Nearly two years after its first season was released in 2021, Shadow and Bone is back with season two. This time around, the fantasy young adult television series, based on Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone series as well as the Six of Crows duology, continues to be a sweeping, well-plotted adaptation. Season two makes full use of its vivid world and its inclusive cast of characters to craft a story truly global in nature.
This season imbues the storyline with a lot more energy than was present in season one — to its benefit. Here, the story is no longer bogged down by the slight rockiness that comes with introductions of characters and relationships needed to explain the worldbuilding. Season two episode one leaps into everything from the get-go with no recaps (although admittedly a little recap might be needed before starting the watch, given the large time gap between both seasons).
Kirigan/the Darkling (Ben Barnes) is back, seemingly from the dead where the crew left him at the end of season one, to take over the world. After briefly meeting and boarding a ship together after their journeys crossed paths, the criminal team of the Crows — Kaz (Freddy Carter), Inej (Amita Suman), and Jesper (Kit Young) — and Alina (Jessie Mei Li) have split up to pursue their own goals.
Audiences will be familiar with Alina, the protagonist and former cartographer whose life changed after she discovered that she was the mystical Sun Summoner that could save the country of Ravka. Ravka is currently separated by a great Shadow Fold where monsters inhabit, which Kirigan created centuries ago. It prevents the country’s reunification, and Kirigan is able to grow it at will.
Season one focused on Alina’s rise from underdog status and gradual acceptance of her role as a Grisha, who are essentially those with magical powers in this universe. One element of that was her burgeoning romance with Kirigan after he brought her to the Little Palace so that she could further develop her powers (and as later revealed, so that the Darkling could use them for his own personal gain).
This time, Alina’s feelings for the Darkling are of intense hate; she’s determined to make sure that Kirigan is stopped before he successfully accomplishes his mission to take over the country. Accompanied by her best friend and lover Mal (Archie Renaux), Alina sets off to find two more amplifiers after already fusing with the Stag in the first season. These are the Sea Whip and the Firebird, which Alina needs to strengthen her Sun Summoning powers, therefore being able to defeat the Darkling and destroy the Fold for good.
Along with finally manifesting her previously hidden feelings for Mal, Alina is learning what it really means to wield power. Her character development as the series progresses is well-written and evident. Although audiences may grapple with the implications of her decisions, it’s undeniable that they lead to dramatic consequences in the most impactful ways.
The Crows, on the other hand, are back on their typical heist activities. They soon come into contact with Nina (Danielle Galligan), the Heartrender Grisha from the first season, who is determined to break her lover Mathias (Calahan Skogman) free from the infamous prison Hellgate. Knowing that the Crows need a Heartrender for their heists — having overheard their conversation from last season on the boat — Nina decides to offer her help to the Crows to get a chance at doing so.
As always, the Crows have the most visually exciting activities going on, despite the central focus of Shadow and Bone being Alina’s Sun Summoning powers (sorry, Alina, you’re cool too!). One has to praise Netflix for knowing that, by itself, the Shadow and Bone storyline may have needed creative extension to support a full-fledged television series.
The Crows are by far the most dynamic characters of this story, and their interactions are always the most charged. Kaz’s broodiness, Jesper’s wittiness, and Inej’s quiet intelligence are matched with Nina’s spunk this season, and it’s so gratifying to see these four characters collaborate. In fact, the meeting between these characters could have easily been the most anticipated development after season one. In a move that will likely satisfy most audiences, the four do connect and collaborate, and their endeavors use all their skills and powers in visually spectacular ways. There’s a lot of chemistry to be felt within this cast, and their performances and synergy elevate Shadow and Bone to great proportions.
In terms of its emotional and social strengths, Shadow and Bone features many Asian characters (Alina, Inej, etc.), with the new additions of twins Tolya (Lewis Tan) and Tamar (Anna Leong Brophy) this season. Like Alina, Tolya and Tamar are of both Shu and Ravkan descent. The Asian representation of the series was an aspect that was both praised and criticized in season one, as Jessie Mei Li, who is half-Chinese and half-British, was cast as Alina.
Unlike the books, in the TV series Alina is explicitly described as part-Shu (Shu Han is a a nation bordering Ravka that is inspired largely by East Asia). Alina struggled with being an outsider in the first season, reckoning with what many diasporic Asians may be familiar as the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype; she was questioned and mistreated by others for her identity and assumed to speak the Shu language when Ravka was her home. These struggles were represented through the eyes of the protagonist, a notable coding of racialized identity as it applies to the universe of Shadow and Bone.
This season, the cultural representation becomes truly global in this universe as Tolya and the Crows travel to Shu Han. In addition to Alina’s leading heroic status as someone who is of Shu descent, the country of Shu Han is bright and lends itself to arguably one of the season’s most thrilling sequences. Alina’s friendship with Tolya and Tamar contribute to an implied solidarity given their shared heritage. The Shu community is alive and thriving this season, as is the Shu language; these aspects resonate on a global level extending beyond the fictional fantasy universe.
Shadow and Bone’s second season plants avenues for new storylines and directions. Audiences will likely eagerly anticipate these as supporting evidence for a third season. Watch out, Grisha: Netflix has discovered its power.