The Dark Herald Recommends: Shadow and Bone

The Dark Herald Recommends: Shadow and Bone

This is an odd one to review. I should hate it on general principle, but I don’t.

It is completely Woke-washed.  Every checkbox is ticked. Every card in the aggrievement pack is dealt. And yet it was a surprisingly good TV show.

Any show with this much Woke is invariably too busy battling strawmen, delivering sermons and demanding that everyone love it’s Mary Sue protagonist, to remember to tell a good story.

The Woke laundry list is the first reason it should have failed.  The second and bigger reason it should have collapsed is that it smashed two entirely different series of books together. That is just weird but, in this case, it is both understandable and workable.

Leigh Bardugo is the author of the Grishaverse and both sets of books are in this Gas Lamp fantasy world, (she’s also written a Wonder Woman novel).   It’s generally acknowledged that Bardugo’s first three books were readable YA romance lit but nothing too exceptional.  Her world was unusual in that it consisted Ravka (Russia), Fjerdland (Scandinavian countries) in the north, and Shu-Han  (China) in the south.  But she didn’t bother with analogs for the Latin countries or the British Isles, (except Ireland).  Although, the Dutch are very prominent.  So, primary northern and eastern Europe. 

The primary fantasy element is the Grisha.  You are either born Grisha or you aren’t.  Most aren’t and most resent them for having superpowers.  Grisha is born with a talent for one type of magic, be it fire, healing, control over the nervous system, or 3d printing (fabricating). There are a few unique types but they are exceptionally rare.  The only place where Grisha are welcome is Ravka.

“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.”

That’s the show in a nutshell.  

Like I said, the first trilogy was interesting but unexceptional. Bardugo wasn’t really breaking any new ground there.  Alina has been sickly all her life (Bardugo has a degenerative bone disease IRL), until she starts having two different types of Alphas competing for her love.  That is when she discovers that her sickliness was the result of suppressing her power.  Later in the trilogy, she has another Alpha vying for her attention.  So, yeah, basic romance.

I have now read Six of Crows and had to immediately start on Crooked Kingdom. It’s been a while since I had to do that.  The woman can write quite well now that she has gotten those first book kinks out.  

By all accounts the Kaz Brekker books are head and shoulders above the Alina Starkov books.  I have previously likened to reading Lois McMaster Bujold’s, Memory, first and then going back to read Shards of Honor.

Still, I thought it was a little odd to shoehorn Kaz Brekker and the Crows into the first trilogy.  But I can see the sense of it. 

The Crows presence strengthened a weak story, but I don’t think that that was the reason it was done. 

The problem that the early presence of Kaz addressed is Netflix policy of only two seasons of any given show.  And I’m using the term season pretty loosely.  Up until ten years ago a full season was twenty-two episodes.  Now you are lucky if you can get ten.  Shadow and Bone only had eight.  

Regardless, you have two seasons to make it on Netflix and then you are probably canceled. 

Netflix doesn’t care about building up an audience for any given show, what they care about is new subscriptions.  Or failing that bringing back canceled subscriptions.  Your show has to be blowing the doors off for Netflix to give it a third season.  So far as the big red N is concerned, they are better off building up a big library of short-run TV series than they would be with a small library of long-run shows. Truth be told, they are probably right. 

Which hands anybody who lands a show on Netflix a problem.  How do I maximize my show given that it’s odds of renewal are pretty bad out of the gate.

The question that I have is, whose idea was it to include Kaz Brekker?  Was it Bardugo’s or one of the other ten Executive Producers?  If it was Bardugo then I got give points for brains.  This puts two series of books out on TV at the same time.  That is a lot of top-notch advertising.  Jim Butcher credits his success to a Sci-Fi Channel TV series that was on for one season in 2007 and that nobody remembers today.  George R.R. Martin had nowhere near the money he does today, not before Game of Thrones launched on HBO.

So, good idea on the business front but how was the show itself?

Quite watchable.  The acting was good, and the characterizations appear to be superior to the Starkov books.  The Darkling appears to have been a bit more evil in the books, in the TV version he’s just determined to protect Grisha (magic-users), who have been persecuted, enslaved, or burned as witches for his entire centuries-long life but he will protect them at any cost.  They also got rid of Alina’s “sickliness,” which honestly was a silly nod to feminist empowerment and I’m glad they ditched it.   

An odd addition was the subplot of Nina and Matthias. This is the only narrative from Six of Crows that made it into the series.  It’s a romance between a Ravka Grisha and a Fjerdian Grisha-hunter. They are forced together when they are shipwrecked and fall in love on their way back to civilization.  They ended up in Ravkan port city, Nina was trying to find a way to book passage for Matthias back to Fjerda when the Grisha-hunter is found by a team of Grisha.  The only way she can save Matthias is to denounce him as a slaver to the “Dutch.”  They take him into custody and Matthias is convinced she’s betrayed him.  Honestly, it is kind of weak and makes Matthias look like a bitch.  In the book, the betrayal was a lot more complicated and layered.  However, I understand the fundamental problem they needed Nina hooked up with the Crows by the end of the season and that was the only way to do it.  

The costuming and set designs are absolutely gorgeous, they are well worth giving the show a look all by themselves.

Is there the Gay? You bet!!  This is a Netflix show.  It’s one scene of dude-kissing but it’s easy to spot coming and get out its way.  There is no nudity or at least not much, one girl’s butt seen through a veil.  No other sex scenes but lots of romance.

It is shocking to me that something so Woke-washed was actually entertaining enough to keep me watching and then start reading the books. I don’t expect it to happen again anytime soon.

The Dark Herald Recommends with Confidence.

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