphanage. As adults serving in the country’s army, they’re still as inseparable as their duties allow. So when Mal is drafted to take a skiff through the perilous Fold, the cartographer Alina figures out a way to join him—by burning a number of maps of the other side of the fold that cartographers like Alina will have to replicate. She gets her wish. But when the monstrous volcra attack their vessel, Alina discovers a power that may lead her in a new direction. Meanwhile, Kaz Brekker and a group of fellow scalawags called the Dregs try to snag the rights to a lucrative, under-the-table job—one that his much more ruthless rival, Pekka, also covets.

Pekka attacks the proprietor of a brothel and gambling hall, storming in with a bevy of heavies and smashing the guy’s kneecaps. He brandishes a knife as he talks, threatening to kill the owner. And when we see his muscle mop the floor clean of blood, it’s suggested Pekka made good on his threat. (He also killed the owner’s bodyguard, as well.)

The volcra do even more damage to the men and women they come across—snatching several off a ship to kill offscreen. (One person is pulled away with such force that she smashes a hole through a wooden wall.) Volcra are shot and cut with knives, too, and many meet their end through a sudden display of magic. Mal engages in organized fisticuffs with another man: fists fly, a head is butted and Mal’s opponent eventually lies on the ground. (The two later walk out of the fighting tent together, showing no hard feelings.) Someone is shot in the head. Grisha literally play with fire. We hear that Alina’s parents were taken by the Fold. Alina and Mal joke about shooting the other in the foot.

We hear someone reference a legend of a “saint who can summon the sun and destroy [the Fold].” Saints are mentioned elsewhere, too, and someone is called out for her faith. References are made to miracles.

A worker at a brothel is hired for an hour—but only to talk with someone. (We hear references to women who are essentially enslaved in that place and in other brothels.) A brothel owner says that there are “fine girls there. Fine boys, too.” Someone shows a bit of cleavage. A couple of men fight without shirts. Someone steals a bit of fruit from a tent, and then is propositioned by the inhabitant. (We see her show off some modest undergarments as she suggests to her visitor that she likes to “have a tumble with a stranger” to take the edge off. (“Tumble” is the series euphemism for sex.) Someone discusses nude artwork.

Characters drink on occasion. We also hear the s-word and several other profanities, including “b–tard,” “d–n” and “h—,” along with a possible f-word during a battle.

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Lauren Cook Bio Pic
Lauren Cook

Lauren Cook is serving as a 2021 summer intern for the Parenting and Youth department at Focus on the Family. She is studying film and screenwriting at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. You can get her talking for hours about anything from Star Wars to her family to how Inception was the best movie of the 2010s. But more than anything, she’s passionate about showing how every form of art in some way reflects the Gospel. Coffee is a close second.

Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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