Shadow and Bone First Reviews: Netflix's "Exquisitely-Constructed" New Fantasy Series Strikes Gold

Jessie Mei Li and Ben Barnes shine in Netflix's Shadow and Bone, which brings the Grishaverse brilliantly to the screen with Game of Thrones-style world-building, lush costumes, and thrills aplenty.

by | April 21, 2021 | Comments

With Shadow and Bone, the new fantasy series set to hit Netflix on Friday, April 23, the mega streamer behind The Witcher and Fate: The Winx Saga is continuing on its mission to broaden and expand the groundwork HBO’s Game of Thrones laid for genre television.

The new show, which is based on the best-selling YA books by Leigh Bardugo and stars Jessie Mei Li, Ben Barnes, Freddy Carter, Archie Renaux, Amita Suman, and Zoë Wanamaker, tells the story of Alina Starkov, a seemingly average young girl who embarks on the quintessential hero’s journey to realizing her true purpose, magical power, and resolve against unfathomable odds and a dastardly villain. Shadow and Bone immerses viewers in a place known as “The Grishaverse,” opening the door to a whole plethora of characters and plotlines familiar to the devoted fandom of the book series.

But does the adaptation work? Here’s what critics are saying about Shadow and Bone season 1…


(Photo by Attila Szvacsek, © Netflix)

Packing more than one book’s worth of history, context and mythology into an eight episode season was always going to be unwieldy though and it does lead to some clunky exposition-filled scenes where a LOT of information is conveyed. – Fiona Underhill, JumpCut Online

Bringing in characters from Six of Crows, which technically takes place after the events of Shadow and Bone, was the right choice here. I initially had some concerns that this was going to feel like some strange add-on plot that doesn’t really fit the rest of the story, but they do not feel shoehorned in at all. The writing makes this feel natural and they bring a lot to the series. The show weaves them into the story really well while also setting you up for a completely different storyline that will pay off in future seasons. – Marianna Neal, Impression Blend

Let’s be real, though. Perfection is impossible to attain. However, this reviewer would argue that what writer/executive producer Eric Heisserer has created in Shadow and Bone, with the help of his team and author Leigh Bardugo, is close to perfection. And, for newcomers to the universe Bardugo has created, they’ll become immediate converts to the Grishaverse fandom. – Sarah Musnicky, Nightmarish Conjurings


(Photo by David Appleby, © Netflix)

The fleeting moments of entertainment come courtesy of the cast. Li, who apparently burst onto the scene in a London production of All About Eve in 2019 and will appear in Edgar Wright’s highly anticipated Last Night in Soho, is an obvious future star, carrying her scenes with a blend of charisma and vulnerability that works. Alina becomes the center of the world when her power is revealed, simultaneously wanted, feared, and idolized, and Li deftly conveys that heady mix of adrenaline that comes from knowing one’s life has drastically changed forever with the associated fear that comes with that knowledge. – Brian Tallerico, The Playlist

Given that Alina often served as a kind of placeholder for readers, Jessie Mei Li has perhaps the hardest task of anyone on the show, but thankfully, she’s able to bring some fun and whimsy to what could have been a very sombre, heavy role… The latter could also be said of General Kirigan, so it’s reassuring to see that Ben Barnes is just as smouldering and handsome and charismatic and… ahem, yes, he’s great too, effectively balancing the moral extremes of his character without ever resorting to caricature. – David Opie, Digital Spy


SHADOW AND BONE season 1 cast

(Photo by © Netflix)

Renaux is also extremely charming as Mal, bringing a balance to Li’s portrayal of Alina that gives the characters’ relationship a tender quality. As for the Crows and Nina and Matthias, while they’re given a little less to work with, they’re just as compelling, with Young a particular standout as the roguish Jesper. He plays the mischievous foil to Carter’s Kaz and Suman’s Inej, both of whom are more serious (though about very different things), but all three have plenty of fun moments and their friendship is a highlight of the season. Lastly, Galligan and Skogman have plenty of chemistry as the antagonistic Nina and Matthias and their scenes, though most removed from the rest of the action, are a delight to watch as the characters engage in plenty of verbal sparring. – Molly Freeman, Screen Rant

Young’s confident gunslinger is a clear standout, as is Amita Suman as his knife-wielding compatriot Inej… – Liz Shannon Miller, Collider

The two men on either side of her love triangle — Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux), Alina’s childhood friend and a fellow soldier, and General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), the mysterious “shadow summoner” of the Grisha army — prove to be wildly different but incredibly compelling foils to her, with Barnes particularly shining in every scene he’s in. The Dregs — leader Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), spy Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), and sharpshooter Jesper Fahey (Kit Young) — are also sure to become fan-favorites, with each bringing a charming, swashbuckling, but meaningful energy to the whole affair. – Jenna Anderson,


The scenery, the costuming, the visuals of the powers — they are all incredibly expressed on the screen. This show is visually stunning no matter where you look. The clothing perfectly encompasses a feel of past times, but also a fantasy world that doesn’t truly exist. – Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky

Production-wise, it’s a beautifully made show, with the best visual touch beyond the effects being the costumes designed by Wendy Partridge, which lean heavily on Russian influences to make this world feel distinct and special from other fantasy tales. – Liz Shannon Miller, Collider

One of the biggest standouts is undoubtedly the gorgeous costumes, which balance extravagance and practicality with a massive sartorial flair, in a way that will hopefully inspire a flurry of fan-made cosplays. – Jenna Anderson,


(Photo by David Appleby, © Netflix)

With its magical, orphaned, chosen-one hero (hello, Harry Potter), its story of a young woman destined to cause revolution while caught between her childhood bestie and a dashing, untrustworthy incomer (hey there, Hunger Games) and its dangerous kingdom of backstabbers (Game Of Thrones, we meet again), Shadow And Bone has plenty of familiar echoes. But it’s very watchable, with a compelling world and characters that could help it become a fantasy favourite in its own right. Ben Travis, Empire Magazine

You can watch the first season for the twisty world-building, Wendy Partridge’s lovely costumes, several enjoyable performances and the comfort of its reliable YA plotting. Just don’t expect to immediately understand everything and definitely don’t expect everything to come together by the end. Daniel Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter

Shadow and Bone is a perfectly cast, exquisitely-constructed fantasy dream, one that will find ways to charm both new and existing fans. Jenna Anderson,

Shadow and Bone premieres Friday, April 23, on Netflix.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

twilight dramedy rt archives posters natural history 1990s nbcuniversal Nickelodeon cancelled TV shows critic resources Creative Arts Emmys 2017 20th Century Fox spider-verse trophy sopranos Pride Month hist 90s MSNBC diversity Reality Prime Video Disney Channel Infographic RT21 television streaming video Discovery Channel thriller Cannes streaming movies See It Skip It superman Captain marvel TCA 2017 Esquire monster movies Heroines CNN cancelled television biography Anna Paquin Sony Pictures CBS All Access TCA Awards harry potter saw Lionsgate golden globes Nat Geo Chernobyl Mary poppins medical drama TBS crime drama Crackle Set visit stoner BET Awards comics miniseries adaptation New York Comic Con CBS spy thriller YA technology Music HBO Max green book Red Carpet Hallmark TNT dark classics WGN slashers space ViacomCBS Logo young adult 99% Film toronto international USA Network Sundance TV Columbia Pictures vampires sag awards mutant IMDb TV DGA LGBTQ parents 72 Emmy Awards Apple james bond Freeform Superheroe 4/20 Fargo Hallmark Christmas movies Star Wars Action slasher football NBA reboot criterion Endgame 2016 Apple TV Plus art house Film Festival talk show Amazon witnail 21st Century Fox nfl japan psycho independent Black Mirror Starz ratings Comic-Con@Home 2021 blockbusters quibi aapi 24 frames YouTube CW Seed Drama Awards dogs Avengers comic books a nightmare on elm street Kids & Family Black History Month scene in color DirecTV mob stand-up comedy Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Opinion transformers sports zero dark thirty Tomatazos BET OWN halloween tv live event 71st Emmy Awards know your critic adventure USA cooking binge Certified Fresh richard e. Grant fresh Ghostbusters godzilla true crime 007 spanish language live action 2019 AMC batman Sneak Peek LGBT Schedule jamie lee curtis Classic Film Mary Tyler Moore spain remakes Podcast American Society of Cinematographers basketball crime disaster revenge TLC Comedy marvel cinematic universe Turner Classic Movies The Academy Lucasfilm The Walt Disney Company police drama PBS sequel game show Trophy Talk Rock Premiere Dates Sundance Now tv talk 79th Golden Globes Awards black comedy boxing Martial Arts Syfy cancelled TV series Mindy Kaling kaiju Pop TV werewolf documentary Food Network IFC Films zombies FOX halloween Netflix Christmas movies Image Comics cats Legendary FX WarnerMedia Winners Binge Guide Amazon Prime Video Paramount Network Broadway dceu Western dragons Disney+ Disney Plus legend lord of the rings TruTV kids movie french docudrama Tubi Cosplay Warner Bros. Elton John cults japanese Shondaland marvel comics Walt Disney Pictures chucky 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards X-Men E! target boxoffice Teen all-time emmy awards singing competition Acorn TV franchise Funimation 2015 Crunchyroll Mystery GLAAD debate Animation canceled TV shows SXSW mockumentary deadpool Family Song of Ice and Fire Christmas Pixar political drama The Witch First Look screen actors guild Instagram Live 93rd Oscars 2020 TV Land leaderboard BAFTA Winter TV PaleyFest scary movies Women's History Month PlayStation cancelled new zealand Wes Anderson Comics on TV ABC finale Fox News TV movies Masterpiece Superheroes cars reviews Video Games Pirates Spring TV genre universal monsters Spectrum Originals Fall TV directors anime satire Holidays Lifetime Christmas movies Countdown The CW Vudu rt labs critics edition latino indie Cartoon Network ID royal family The Walking Dead Dark Horse Comics war elevated horror TV One Valentine's Day movies feel good Stephen King Marathons hispanic olympics BBC America rt labs heist movie Lifetime fast and furious kong Showtime MCU high school Exclusive Video theme song Grammys Reality Competition The Purge 73rd Emmy Awards Britbox versus dreamworks 2018 Amazon Prime Arrowverse rotten movies we love Best and Worst Marvel Television Shudder Interview sequels Summer comedies Spike festivals serial killer A&E ABC Family historical drama Academy Awards best GoT crime thriller The Arrangement wonder woman Oscars popular composers Polls and Games Neflix NYCC zombie razzies mcc canceled Star Trek scorecard Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt hidden camera 2021 pirates of the caribbean Peacock renewed TV shows VH1 new star wars movies nature biopic hollywood MTV TCM First Reviews Tokyo Olympics action-comedy AMC Plus animated die hard women IFC National Geographic Writers Guild of America comic doctor who Year in Review teaser joker facebook Trailer SundanceTV ABC Signature San Diego Comic-Con Quiz trailers spider-man Photos CMT concert Marvel RT History Ovation mission: impossible Trivia Baby Yoda Fantasy History unscripted Universal Pictures YouTube Red worst Thanksgiving discovery politics Television Academy ghosts Disney Plus DC streaming service child's play Apple TV+ Box Office casting 45 Musical APB spinoff archives name the review Travel Channel what to watch worst movies king kong Super Bowl ESPN Biopics Paramount festival Disney streaming service Toys sitcom Comic Book foreign Musicals cinemax south america king arthur YouTube Premium romantic comedy period drama suspense SDCC docuseries Television Critics Association Extras Amazon Studios E3 Universal blaxploitation series Awards Tour Rocky Adult Swim news breaking bad aliens documentaries black asian-american BBC stop motion comic book movies Tumblr vs. Rom-Com Brie Larson crossover TV Disney President based on movie comic book movie DC Universe Country rotten Watching Series Nominations Calendar indiana jones gangster Holiday Alien italian venice travel free movies Mudbound spanish critics psychological thriller screenings El Rey prank Tags: Comedy GIFs Marvel Studios TCA superhero Fox Searchlight dc NBC Emmys A24 DC Comics children's TV Hulu christmas movies TV renewals HBO dexter films scary blockbuster Hollywood Foreign Press Association Netflix Comedy Central Emmy Nominations Epix TIFF Election book TCA Winter 2020 romance laika Tarantino adenture strong female leads Ellie Kemper Hear Us Out HBO Go Rocketman game of thrones justice league Mary Poppins Returns Pacific Islander Character Guide cartoon hispanic heritage month Pet Sematary Turner supernatural Sundance Pop FXX australia OneApp obituary Bravo new york anthology HFPA BBC One Sci-Fi toy story cops Paramount Plus video on demand ITV book adaptation robots VOD FX on Hulu jurassic park social media golden globe awards VICE Horror science fiction rom-coms telelvision award winner comiccon