Review: Season 1 of Shadow and Bone

By John Ruberry

Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s there was the hope, egged on by the music media, that soon “the next Beatles” would arrive. The Bee Gees, Badfinger, and the Knack were among those acts who failed to match the hype. And no band could match the Beatles’ level because even when they were together they were already legends. 

In that same time period there were even more “next Bob Dylans” heralded.

No one can supercede a legend.

Late last month the first season of Shadow and Bone began streaming on Netflix. 

And many are wondering if Shadow and Bone is the next Game of Thrones

Short answer? No. Longer answer? Not even close. And as HBO’s Game of Thrones has entered the world of legend, Shadow and Bone doesn’t have a chance. 

Call me sadistic, but I knew in the first episode of GoT, “Winter Is Coming,” that here was a series that broke the mold when Jamie Lannister pushed young Bran Stark from a high window ledge so to hide his sexual relationship with his sister, Cersei.

With Shadow and Bone you are exposed to an eight-episode muddled mess. 

The show is based on a trilogy of high fantasy books by Leigh Bardugo, and there are elements from two of her other works thrown in too. To understand what is going on you it seems you have to read all of these books first. And I’ve read none of them.

“Students,” I can see a teacher announcing, “your assigment is to read five books and then, only then, watch Shadow and Bone.” Uh, no.

The alternate world of Shadow and Bone is largely based on Russia of the late 19th century. The costume designers make the most of it and they deserve an Emmy nomination for their efforts. Soldiers wear fur ushankas and papakhas. Women don ornate dresses, the heads of civilian males are often topped with bowlers. While GoT and Lord of the Rings is rooted in the Middle Ages of western Europe, viewers here find themselves in the Russia of the Industrial Revolution. There are guns and a train. But no sword battles.

Ravka (Russia) is in the center of the continent and it’s separated by the Fold, a thick cloud wall inhabited by human-eating volcra, who are a cross between griffins and pterodactyls. Spoiler alert: there are no dragons. The Fold was created years earlier by an evil grisha, that is, a magic maker of Ravka. Maybe I’m a dope but it wasn’t until the third episode that I ascertained that the grisha were magicians. They are particularly adept at fire-starting. The grishas make up one of two armies of Ravka.

The central character of Shadow and Bone is Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), a woman in her late teens and a grisha who is half-Shu Han. The Shu Han nation, which we don’t encounter here, is the show’s version of China and they are enemies of Ravka. To the north is Fjerda, a stand-in for Scandinavia. We see the Fjerdans when they fight the Ravkans.

An orphan–just like Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins–Alina encounters racism because of her foreign looks. She has a puppy love relationship with a fellow orphan, military tracker Malyen “Mal” Oretsev (Archie Renaux), they’ve known each other since childhood. Alina is a mapmaker for the First Army, the non-magical one–and man oh man, could viewers use a decent map here to get a grip on the geography of Shadow and Bone. Only one is briefly shown. More time is devoted to Alina burning maps.

We quickly learn that Alina, like Harry Potter, is a Chosen One. The revelation brings her to a grisha leader, General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), and the capital city of Ravka, where she meets the king, who looks a lot like Czar Alexander III. Alina is declared a Sun Summoner, that’s a really big deal you see, and then begins her training to fully utilize her powers.

Word spreads about Alina–all the way to the island nation of Kerch–which is Shadow and Bone’s version of the Netherlands, complete with its largest city, hedonistic Ketterdam, which parallels another city. Do I really need to spell out which one? We meet three underworld characters there, Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), and Jesper Fahey (Kit Young) who leave Ketterdam to kidnap Alina for a one-million kruge reward. The three criminals have an intriguing dynamic and they are more captivating characters than Alina and Mal. 

If you like elaborate clothes, eye-catching special effects, and being transporated to an alternative yet familiar civilization, then Shadow and Bone could be for you. But if you expect fully-developed characters and a coherent plot line, then stay away. 

If magic and the 19th-century interests you then instead I recommend streaming Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell on Amazon. In this series, among other things, the Duke of Wellington is aided by a magician to fight the French during the Napoleonic Wars. 

As for the grisha–if they are so powerful how come they are captured with relative ease?

Shadow and Bone is rated TV-14 for violence, adult situations, and brief nudity.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

My Response to a Rather racist screed His right of speech and Mine of Association

One of the great advantages of Gab is that people are free to say what they want and you the reader have the option to accept or reject, ignore or engage , block or allow opinions in your timeline.

The disadvantage of course is that occasionally you get stuff that is beyond the pale. I saw such a thing in my timeline which I won’t repeat here but will link if you want to read it.

My first instinct was to block the person and the one who reposted it but I thought the argument that skin color is an indication of all sorts of undesirable qualities merited a response. My reply follows between the separators (you’ll note that gab allows a longer response in a single gab than twitter does in a tweet)


May I point out that the increase in crime rates among Black Americans have nothing to do with race and skin color and everything to do with the great society disincentives for two parent families within said communities, creating generations of absent fathers which is a statistical recipe for criminal behavior in any population. I submit and suggest that without this the history of the last 50 years in general and in the black community in particular would have been very different.


Furthermore you also have the component of the unnatural selection of slaveholders who treated their black slaves as cattle encouraging the physically strongest to breed while discouraging the most intelligent (and thus the most likely to revolt or escape) from doing so.. Given that said slaveholder saw slaves as property rather than people it is understandable but no less horrific.

It was a rather ghastly exercise in eugenics that only began to be reversed after slavery and can easily be spotted when you contrast black African immigrants whose families were not subjected to it.


This was the best argument for affirmative action when it was first proposed to give American blacks a few generations to catch up but now it’s become a source of power and advantage and as a rule no group will willingly give us power or advantage.


Human beings having a soul and the divine God given spark always have the potential to overcome such things, either by a change in circumstance, environment or by education (an actual education not the slop that’s taught today) however the Democrat left has an incentive to keep American blacks in such a state as it is a source of power and wealth for them in terms of the graft they syphon from government “solutions”.


That’s the real irony the party of slavery is still gaining wealth and power by exploiting the black community, but has managed to market this exploitation to that community as a desired feature rather than a bug.

If the Democrats had been this successful in marketing this crap 160 years ago to the black community as they have been today you’d not only still have slavery as an institution but you’d have black slaves telling abolitionists to get lost.


It’s worth noting that until the black community decides to revolt against this exploitation by the media/political and academic left that they’ve been sold and insist on being the makers of their own destiny and taking the responsibly and risks of such a move this condition won’t change.

Till then you will continue to have the spectacle of people who have never been slaves determined to punish people who have never been slaveholders for actions that neither they nor their parents over trauma they never experienced generated by wrongs that they never suffered.

In fairness it’s a whole lot easier to do the later than the former.

Oh and for the record the person in question took exception to my response threw some insults my way to go along with it and insisted that I not put such things in his timeline which is odd because I didn’t complain when someone put his words in mine.

He has a perfect right to this opinion and the beauty of Gab is that it protects that right of his. There is no “bigot” or “idiot” exception to the 1st amendment or to the principle of free speech. There is however also a right to free association and fortunately Gab protects my right to choose not to associate with such idiots and bigots who throw insults. Even better rather than making the decision for me as if I was not competent to do so they allow me to exercise that right myself and I was happy to do so right after his response.

As scripture says don’t bother throwing pearls before swine.