Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov.

Netflix has a history of adapting hit YA novels and well-known fantasy titles. It’s no surprise that the streaming giant jumped on the chance to bring Leigh Bardugo’s hugely popular Shadow and Bone trilogy to the small screen. After months of anticipation, the wait is almost over: the series is about to premiere on Netflix, and the reviews are in.

What should viewers expect from Shadow and Bone? The series tells the story of Alina Starkov (played by Jessie Mei Li), an orphan who discovers she may hold the key to saving Ravka, her Soviet-inspired home country. It will also weave in storylines from Bardugo’s other works, including Six of Crows, which takes place in the same universe.

According to Variety, this intertwining of tales is a success. Caroline Framke wrote about the Shadow and Bone Netflix series:

By expanding Shadow and Bone beyond the parameter’s of Alina’s experience, the show makes her world feel that much bigger, denser and complicated. This works especially well for the Crows, with Amita Suman’s Inej and Kit Young’s Jesper providing welcome depth and humor, respectively.

Caroline Framke also praised Jessie Mei Li’s performance in Shadow and Bone, saying:

Li makes for a compelling center of gravity. Her Alina is smart and loyal, annoyed and rash, heartbroken and headstrong...often times, the Chosen One character is a story’s least interesting, beholden as they are to being the Sun everyone else has to revolve around. That’s not the case with Li’s Alina, a heroine as believably vulnerable as she is bold.

Vulture, on the other hand, found the multiple storylines in Shadow and Bone to be a detriment. Kathryn VanArendonk said:

The series is not well-crafted enough to jump nimbly from one story line to another without immediately losing track of why audiences should care about this other plotline.

However, Kathryn VanArendonk feelings towards the series overall were much more positive. As she put it:

Shadow and Bone is at its best when it is small and fun, which is what does eventually happen with the Kaz story, or when it’s big and clear...Shadow and Bone does mostly manage to pull it all together in the end.

Several reviews commented on the decision to make Alina half-Shu (The Shu-Han being Ravka’s Chinese-inspired neighbor). Daniel Fienberg wrote for The Hollywood Reporter:

Eric Heisserer's smartest adaption choice here was making Alina half-Shu. She's suddenly the salvation of a country that always viewed her as 'other.' She looks nothing like how Ravkans imagine their messianic figure, but they're willing to put aside prejudices to properly honor her power — though she comes to realize that being Grisha makes her a scapegoat in other realms where her ethnicity might have allowed her to fit in.

Overall, the Shadow and Bone reviews seem to be generally favorable, with many praising the world-building and characters. Petrana Radulovic of Polygon said:

The first season admittedly brings together a lot of moving parts, and they take a while to mesh together well. But once they all start clicking, the storylines build to a satisfying climax. The strength lies in the characters. Compelling on paper, they come to life in the show vividly, their relationships and motives adding color and shades of grey to an otherwise black-and-white plot.

As a longtime fan of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, I’m thrilled to see the series get a warm reception. Adapting famous novels can be a tricky business (looking at you, Eragon). It turns out that I didn’t have to worry - Shadow and Bone seems to be holding its own.

You can judge Shadow and Bone for yourself once it premieres on Netflix this Friday, April 23. Stay tuned to CinemaBlend for more news concerning the series.

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