Shadow and Bone Season 2 is many things, but a straight-up adaptation of Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising, books 2 and 3 in the Shadow and Bone trilogy is not one of them. This, in many ways, works to the show’s benefit, mostly because unlike in other failed adaptations, it feels like Shadow and Bone is making changes to serve the characters, and not changing the characters to serve the new plot.
Of course, the show still has to contend with the expectations of people hoping to see a familiar storyline, and in that respect, there might be some disappointment. But for those willing to embark on a new journey with familiar characters, there’s a lot to be enjoyed in how Shadow and Bone Season 2 takes these characters to similar places in very different ways.
There are, of course, pacing issues, as there always are when you have to squeeze so much content into only eight episodes, but they don’t feel as egregious as they could have, particularly because every episode comes packed with at least a few moments certain to please old and new fans alike. That is not to say that some characters don’t get the benefit of the revised storyline, while others seem to spend the entire season waiting for their real story to start, and fans’ enjoyment might depend on which side of this divide they end up on.
But Shadow and Bone Season 2 is effective at picking up the pace of Alina’s storyline, something the books struggled to do. Everything that previously worked in that storyline works just as well, if not better – no one has ever cared this much about Mal Oretsev, and that we do is entirely due to Archie Renaux – and the new additions don’t just slot into place seamlessly, they add to an already rich story.
Patrick Gibson’s Nikolai Lantsov is a particular standout, perhaps because Gibson had the hardest job going into Season 2. Nikolai is a character you are supposed to find both charming and infuriating at times, but he is also a character you are supposed to root for, and the way Gibson goes from cocky to heartfelt and allows his Nikolai to also grow and learn in a genuine way is a testament to a show that even when it’s not following the books, still understands the characters.
The other storyline, the one that has just thrown the books out the window – in a way that means if we ever get the spinoff the Crows and us actually deserved, a lot of things will also have to look different –works even better than the “main” storyline, if only because the Crows have always worked better. Freddie Carter’s Kaz Brekker and Amita Suman’s Inej Ghafa are the kind of couple you build an entire show around, with enough chemistry to power a small town, and enough issues to sustain years of storytelling. Instead, we get an accelerated – but thankfully, not out of character – version of what their story could be, and though it works, it always feels like there could be more. Like there should be.
Ironically, they’re not the only couple that works in the Crows side of the story, with Jack Wolfe’s Wylan Van Eck coming into the story to steal hearts – including Jesper. That he works so well on his own allows his relationship with Jesper to feel real, and the dynamics the two manage to build are a great contrast to the things Kaz and Inej cannot say and what Nina cannot experience since Matthias is gone.
Matthias Helvar is, perhaps, the biggest loser of Season 2. Calahan Skogman tries, but there’s very little for him to do from Hellgate other than show us how fit he is. His standout moments come with Danielle Galligan’s Nina in his vicinity, which is why it’s a shame that she very rarely is.
The Crows dynamics – and what the show builds with Zoya, Alina, and a Genya that gets some of the best and most emotional moments of the season – work very well to set up another season of the show, one that would presumably cover King of Scars, plus the part of the Nikolai plot from Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising they didn’t go into. If all works well, we could get a Crows spinoff that finally gives us the Ice Court job — probably all within that little time jump in the finale — and then, maybe even Crooked Kingdom as its own thing, depending on interest. But Crooked Kingdom could also be done alongside King of Scars in a possible third Season. There are a lot of possibilities and no certainties right now, which means there’s always an undercurrent of untapped potential to this cast, and that’s the hardest thing to shake.
A cast this strong deserves more of a chance to expand on these characters and these stories. That’s why, at times, it feels like Shadow and Bone Season 2 is too much, too fast. The individual parts work, though, and they work so well that they rescue a season that had all the makings of a disaster. It’s just impossible not to watch the tale as is and not think of how much better this story could be if it’s allowed a chance to breathe and truly prosper.
The show is, of course, not perfect, and in Season 2 it once again falls into the trap of leaning on stereotypes that never added anything to the original text and somehow making them worse. Every second of Shu Han feels like a slap in the face, and the show’s handle on diversity within its own fantasy world is tenuous, at best. But that all feels like the unfortunate result of the same problem – not enough time.
It’s possible to enjoy Shadow and Bone Season 2 for what it is, and fans of most characters will find something to love in it, something to replay over and over, something to hold onto. That’s the show’s saving grace, even faced with the reality that the story we deserve requires not just a little more, but a whole lot more.