‘Shadow and Bone’: Surviving the YA formula

Published May 3, 2021, 9:30 AM

by Rom Mallick

SCREENCRUNCH: It’s another adventure featuring teenagers… all the problems that go with that

Alina and Gen. Kirigan (Netflix)

If you start watching Netflix’s “Shadow and Bone” and realize that you’ve seen it before, that’s because you probably have—not literally, of course, because it is a new show but in the sense that it’s another young adult flick based on a YA novel. Before you say YA novels aren’t all that bad, and they really aren’t, that isn’t the point this review is going to make. Instead, “Shadow and Bone” takes what is good from YA stories but also brings with it some of the bad.

For starters, it features a heroine who is as whiny as she can get. Thrust into a world she never wanted to be part of, with the added responsibility of saving said world from a centuries-old catastrophe, Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) begins her journey on unsure footing. Her first moments as this savior—the “Sun Summoner,” as they call her—is reminiscent of many other YA “save-the-world” flicks. It’s very “Hunger Games,” with Alina meeting people she initially despised, only to become very much like said despicable peoples. All the while, she whines about not “belonging” to this group but also starts enjoying her new life. It doesn’t help that she is quite different, owing to her being of mixed race.

Alina is groomed and dressed in what is considered fashionable in this fictional country called Ravka, which is replete with Russian oligarchy overtones. She gets a stylist, Genya Safin (Daisy Head), who is very much like Effie Tricket in the “Hunger Games” series. She is also thrust into a middle of a love triangle, again very much like the Katnis-Peeta-Gale love story from Suzanne Collins’ novels. Alina meets Gen. Kirigan (Ben Barnes) who starts to win her over and forces her to forget her long-time best friend Mal (Archie Renaux). And then the three of them eventually cross paths as the story moves forward and Alina grows into her role as “Sun Summoner” and savior of Ravka. All the while, she continues to whine about her life. Unfortunately, all that teenage whining ends only by the penultimate episode of the series, which looks like it will have another season.

Alina adapting to her new world with other Grishas (Netflix)

But perhaps more interesting than Alina’s own story is the story of a strange group of thieves whose paths would cross with hers. This intriguing bunch starts the series with a plan for a heist, not to acquire something but someone. Led by a brooding bar/gambling den owner Kaz Brekker (Freddie Carter), the group eventually finds its way to the Ravkan capital and unwittingly gets involved in matters beyond their greedy desires. Together with Kaz, there’s Jesper Fahey (Kit Young), who is the token homosexual in the series, and Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), the skilled assassin who has never killed anyone. For the better part of the show, the story of this trio is more intriguing than the Alina-Kirigan-Mal dynamic.

To the credit of Netflix and the show’s production, the casting choices for “Shadow and Bone” is very in tune with the times, so to speak. Casting is very diverse, to say the least, and mostly composed of fresh faces, save for veterans like Ben Barnes and Zoë Wannamaker, who is familiar to many for her short appearance as Madamme Hooch in the first “Harry Potter” film.

Based on a series of books by author Leigh Bardugo, “Shadow and Bone” definitely offers some exciting moments, made even more entertaining by the “Avatar”-esque powers of some characters in the show. Other than these, however, the YA formula this new series follows is, unfortunately, not very unique. We give “Shadow and Bone” a 3 out of 5.