Shadow and Bone Season 2 expands and excels in its world building

The Sun Summoner returns in the second season of Shadow and Bone, training and fighting to take down the ever-growing darkness that plagues the land. Delving deeper into the lore and history of this fantasy-based world, this season is bigger than its predecessor, with more characters and higher stakes.

Consistency is key when it comes to the success of Shadow and Bone. It’s not the most epic fantasy-based series out there, but it also never dips to the point of being unenjoyable. From the opening episode, the writers make an immediate statement that they’re not wasting any time – it gets right into the season’s main narrative and thrusts its characters into interesting scenarios. Whether it’s the Crows dealing with Rollins or Alina hunting for amplifiers, there’s a sense of urgency that enhances the season. With multiple characters spread over multiple locations, the series does a great job of balancing every group and ensuring there’s always a desire to check in with everyone. This spread of characters also expands the world in a way that makes the season’s events feel more grand. Constantly jumping from city to city, and being able to visualise it all via helpful map graphics, is what makes the world and the incoming threat feel as big as they say it is.

This is one thing most fantasy series’ fail to really capitalise on – that sense of scope. All of the episodes in here are about an hour in length – the perfect amount of time to pack in lots of story content and world building. When a fantasy series opts for 40-minute episodes, most of the time it means the narrative is rushed and key details are glossed over as there’s not enough time to flesh out the key beats. As a result of these lengthy episodes, there is a lot going on throughout the season. It’s constantly moving and always pushing towards the climax, weaving in plenty of action, political thriller and mystery elements along the way.

As I mentioned, this is a consistently good season in terms of the narrative, tension and character development. The lead-up to its climax is fantastic – containing some of the season’s best moments – but once it gets to that climax, the structure is out of whack. The finale is one of the only real let-downs of the season – it’s still a good episode, but the approach is wildly unexpected. As is the case with most finale structures, the conflict is wrapped up and you get 10-15 minutes of an epilogue to cap things off. This time, the conflict is wrapped up 10-15 minutes into the finale, leaving around 45 minutes of epilogue content akin to LotR: Return of the King. I liked most of what it shows here, but there’s no denying it’s a flat episode compared to the insane tension of the penultimate.

It’s immediately clear that Jessie Mei Li has really grown into the role of Alina since her presence in the first season. She carries herself with a little more confidence this time around, which I guess is indicative of the growth the character has experienced. I bought into her as a leader and much of that is due to the strength of Jessie’s performance. Once again Ben Barnes is aptly menacing as Kirigan, although he brings this charm to the character not many others could apply. This enhances the character since you can never be too certain whether he’s being genuine or manipulative. Of the ‘Crows’ storyline, Amita Suman (Inej) is still the one who kicks the most ass. She has this on-screen presence that means you’re bound to get some sort of action sequence whenever she shows up.

I love what they’ve done with Daisy Head’s character, Genya, within this season. She’s still limited to a supporting role, but I found her so much more compelling than in her first season. There’s an added hint of complexity to the role that Daisy nails, only making me want to see more of her. A couple of newcomers enter the fold in this season, quickly becoming two of my favourites. Patrick Gibson joins the crew as Nikolai, a character who I thought would be pretty basic initially, but actually turns out to be a strong addition. His chemistry with the rest of the existing cast is very strong, ensuring there’s much to love about the character’s arc. Lewis Tan shows up as Tolya, a really cool character who is just a tad underused. The moment in which he plays a key role are great, so I’d love to see him be featured more in the future.

The following criticism is on the character and the writing as opposed to the actor. There’s a subplot in here following the character of Matthias (Calahan Skogman). It’s an arc that was present in the first season and carries through here, much to my displeasure. This entire subplot is a complete snoozefest. It feels so blatantly detached from everything else going on that it’s almost impossible to care. The silver lining is that the subplot only appears a handful of times throughout the season. Whenever it does show up, it makes for a perfect toilet break – you won’t miss anything.

Lastly, I want to touch on the action. The series takes itself slightly more seriously this time around, getting a little darker and allowing the tension to skyrocket in key battle scenes. The action across the board is great, although it’s occasionally cheesy with a blatant and distracting use of sped-up footage to make slow movements look faster. Aside from that, it’s a little more cinematic than I was expecting for a series of this calibre, accompanied by some pretty good visual effects for what it’s worth.

In the end, Shadow and Bone’s second season is a slight improvement upon the first across a number of areas. The overall scope is expanded and it feels a lot more like a sprawling fantasy world with characters moving from location to location. The fast-paced narrative covers a lot of ground, with each episode packed to the brim with action, twists and a sense of adventure. Jessie Mei Li leads the series with a strong performance that greatly enhances the character and the journey she’s on. If the franchise continues, I’d love to see how the Grishaverse’s lore is developed further.



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