'Shadow and Bone' Season 2 is a Predictably Over-Stuffed Crowd Pleaser (Review)

Shadow and Bone Season 2 is here, and fans who have been keeping up with the production news likely won't be surprised by the criticisms it will receive. The show delivers on many of its biggest promises, but with content from three books crammed into eight episodes, those payoffs seem a little too tightly packed. However, there does seem to be hope that the show is setting course for more Grishaverse adventures to come.

Shadow and Bone Season 1 raised eyebrows when it combined two novels by Leigh BardugoShadow and Bone and Six of Crows. They aren't consecutive novels but are the beginnings of their respective series, and in Bardugo's books, they do not take place at the same time. One of the most interesting things about the adaptation, in the beginning, was seeing how the events of the books would be reworked to include more fan-favorite characters, and in many ways, it was a success. However, this summer Netflix announced that Season 2 would not only include content from both series but would combine two consecutive novels as well.

Shadow and Bone Season 1 put the emphasis heavily on the story from the novel by the same name, focusing on Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) and her confusing mentorship with The Darkling (Ben Barnes) as she discovers her rare and powerful Grisha abilities. Some of the characters from Six of Crows were included in a heavily abbreviated and altered version of their heist from their first novel, but in Season 2 the scales are much more level. The Crow gang seems to get about as much screen time as the Sun Summoner, and they explore their own stories with no concern for how disconnected they may be from Alina's life. This, at least, is sure to be a crowd-pleasing change as fans online are heavily invested in the Crows and eager to see their story play out.

The tradeoff comes in Ravka where Alina's story plays out fast and events that took hundreds of pages in the books often happen in a scene or two. Considering how many changes the show has made to the books, this shouldn't necessarily be a problem, but it will undoubtedly be disappointing for many fans who have read the books. It also feels like the kind of decision that could have ripple effects in the story to come.

The ensemble cast goes a long way in making up for these pacing issues. The performances are all spot-on and are brimming with so much chemistry that it's easy to infer the significance of an event that plays out surprisingly fast. The actors know how to give particular care to the moments that deserve it most, as they have mentioned offscreen.

It's hard not to imagine that Netflix's increasingly infamous cancellation policy played into the decision to write this season as it was written. If the show does not get picked up again, at least the team can say that it got into all the most exciting moments from Bardugo's Grishaverse books. At the same time, given Bardugo's recently-announced book deal, it seems like a great time to bank on her popularity for both Netflix and this production. On top of that, fantasy fans have become especially sensitive to rushed endings in recent years.

Still, the strangest part about Shadow and Bone's crammed the second season is that it doesn't feel like it's rushing to the end so much as rushing past the middle. Bardugo started the Grishaverse with the Shadow and Bone trilogy followed by the Six of Crows duology, then returned to Ravka for the King of Scars duology – each with a few years passing offscreen. With the introduction of new characters and the forging of new relationships, it seems like the Netflix crew is hoping to get through all seven books – and perhaps beyond. If that's the case, rushing the middle is an odd choice.

There's no doubt that existing fans will love Shadow and Bone Season 2, and there's a strong chance that newcomers to the franchise will be just fine with the pacing and enjoy it as well. If it's the only way to see this story reach its ending in today's cannibalistic streaming climate, it may even be worth it. Shadow and Bone Season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.