Shadow and Bone 1×01 “A Searing Burst of Light” Review

SHADOW AND BONE (L to R) ARCHIE RENAUX as MALYEN ORETSEV and JESSIE MEI LI as ALINA STARKOV in SHADOW AND BONE Cr. DAVID APPLEBY/NETFLIX © 2021

Welcome to the Shadow Fold, Grishaverse. The time is now, the day is here, and we’ve got a lot to breakdown. 

First things first about these reviews, I have not read the Shadow and Bone trilogy, my expertise in both book and TV verse lies with the Six of Crows duology. And for the sake of these reviews, I’ve done a bit of research here and there, but for this season, my point of view when it comes certain parts will be based strictly on what the adaptation tells us.

“A Searing Burst of Light” is a solid premiere that sets the stage up so intricately, it’s an immediate sell. I came into this knowing absolutely nothing and really thought to myself, I’m sure I could pace myself with an episode, maybe two a day. I’m sure I won’t be that invested cut to putting aside all my work for the day to binge the entire series because that’s how easily it hooked this non-book fan.

We get into the series with a voiceover by our leading lady Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) stating that when she was little, she was afraid of the dark but as an adult learning that “darkness is a place and it’s full of monsters,” which thus serves as the episode’s main theme in revealing that each of these characters, however martyr like they may be presented to be, all have monsters within them. It’s something that we’ll point carries out to the end as well. And that’s certainly enough to keep someone like me, who’s often fond of complex characters, thoroughly invested. 

Darkness is a place, quite literally with the fold and metaphorically within each of these characters preluding that what we are to see throughout the season and beyond is that decisions will be made that won’t always be noble or even remotely great. 

Alina Starkov in the series is a woman from Shu Han and in Ravka she’s constantly the source of racial prejudice. (From what I’ve gathered, this isn’t how it is in the books, but inclusivity matters more than source material accuracy, and in this sense, seeing the universe tackle racial issues that are also at large in the real world adds more layers that ground the series and makes it stronger.)

We first see flashbacks to her childhood as an orphan studying cartography while additionally learning that The Fold (ate) her parents. Introducing us then to Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux), a Tracker and Alina’s best friend. (One more author’s note: my least favorite romance trope in existence is childhood friends to lovers—it’s gotta be done incredibly well for me to find myself putting my own personal biased aside, and so far I’m not sold on this.) What I am sold on however, is the fact that I will always be here for strong friendships between opposite sexes that doesn’t lead to a romance, and for the time being, I adore everything about Mal and Alina and how they look out for each other. (Will I possibly ship this later? Possibly. I’m certainly not ruling out because I do like them both individually.)

“Meet me in the meadow” following the volcra attack broke me—Renaux’s delivery of the line was so moving and organic, allowing me to believe every word that came out of Mal and the understanding that no matter what happens, he will find Alina again was a promise that stood out evocatively. From the moment we are introduced to these two, we are introduced to two people who undoubtedly care a tremendous amount for each other and it’s easy to want them to constantly have a place in each other’s life. It’s especially easy after we get moments such as Mal stealing fruit from a Grisha tent (Sujaya Dasgupta’s Zoya Nazyalensky). We then get the kind of promise that cements their bond and tells us, without question, that the loyalty between them will be something the series can rely on. When Mal says: “I’ll find my way back to you,” it’s easy to believe he means it with everything that’s in him. And who am I to deny how stinkin’ sweet that is. Taking risks and putting each other first is an A+ move especially after she was humiliated and treated so dastardly at lunch for being part Shu. 

We also get a glimpse of how they each conquer the thing they are seemingly most afraid of, which for Alina is learning more about the darkness, and for Mal, it is standing strong in a fight while actively partaking in them instead of running away. 

It’s also fascinating that we’re told in a conversation between the two: “hide your emotional breakdown for when you’re alone,” which leads my mind to immediately question when it’ll happen and why alone. If you’ve been here long enough or you’ve read any of our reviews for any other series than you know emotional vulnerability is my jam, and it’s something we always welcome here. Show us the emotional breakdowns—never hide them, and after hearing this, it was immediately thrilling to wonder when the openness will come.

But always carry your weapon and after Alina sabotages the initial plan by burning maps in order to be given passage to The Fold too, for starters Mal isn’t happy, but we get the light and we know what’s coming.

Alina Starkov is the Sun Summoner and bring on everything she’ll do with her powers.

Cr. DAVID APPLEBY/NETFLIX © 2021

Moving forward with the theme of monsters within everyone, but first, can we talk about stealthily outstanding introductions? To start, I hadn’t read any of the books until I finished binging the series, but the second we got an introduction to the Crow Club, I was sold. What a way to set a scene than with a stormy night because hi yes, color me intrigued. Kit Young’s tone and stamina along with the sly look in his eyes sold me to Jesper Fahey instantly then we get a cane to the table followed by “no loud noises at the table, Jesper” and that’s presumably the boss of all this? Okay okay okay.

Cut to: Kaz Brekker taking off his gloves and he does so doors locked, alone in his room—except, he’s looking for something–someone perhaps, out the window that he’s left open on a rainy night and it’s a sign of incoming. There’s something about the way that there is an intimacy in the room even though he’s alone, even though he’s keenly aware of something, and then finally, from the shadows we see Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman) approach, and he knows. It’s quite evident from this very moment that no matter how little you know about these characters, there is an intricacy to their partnership and how they operate differentiates from how they are with other people. There is a closeness here because if you know nothing, it poses the question of first, why is this boy wearing gloves indoors? And second, the tone Carter touches on as he says: “Hello, Inej” tells us that whoever she is, it’s okay for her to be in here. High above in a locked room, but she is allowed in and she is expected in.

She tells him about a job and then tells him that she got the lead on this through a girl she knows from the Menagerie hoping he’d buy her out the same way he did with her, to which he responds: “I didn’t buy you. I’m paying off your indenture.” He follows up with the fact that he only invests in the one of a kind and that no one is like Inej.  

And just like that, they are my favorite characters. Plus, it’s almost effortless to feel this way about them when the chemistry between Freddy Carter and Amita Suman works so well in establishing a closeness that requires very few words. They are two people who might not say a lot, but when they do, their words could burn a hole in the ground and light up the dim room. (Which is a fine room, by the way. Kaz Brekker’s window is goals.) 

The moments between Kaz and Inej in this episode also show us that there is a trust between the two that is grounded in agency and acute awareness. And when we see scenes of all three of them trying to figure out ways around the fold, the symmetry touches on what is easily the strongest part of this series. They might be criminals, but they each have reasons, tucked underneath the top hats and coats, buried deep within and guarding parts of their lost innocence that they will never get back. Thus, the way forward requires doing things that at times will be ugly.

Inej Ghafa, with very little words tells us that she is a character who’s been through a tremendous amount and yet her faith in Saints has never faltered. Thus in spite of all the hardships, she is the one who believes in miracles and openly with an innocence that’s unmatched shows the audience just how much her faith moves her. This is something we are going to talk a lot about because Suman’s means of showcasing the moment Inej’s entire being lights up with the utmost admirable subtly left me floored when Alexei revealed that he had seen a Sun Summoner. It’s also seen in the detail that she is immediately the one to help Alexei, give him water and make sure he’s looked out for. No one else would’ve thought twice about it and yet, it was Inej’s first instinct.

The Crows have until sunrise to figure out how to secure passage through the Fold. And much to no one’s surprise, they’re going to make it. Additionally, holding off on giving us General Kirigan’s face was a solid move on their part to guarantee we’d press play on the next episode without pacing ourselves. Check back in for episode two.

Midnight Heists and Further Thoughts 

  • So the Dekappel painting … Van Eck and when? Which Heist? Tell us. Now. I need to know. It’s in Kaz’s office now so we’re bound to circle back to it as opposed to moving towards its discovery and I’m actually intrigued to see how they touch on this and also why they brought it in this early.
  • Also, the subtle, itty bitty possible hints that are being thrown at Jesper being a Fabrikator. Or Inej being the spider–the ghost. We see you.
  • The theme at the Crow Club, mixed into “Royal Archives Heist.” That’s it, that’s the thought.
  • THE SYMMETRY WITH THE CROWS. Yes, I’ll literally mention this every time. It’s already everything.
  • The scene with Alina sitting atop, lurking and brooding broke me, but it was also such a stunning showcase of where her character is, which at this moment is alone. And it touches on her losses while simultaneously being a moment worthy of loads of analysis.
  • How exactly does Alexei make it back is what I want to know. And seriously, the f–k, Dreesen? Did you have to kill him?
  • Someone, anyone, start a gifset series of every single time Kaz and Inej look at each other after someone says something, THE SYMMETRY. It’s actually breathtaking every time.
  • No one is. No one is like Inej. No one is like Inej and Kaz Brekker makes sure she knows it. As if we weren’t already intrigued by the detail that their bond is unlike any other, moments like this early on show us the depth with a stunning punch in the guts that hits in all the right places.
  • There’s also no reason for General Kirigan to stand so dramatically with his coat flying, and yet–the men on this show. Drama kings.

What are your thoughts on Shadow and Bone’s first episode?

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