I must preface this saying that I haven’t read the Shadow and Bone books, so I am going into this show with absolutely no knowledge of the story, characters, or world. I was intrigued to watch it, though, because it stars Ben Barnes, who I have seen in a multitude of movies and television shows, most notably in The Chronicles of Narnia as Prince Caspian, Westworld as Logan Devos, and The Punisher as Billy Russo. So part of my motivation to watch this show was in support of him, but also because I have always loved a good fantasy story—it’s been one of my favorite genres since I was a kid.
Almost immediately, I knew I might have to watch this first episode a couple times. Like Game of Thrones, there are a lot of characters and places and it jumps between all of them. Upon writing this, I have only seen the episode once, as I want it to be a fresh recap and review, but will watch it a second time before continuing the season. Let’s get to it…
The show opens on a young woman by the name of Alina Starkov, played by Jessie Mei Li, who lives in East Ravka. What we learn instantaneously is that she is not originally of that land, and is considered an outsider. Her “kind” isn’t normally welcome, but she has taken her place as a cartographer. Her and other cartographers are headed to the outskirts of The Fold, which is a space of land dividing East and West Ravka that is enveloped in complete darkness, and harbors dangerous creatures that make it difficult for most anyone who goes in to come out of it alive. It was made hundreds of years ago by a Grisha, who is some type of sorcerer who seems to have the ability to wield elemental-like powers, and the only way for it to be destroyed is with the power of a Sun Summoner, which seems to be discussed like a fable by many of the characters.
We are then introduced to Alina’s childhood friend Malyen Oretsev, played by Archie Renaux, who in flashbacks, we see as a gentle soul who shies away from confrontation. Then, in present day, we see that he has grown up to be a fighter and a tracker. Him and Alina have one of those friendships where, as a viewer, you’re just wondering when the hell they’re just gonna admit they like each other and have sex. The chemistry is extremely palpable from the moment you see them together. But their happiness is soon brought to a halt when Mal is picked to go through The Fold, which is sure enough to kill him.
Transition over to West Ravka, where we meet the eery gang leader and bar owner Kaz Brekker, played by Freddy Carter, as well as his spy Inej, played by Amita Suman, and security Jasper, played by Kit Young. Inej has found out that a man by the name of Dreesen is looking for someone to go through The Fold to East Ravka to retrieve something. He’s willing to pay a hefty some for whoever does this, and Kaz desires to be the one for the job. Yet, he has some competition with fellow gang leader Pekka Rollins.
We then go back to Alina, who in desperation of getting on the mission into The Fold, burns maps of the land on the other side of the border. Yet, she didn’t think it through well enough, because then the entire cartography team gets pulled onto the mission. As the ship that carries them glides into the impending darkness, we see Alina’s scarf fly off towards the docks, where we see someone dressed in black watching— Ben Barnes’ character, General Kirigan. It’s only a fleeting moment as all the attention is back on Alina and the boat, as they make their way through. Not long into their journey, someone makes the mistake of lighting a lantern (apparently only one blue light is allowed, as anything else draws the creatures to them), and those creatures, called volcra, swarm in on them and start taking them one by one. In the chaos, one of the cartographers jumps ship and Mal gets picked up by one of the volcra. In complete desperation, Alina grabs a rifle and shoots at the volcra, causing him to release Mal, only for herself to then be grabbed by one. But then something incredible and surprising happens—there’s an intense glow that emanates directly from her, bursting into the void.
It immediately cuts back to West Ravka, where we see the cartographer who had jumped ship running out from The Fold. Somehow, he had made it through alive. We then see Kaz, Inej, and Jasper bringing a Heartrender to see Dreesen. This Heartrender is requested by Dreesen to even have a chance and being the one chosen for this lucrative job he has. They are all brought
down to the cellar, where, to our surprise, is that same cartographer. And, even more surprising, is that he has been there for three weeks. Dreesen has been trying to get information from him on how he was able to survive the journey through the Fold, but his trauma has blocked him from remembering. Enter, the Heartrender, who simply by touch, is able to get his tongue loose and talking. He reveals to them all that they were saved by a Sun Summoner—Alina Starkov. This poor cartographer is then shot in the head by Dreesen, who then tells Kaz he has until sunrise to have a plan to go through the fold and retrieve Alina Starkov.
If I could tell you what I looked like in those last 10/15minutes of the episode, it would’ve been something like the “mind blown” emoji. Because, wow. What a first episode. I’m incredibly excited to see what is to come and learn more about these characters, and what will happen when they eventually cross paths. What I am liking about this show, is that is a fresh fantasy story. So many shows try to emulate Game of Thrones, instead of coming up with something original that separates themselves from it. Shadow and Bones, however, has separated itself from it. The cast is impeccable, the story is different, and having just seen one episode, it has a lot less violence against women, which is always a plus in my book. My roommate, who watched with me, and never watches this genre of tv, even liked it and is now invested in it, wanting to watch the rest. If that tells you one thing, it’s that this show will draw you in, even those who wouldn’t normally be inclined to watch something like this. So, tell your friends, roommates, family members, and strangers alike, to watch Shadow and Bone!