Magic, mythology, heists, and high-stakes battles—Shadow and Bone has all the elements of a good fantasy series, but after two seasons, it’s clear it tries to do too much. Between rushed character introductions, hasty revelations, and unearned resolutions, the show utterly fails to live up to its promising start and leaves fans bewildered about the series’ future.
The second season of Shadow and Bone picks up directly where season one ended. Alina, the Sun Summoner, is on the run with her childhood friend Mal after her failed attempt to destroy the Fold—a dark expanse cutting the country of Ravka in half. They leave Ravka and coincidentally wind up on the same ship as the Crows (Kaz, Jesper, Inej), along with Nina Zenik and her soon-to-be-imprisoned lover Matthias. The Darkling—the Shadow Summoner and former leader of the Second Army—was presumed dead at the end of the first season, but he was much too good a villain to be gone for good, and he returns more powerful and more determined than ever before to find Alina.
Yes, there is a lot going on. And yet this is all established in the first half of the first episode. Alina soon learns that the Darkling survived, so she sets out to hunt not one but two of Morozova’s legendary amplifiers. During her quest, she meets the privateer Sturmond and his crew, who almost instantly become her allies. Meanwhile, the Darkling is building an army of Grisha and now controls deadly shadow monsters. On the other side of the Fold, the Crows take on a criminal empire and are once again tasked with another heist for the Sun Summoner. The characters are scattered across the map, dividing the story into way too many subplots. Thankfully, the show successfully establishes the various locations and the characters’ locations, but because we constantly jump back and forth between storylines, the plot feels disoriented.
Such is to be expected, however, when a show tries to merge so many novels into one cohesive story. In the first season, the show was divided into two main plots; one following the characters and events of the Shadow and Bone novel, and the other delving into parts of the Crows duology. The show actually did a good job of adapting and intertwining these two stories, but this all goes to hell in the new season, which adapts not one, not two, but four Grishaverse novels (Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising, Six of Crows, and Crooked Kingdom). Unsurprisingly, the show is an unmitigated mess, and at this point, it barely has the right to be called an adaptation at all.
Due to the breadth of narratives, the most beloved characters and moments from the novels are regretfully rushed or sidelined. The new characters, including Stermond, Tolya, and Tamar, though perfectly cast, are introduced so quickly that they remain shallow, and their motivations are almost non-existent. And the Crows—by far the standout of the show—get overshadowed by other, lesser storylines. The breakneck pacing results in twists that feel far too convenient and significantly reduces the emotional impact of beloved scenes from the books. For example, the relationship between Jasper and Wylan is a delightful slow burn in the books, but there’s none of that in the show, as we learn they have already spent a night together. To the show’s credit, however, it is a delight to see a gay couple accepted as naturally as any other couple in a fantasy world.
Every actor embodies their characters perfectly, so it’s easy to become attached to them. However, that makes it all the more frustrating when the writers rush character development or, worse, seem to forget who these characters are altogether. Take Nina, for example. At the end of the last season, she was forced to publicly accuse her lover Matthias of being a slaver to save him from being apprehended by the Darkling’s Grisha. As a result, Matthias is sent to prison, where he languishes without hope of freedom. At the beginning of the second season, Nina is determined to save him, and she attempts to mount a rescue front, but this does not happen. After that, she seems to forget about him entirely as the plot forces her to embark on heist after heist with the Crows. Not only is it incredibly disappointing not to see Nina and Matthias reunited, but the sloppy condensing of different novels turns the characters into mere shadows of their book selves.
Shadow and Bone does many things right; the world is grimy and lived-in, the magic is dark and never loses its allure, and the characters, despite their oft unfair treatment, are complex and endearing. The show only needs to learn to slow down and allow the characters to shine. However, with the wild and baffling season two finale that completely alters the ending of the Shadow and Bone trilogy, I’m left wondering how on earth the show could possibly recover from this messy season.