Shadow and Bone Season 2 Review: Crammed But Fun (Also WESPER)

Shadow and Bone season 2
Shadow and Bone. (L to R) Lewis Tan as Tolya, Anna Leong Brophy as Tamar, Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov, Archie Renaux as Malyen Oretsev, Patrick Gibson as Nikolai in episode 202 of Shadow and Bone. Cr. Dávid Lukács/Netflix © 2023

I don’t consider myself a book purist, and I actually liked the changes they made to the first season. But I feel like Shadow and Bone Season 2 tried to cram too much into one season. Not only did the second season finish the original trilogy, fitting Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising into the same amount of episodes they used to adapt Shadow and Bone, but it also contained quite a lot of the plot of Crooked Kingdom. Each episode was about fifteen minutes longer than in season 1, which helped, but I still wish they would have held something back. Still, Shadow and Bone Season 2 was a lot of fun, it handled the introduction of some fan-favorite characters very well, and it laid the groundwork for both a potential third season and spinoff.

I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical when I learned they planned to adapt both Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising in Shadow and Bone Season 2. I knew they intended to pull elements from the third book, but it wasn’t until the soundtrack listing and episode titles were released that I realized it was going to be the full plot. Fitting two books into the same amount of episodes that previously adapted one felt like a really big ask. And honestly, if it had just been those two books, I think they would have handled it nicely. 

But because they introduced the Crows early, there had to be something for them to do. And so that meant they had to pull from the Six of Crows duology, using most of the plot of the second book to help deal with the mess waiting for Kaz, Inej, and Jesper back in Ketterdam. As they also planted the seeds for the Ice Court heist – the plot of Six of Crows – I’m interested to see how they intend to resolve that story in the planned spinoff, considering the vendetta against Pekka is how it happens in the books. And they rushed through that in about three episodes, kind of ruining a lot of the big moments from that plot, and what happened had no buildup, so the payoff wasn’t as satisfying.

What we got in Shadow and Bone season 2 was a mishmash of story arcs and timelines that put people in very different places than I expected them to be. Sometimes this worked in the show’s favor; sometimes it did not. I’m not going to argue with the decision, though, since Netflix has a penchant for cancelling shows after two seasons, and I’d rather we get a semi-definitive ending than a cliffhanger.

Overall, I enjoyed this season (especially the Jesper/Wylan bits). The score is fantastic (I’ve been listening to it for days). The costumes are gorgeous (oh my god, Mal’s leather jacket??? I died). They really nailed the casting for this show – Patrick Wilson (Nikolai/Sturmhond) and Jack Wolfe (Wylan) were two I thought were exceptionally well-cast. But, really, everyone nailed it out of the park this season; there was some amazing acting. (Ben Barnes when the Darkling killed Baghra? That was top-notch.)

Oprah handing out action sequences was something I loved – Jesper gunslinging, Inej’s rooftop fight (and Inej with a magic sword!), even Kaz going crazy with his cane, these were all things I needed to see. I also really liked the map animation they employed to show where everyone was in relation to each other. On a similar note, I really liked getting to see more of the world. Novyi Zem was not how I expected it (I always thought it would be more American West), and I’m glad they went to Shu Han even if I felt like their reason for doing so was kind of dumb.

I spent much of my season 1 review comparing the show to the books. You all have to know that it’s going to happen again in this review. Considering the changes they made, it will be virtually impossible for me not to comment on it.

Shadow and Bone season 2
Shadow and Bone. (L to R) Ben Barnes as The Darkling, Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov in episode 202 of Shadow and Bone. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

For starters, the ending is vastly different. If you saw the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it was very much like that. Alina stabs Mal in order to get the power boost needed to tear down the Fold, and in return, her power is spread out among the others that came in with her. (In the books, it was more than just Zoya, Nina, and Inej, seeing as how none of them were there last time.) Tamar and Tolya manage to save Mal before he dies. Nikolai and the others help Alina fake her martyrdom, and then she and Mal head off together.

I really don’t like how they ended things for Alina. I waffle back and forth about whether or not I like that she was allowed to keep her powers, because I do genuinely think it was kind of garbage that she had them for so short a time in the books. Her line to the Darkling about saving herself was great; an oft-recurring issue with heroines is their lack of agency in their own lives. Her keeping her powers definitely gives her more of a choice in her fate. The fact that she has Genya and Zoya is nice, because she basically lost all of her friends in the books, what with having to pretend she was dead.

But I decidedly did not like how she used merzost to bring back Mal, considering that the Darkling using merzost was really bad and the entire point of the series. Her smirk at the end, and the shadows released when she used her powers, imply that she will be corrupted the same way Kirigan was. If Shadow and Bone gets a season 3, I imagine Alina’s struggle will be the main arc.

However, I do kind of like where Mal ended up. (Actually, Mal in general is way better in the show; and this is from someone who liked him in the books.) No lie, I hated in the books how he and Alina just trotted off to live a quiet life (especially because they were like 19 in the books). So I love that he inherits the title of Sturmhond, à la The Princess Bride, and takes off with Tolya, Tamar, and Inej. It also makes a lot of sense that he would be doubting his connection with Alina after everything he learned, so his taking off to “find himself” isn’t entirely out of left field. And I felt that they laid the groundwork for that quite nicely; there were enough hints throughout the season that I figured he and Alina would go off exploring after the Fold was gone.

While we’re on the subject of Mal’s ending, one thing I have loved about Shadow and Bone were the character interactions. I’ve mentioned this multiple times, and those who have read the books will know, but the Crows never even met Alina and Mal. Their introduction is in Six of Crows, which is set two years after Ruin and Rising. I really love how the climax of both seasons involves Alina and the others working together with the Crows; it allows for some great dynamics.

The hunts for the Sea Whip and the Firebird were definitely cooler in the books. In particular, the Sea Whip, because it is supposed to be like a giant dragon and it was a huge battle at sea. Also, it was originally the Darkling who chartered Sturmhond, but he, Tamar, and Tolya end up helping Alina. The Sea Whip in the show was severely underwhelming. But this is the kind of stuff you lose when you combine two books into one season.

The inclusion of the sword felt a little ridiculous. (This is not a thing in the books.) There was an entire episode where Kaz, Jesper, Tolya, and Inej were unconscious and hallucinating in a house in Shu Han, and given that they had to cut a lot of stuff from the books, that entire plot felt really unnecessary. Did Jesper’s dream about his mother make me cry? Yes. Was Inej dropping down with the sword in the nick of time one of the coolest things ever? Of course. But it came across as such a deus ex machina that it was a little cheesy.

Shadow and Bone season 2
Shadow and Bone. (L to R) Jack Wolfe as Wylan, Kit Young as Jesper Fahey in episode 205 of Shadow and Bone. Cr. Timea Saghy/Netflix © 2022

OK, how have I rambled on for so long without gushing about Wesper? This is what I was most excited about, and their scenes were so adorable I literally squealed out loud to myself. I’m not sure how I feel about them having met and hooked up before Wylan is introduced on the show, and I was a little surprised that they got together so fast. It felt like they were fast-tracking their relationship. But they had some moments that were so fantastic – Jesper’s face watching Wylan play piano – that I really don’t care if it was a bit rushed. I do wish they’d done the “not just girls” scene, but Kit Young and Jack Wolfe did it in a behind-the-scenes video and I guess that’s as close as we’ll get.

Speaking of new characters, I’m so happy they at least had Adrik. I love him so much in the books, and with how much they cut out, I was worried that they wouldn’t bring him in. But they did, and he was great! Tamar and Tolya had fantastic introductions – the way they revealed them bit by bit was so cool – and I love Kanej but Tolya would absolutely be into Inej, so the little moments between them felt very in character. I’m happy that they kept Nikolai’s secret identity and even though I knew it was coming, I still think that reveal worked well.

If we get a season 3, they have to let us know what happened to Fedyor. I mean, he got mentioned as being unaccounted for, but that was it? He does die in Siege and Storm, but I thought that giving him a bigger role and pairing him with Ivan meant that we would get more from him in season 2, so that was disappointing. 

Genya and David were so great. I love them in the books; their relationship is so sweet. What was just a hint in season 1 really comes out in season 2. Genya waiting in the woods for him so that she could warn him away was perfect. His speech about knowing metal and her insides are steel was beautiful – as was his declaration that rubies are stronger than emeralds. And while I hate that they killed him off (and offscreen, too! RUDE), I loved how David sacrificed himself for Genya because he hated that he had let her sacrifice herself for him.

Random thought, but how long does this series take place over? I’m very curious as to how there’s already stained glass windows depicting Saint Alina and her antler amplifier.

Little moments that I loved:

  • Inej wandering through Ketterdam stealing knives.
  • Mal doubling back to pay the merchant after being chased through the market.
  • Wylan was playing “Royal Archives Heist” from the season 1 soundtrack on his flute.
  • Nina just going to get waffles while Kaz was detailing the plan.
  • Baghra busting her and Genya out of their cages.
  • The bee in Zoya’s face after the Fold comes down. (This is a thing from Nikolai’s duology, King of Scars and Rule of Wolves.)

While I obviously did have some complaints, basically, I had fun watching, which is all I can really ask from a show. Am I disappointed in how some things turned out? I’m not going to lie, yes, I am. The way they handled the Crows’ storyline completely alters everything about the Ice Court heist, specifically the team dynamics. And some characters (David? Fedyor???) really got the shaft.

But am I going to rewatch this season repeatedly? Yes, I am. Especially the Wesper scenes. (I’m a very simple person.)

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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