Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for “Shadow and Bone” season two.
Being one of the greatest ensemble cast series in recent years, “Shadow and Bone” continues to impress by introducing many adored characters and Grishaverse storylines in its second season, released on March 16. While the show at times falls short of the original source material, the brilliant cast of the Netflix series leaves watchers itching to know what’s to come.
The show starts off a few days after the finale of the previous season, with Alina (Jessie Mei Li) and Mal (Archie Renaux) defeating the Darkling (Ben Barnes) and escaping the Fold. From there, we see their journey to Novyi Zem to track down a mythical creature called the “sea whip” that may help Alina tear down the Fold. At the same time, the three beloved Crows — Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), Inej (Amita Suman) and Jesper (Kit Young) — have returned home to Ketterdam after helping Alina escape and securing their payment. Unfortunately, their adventure is far from over when they discover Kaz’s sworn enemy, Pekka Rollins (Dean Lennox Kelly), has stolen their Crow Club and framed them for murder.
If you’re confused already, don’t worry. For readers of Leigh Bardugo’s debut novel “Shadow and Bone” and its counterparts in the Grisha trilogy, the plot of the Netflix series is almost unrecognizable. While the first season focuses on the first book of the trilogy, this season ambitiously combines “Siege and Storm” and “Ruin and Rising” into what is essentially an eight-hour speed run of Alina’s battle against the Darkling. With the addition of the main characters from Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology, interactions and plotlines previously impossible in terms of timeline are made possible on-screen.
While a lot of the plot from the original source material has been cut down or replaced, there are some definite improvements made by the show writers. For one, a lot of tired concepts such as love triangles and miscommunication tropes were changed to more mature concepts of one’s responsibility to their country and the role fate plays in a relationship. With the introduction of Captain Sturmond/Nikolai (Patrick Gibson) in season two — who was previously a secondary love interest to Alina in the books — we see a more platonic bond forming between the characters due to mutual respect for her relationship with Mal. There is also a stark lack of jealousy between Mal and Nikolai in the show, which caused major tension in the books.
Compared to Alina’s first-person perspective in the novels, the addition of multiple perspectives in the show expands and better explains other characters’ motivations and actions. For example, the Darkling is hardly seen beyond his shared visions with Alina and their big battles in the trilogy, but the show gives us a look into his struggle to control the “nichevo’ya” and his physical health. This gives the viewer a more sympathetic — if pathetic — view of the show’s main villain.
It would be impossible to properly discuss “Shadow and Bone” without mentioning the impact of the Crows. Kaz, Inej and Jesper were first injected into this timeline in season one, and were a great relief from some of the slower aspects of Alina’s story. They also proved to be narratively integral to the Sun Summoner’s multiple escapes from the Darkling throughout season one. While Nina (Danielle Galligan) and Matthias (Calahan Skogman) had their own icy adventure in the frozen tundra of Fjerda, Nina’s subsequent separation from the Fjerdan led her to team up with the other Crows to save Ravka once again.
Realistically, this show wouldn’t nearly be as popular as it is today without this captivating crew; many fans have even stated they prefer the Crows’ storylines over ones from the original Grishaverse trilogy. Besides, with the introduction of Wylan (Jack Wolfe) to complete the fan-favorite sextet, the show would feel incomplete without their light-hearted quips and angst-inducing romances.
The romantic plotline between Jesper and Wylan remains to be one of the few truly happy aspects of the show and provides great queer representation within the fantasy genre. In an interview with Attitude, Wolfe stated that “Growing up, I didn’t see that many [queer] characters like myself who were in big fantasy series, with violence or [who] even had access to fantasy weapons or got involved in big fights and battles. I think to see a character like myself in those situations is a really cool thing, it’s something that I actually don’t see often.”
Wolfe further explained how Wylan’s sexuality being seen as a strength rather than as a character flaw was something he appreciated, saying “[Wylan] gets to fall in love, he gets to be in dangerous situations on the precipice of so many huge, high stakes but he’s never once punished for the love he finds along the way. His baggage isn’t his queerness.”
Ultimately, one of the biggest departures from Bardugo’s novels comes in the season finale. In the books, Alina transfers her powers to her army of religious soldiers, the Solidat Sol, and loses the ability to sun summon in the process. This leads her to leave the political landscape of Ravka and settle down with Mal in the countryside. In the show, however, Alina keeps her powers and becomes Queen of Ravka alongside her politically-allianced fiancé Nikolai. While many loyal book fans might be offended by this change, it can be argued that this ending scraps the classic “female protagonist sacrifices her power” trope and stays more true to Alina’s quest to accept her powers and place as a Ravkan than the books did.
Regardless of how different the Grishaverse might look through the lens of this Netflix series, the future of all these beloved characters is something fans will continue to look forward to. Until the day comes again when our favorite gunslingers and Small Science wielders will grace the silver screen, I leave you with the iconic sendoff of the Crows: “No mourners. No funerals.”
Kaylie Harley is a 2022-2023 Copy Chief. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.