First Impressions: Shadow and Bone

First Impressions: Shadow and Bone

Upfront, this is a first impressions post, not a Recommends.

So far, the show is actually good, and it shouldn’t be.

It looks like it’s soaked in Woke but they seem to have forgotten to let the Woke destroy the plot.

This a gas-lamp fantasy that takes place in a Russia-based fantasy nation called, Ravka.  For those of you not familiar with gas-lamp fantasy, basically, it’s steampunk but with magic.

Ravka is in a centuries-long war with its neighbors, Fjerdland (Scandinavia) in the North and Shu Han (China) in the South.  

Ravka has a major strategic problem.  You will note that on the eastern side of Ravka is something called the Unsea, (it is also called, the Shadow Fold or in the series; the Fold). It is a magically created rift that divided Ravka, created by an evil Grisha.  No light can penetrate the Fold and it is filled with savage demonic beasts. The Fold has left the port cities of West Ravka cut off from direct military support from the East.  Without its trading ports, East Ravka is an agricultural backwater, unable to industrialize like its enemies are doing.

The facing militaries in the north and south that are approaching late 19th century levels of technology.  The only thing Ravka has that its enemies don’t are the Grisha; magic-users.  But as the technology of their enemies’ advances, Ravka’s Grisha are becoming less and less effective as a countermeasure.  All of Ravka is praying for a Grisha called the “Sun-Summoner” to be born and dispel the Fold.

Coming from a military perspective, this is kind of an interesting setup.

Shadow and Bone has a lot of Woke window dressing.  But so far, the Woke isn’t making itself felt in any serious way.  The protagonist is a mixed-race woman, but the mixed-race part is, for a change, integral to the story.  

Alina Starkov is half-Shu map maker in the Ravka Army. Her childhood friend, Mal is also half-Shu.  They grew up together, were socially ostracized together, and love each other deeply but don’t appear to have taken the final step.  Mal is junior enlisted and quite the fighting man.  

It is discovered the Alina is secretly a Grisha.  She is immediately transferred to the Second Army which is all Grisha, separating her from Mal. The poor girl Alina is now living in luxury at the Second Army’s palace. The commander of the Second Army is General Kirigan, the descendent of the Grisha who first created the Fold.  They are drawn to each other.

Now here is the part that interested me as a writer.  You have a standard romance setup, a girl with a special ability, and two very different kinds of Alphas.  One is the tough guy from the street, the other is a rich aristocrat with a deep pain.  With a “Poor Girl Goes to the Ball” subplot.

Frankly, if this was all there was to the show, I’d have pulled the plug long since.  

However, what makes this story really intriguing is the second set of characters.  Kaz Brekker and his Ocean’s Eleven crew of criminals (except there are only six of them) and they are running a very high stakes operation concurrent with the rest of the plot.

This was such an odd story structure it bore looking into.  

The Ravka books are written by an author named Leigh Bardugo.  The first trilogy takes place in a different era and features Alina Starkov.  The second trilogy is the Six of Crows, Kaz Brekker series of stories.  This show mashes these two different timelines together to create one story.

I was a little curious as to why? 

She Who Is The Herald’s Lady, said, “it’s kind of like Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  The series doesn’t go to eleven until you get to The Vor Game. The first books are competently written, and easy to read but also markedly inferior compared to what came later.”

Apparently, the Alina Starkov books really are just a gas-lamp romance but the Kaz Brekker stories are the ones that are really good.

As for the show itself.  Alina was potentially an insufferable Mary Sue but the fact that she doesn’t want her power makes her a more complex character.  Also, she can’t beat up men three times her size which is a nice change.  The pacing is pretty tight. The plotlines are good, albeit with Woke window dressing.  And the costuming is excellent.

I’ll give a full review when I finish the show.

Okay, I’m done here.

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Comments (3)

  • Neurotoxin Reply

    “Apparently, the Alina Starkov books really are just a gas-lamp romance but the Kaz Brekker stories are the ones that are really good.”

    Bingo. I have read both Kaz Brekker books and they’re damn good. They’re a criminal gang involved in heists, prison breaks, sleight of hand, double crosses, that one last big score, roof-top knife fights, that sort of thing, and it’s gloriously well-done. The first one, Six of Crows, has a prison break that’s a freakin’ CLINIC in how to write an extended action sequence.

    After reading those two I tried reading one of the earlier books, with the Unsea, and it sucked. Yes, it was totally a Mary Sue thing. Our heroine reluctantly has all this attention showered upon her. All conversation stops when she enters a room. Bleargh.

    May 20, 2021 at 3:16 am
  • Esteban Reply

    There is a great show that got little atention: an american anime (please don’t run yet) called “Blood ir Zeus”

    I had very low expectations, but it’s surprisingly strong: the dynamic between Zeus, an Hera that is sick of him popping bastards and said bastards is excelent.

    A very human side of the greek gods, with respect for the mythology.

    May 20, 2021 at 11:51 am
  • Clamantis Reply

    I also went in expecting the full Woketard treatment and was surprised that I was able to view the whole season in three days without too much eye-rolling. I wanted to see more of the Russian-influenced world-building and its mythology. I also liked that the honorable, protective character of Mal didn’t have some debased, nihilistic angle written into him. What bothered me most were the depictions of the black gunslinger and ninja-like Indian woman with Gary Stu/Mary Sue perfection in their abilities. There is no tension. Violence and the potential of violence should have gravitas and a dangerous sense of unpredictability. It’s what I hate about the Stormtroopers in Star Wars- they exist simply as a contrivance to depict hollow onscreen action.

    May 21, 2021 at 3:38 am

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