Eric Heisserer‘s Netflix adaptation of Leigh Bardugo‘s fantasy novel Shadow and Bone is finally here! In the series premiere, “A Searing Burst of Light,” we are introduced to the series main cast as Alina (Jessie Mei Li) hatches a plan to join Mal (Archie Renaux) on a perilous journey through the Fold. At the same time, Kaz (Freddy Carter) chases a lead on a lucrative job on the other side.
DISCLAIMER: This is a recap which means – you guessed it, spoilers ahead! If you are not caught up on the series, I highly suggest bookmarking this page and returning once you are done. The entire Shadow and Bone season one can be found here on Netflix.
The Shadow and Bone series premiere opens as Alina introduces us to the world of Ravka. She shares that while she was born and raised in East Ravka, she was never welcomed due to looking like her mother, who ‘looked like the enemy.’ This is made pretty clear as the boy sitting across from her makes a smart remark about how her version of the Fold looks different than hers and asks if that is how it looked in her country of Shu Han. Another friend is quick to defend her. She knows that these boys aren’t the enemy and as the cart looms forward, we can hear the faint sound of growls in the distance.
As the cartographers’ group travels closer to their destination, we see our first flashback of Alina’s time at the orphanage. A young Alina (Kaylan Teague) talks about the Shadow Fold with the head of the orphanage Anya Kuya (Elizabeth Rider), who tells her that it killed her parents. She explains that people have to travel through the Fold because they can’t risk going around it. She warns her to keep practicing her shading because if she doesn’t keep a pencil in her hand, someone will put a gun in it. Alina’s only goal is to find a way around the Fold to go somewhere where no one cares who she is or what she looks like. But now she is old enough to understand that the only way she can escape is to go through the Fold.
Back in the present day, the cartographers have reached their destination and we finally get our first look at the Shadow Fold itself. Some believe that the Shadow Fold will never go away, but others who go to church believe that a saint will come and summon the sun to destroy it. One of the boys doubt he could find anyone who wouldn’t be scared of the Fold, but one of the girls reminds them that there is one of them that won’t be – Mal.
We are then thrown into our second flashback of a young Alina and Mal (Cody Molko) at the orphanage. Mal brings a rabbit he found inside to show Aline before another young boy comes in after him. Alina picks up a knife to protect Mal, who appears to be a sickly child. When Ayna overhears the commotion, she sees that Mal has tracked mud into the building. She chases him out into the yard and warns him that if he keeps running and hiding, he will only become a boy who hides from a fight. She tells him to bring back a rabbit for dinner and the scene switches back to the present day.
Now we see Mal preparing for a fight in the makeshift ring with other army members surrounding them. After a few hits back and forth, he comes out victorious. He is then challenged by a member of the second army, a Grisha, who can manipulate air. He tries to bait Mal into a fight with him, but one of the other guys with Mal warns him that there is no winning in this fight and shuts down the makeshift ring.
Outside, Alina is making her way through the camp when Mal spots her. He tells her that everyone will be getting their assignments and he learned that his group would be traveling south with cartography to try and map a way through the mountains. Alina is overjoyed to learn that the two will be back together again. As the two catch up, they come across a group of Grisha practicing controlling fire against target dummies. Mal shares that when the Grisha’s general isn’t around, members of the second army pick fights and bully Mal of the others. Alina doesn’t think it is any different from when they grew up.
Mal reminds her that they learned some pretty important lessons, like not crying in public and always carry a weapon. He can’t remember the third lesson, but before the conversation can continue, Alina spots a vessel. Mal explains that the Grisha Fabrikators created it and refer to it as the ultralight. It is supposed to travel through the Shadow Fold faster. Alina asks about the previous one and Mal informs her it never came back. Just as Mal is about to explain further, Dubrov (Andy Burse) and Mikhael (Angus Castle-Doughty) pop up talking about the money they could have won if only one had lent the other money.
Mal introduces them to Alina. They refer to her as Mal’s ‘little friend from Keramzin’ and tell her that Mal talks about her all the time. She wants to know what exactly he says, but he doesn’t give her an answer. The other two just seem to want to rile Mal up and just as he is about to knock some sense into them, the horn saves them. Alina isn’t ready to let this go, but the group heads off to hear their orders. The leading officer tells the first army about the second army’s plan to sail for Novokribirsk to obtain food and supplies from West Ravka. It turns out that Mal’s orders have changed and he isn’t heading south with Alina but going straight into the Fold.
“A Searing Burst of Light” swaps gears and heads over to the other side of the Fold to Ketterdam. People are hustling through crowded streets while gamblers are spending all their coin. At one particular table, a man tries to gamble with Zemeni coin, but another gentleman at the table doesn’t believe it’s real. Now we get our first look at Jesper Fahey (Kit Young). Gloriously, he flips a coin into the air and uses his gun to shoot a hole straight through it, proving it’s fake. Before he can claim his winnings, Kaz Brekker reprimands him and sends him back to his post.
As Kaz makes his way through the Crow Club, a man named Rotty (Narinder Samra) tells him about a missing painting stolen from a private residence that was extremely heavily guarded. Rotty has a buyer lined up for the painting if he can just figure out who took it and wants Kaz to let him know if he hears anything. Kaz gives the impression that he doesn’t ever hear anything in a place so loud before walking away. Upstairs in Kaz’s personal quarters, we see him walk past the exact painting Rotty is looking for.
While upstairs, Kaz realizes that his bedroom window has been left open by someone. Out of the shadows steps Inej (Amita Suman). She informs Kaz that she overheard about a new job from a man named Dreesen that pays over a million kruge. She explains that Dreesen is looking for a crew to cross the Fold and bring back an unnamed item. The man is setting up meetings that night to find a group to take the job. He also has a man in his custody though Inej doesn’t know who he is or why he is important.
Inej switches gears and tells Kaz that the information was provided to her from another girl at the Menagerie. They hoped that by providing information that Kaz will buy them out as he did with Inej. However, Kaz isn’t interested in anyone else claiming that Inej is one of a kind. The argument drops and they begin planning their next move. Kaz tells her that she needs to look towards the high power she believes in and start wishing for a miracle or two to live through the Fold.
We shift gears again back over to East Ravka as night falls on the camp. Alina is in line for dinner when the man serving food refuses to serve her for being half Shu. Mal oversees this and sneaks off to steal some food for her from a Grisha tent. Before he can get away with it, he is caught by Zoya (Sujaya Dasgupta). She threatens to have him arrested for stealing, which appears to kind of be what Mal wants. However, she recognizes him as part of the crew for tomorrow and decides otherwise. She asks him to stay the night with her to ‘calm her nerves,’ but Mal thinks it’s best if he leaves.
He eventually finds Alina and shares the food that he took with her. Mal opens up that he had hoped the stealing would get him an invitation to the hole, but instead, it just got him an invitation to a Grisha’s bed. He quickly tells Alina that he didn’t accept it and that all Grisha women scare him. Alina asks him if he sought out the lieutenant, but it turns out that the group really does need him for this job. She offers to shoot him in the foot and the two laugh about how bad of a shot she actually is.
Alina gets serious and asks Mal not to go, but even though he is scared and has been scared his entire life, he knows that orders are orders. He promises Alina that no matter what, he will find his way back to her. Just as things turn serious, Mal makes the joke about going gambling in Ketterdam without Alina and swears he will write her a letter. The shot pans out on the two of them looking off into the Fold and then with a whoosh, we are back in Ketterdam.
Kaz, Jesper and Inej are on the hunt to find someone to help them cross the Fold. Everyone seems to have either gone around or lied about going through. Back at Kaz’s Crow Club, Jesper questions why General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), a Grisha who can use shadow magic, just can’t undo what the Black Heretic did. Inej explains that they would need a Sun Summoner to undo it. Kaz doesn’t think they exist, but Inej reminds him there is still a chance.
Kaz is more worried about what Dreesen is up to. He is requesting something stolen but doesn’t have any information on what it is. Jesper and Inej think they should let this one go and that it might be a trap, but Kaz isn’t ready to stop. One of his lackeys approaches with a note intercepted from Dreesen. It was meant for the owner of the Orchid and was requesting the services of a Heartrender before midnight. Kaz realizes that they need the Heartrender to get someone to talk and knows that supplying Dreesen with one will be how they get this job. Before Kaz heads out, he is warned that Pekka Rollins knows about the job.
“A Searing Burst of Light” jumps to another place in Ketterdam where a group of men led by Pekka Rollins (Dean Lennox Kelly) pays a visit to the owner of the Orchid. Pekka has a more violent way of handling his affairs. He requests a Heartrender from the Orchid’s brothel next door. The owner knows that Pekka is seeking out Milana and offers to rent her by the hour. Pekka, however, has other ideas seeing as she will know all about the job. Pekka offers to buy out the man and give him 10% of the profits that come in. The man scoffs at the idea, but Pekka’s other arrangement sees him dead and stuffed into a barrel of rats. Quite the negotiator.
On the other side of the Fold, the second army and the small unit from the first army are preparing to travel across the Fold. General Kirigan arrives and everyone starts to question if he will be joining the crew. Tensions are running high for Mal, but he tries to be optimistic for Alina’s sake. As Mal heads off, Alina remembers when they were younger where they spoke about running away together. In an attempt to either save him or go with him, she sets fire to the maps of the lands across the Fold.
Just as the skiff is about to set off, Petya (Caroline Boulton) realizes that the maps have been burned. Alina offers to make the voyage with them, but the general demands that the whole unit will go and redraw the burned maps. Aboard, Mal tries to get Alina to go back, even threatening to shot her in the foot. However, she is determined to stay by his side. They have no other choice when the skiff is closed up and orders start going out.
The second army leader explains that it will be extremely dark within the Fold, but the darker, the better. The only light used during the voyage is the blue one at the mast. Any other light will draw attention to the ship and attention means monsters. The only reason she is on the ship is to protect the crew if those monsters come anyway. Mal asks where General Kirigan is but doesn’t get an answer. As the masts fall, the skiff prepares to set out with the help of Grisha Squallers, who have the ability to manipulate the air.
Alina and the fellow cartographers are warned to stay at their posts and to never leave the ship while within the Fold. As the Skiff creeps closer to the Fold, Alina’s scarf gets pulled into the wind. As she reaches back to attempt to grab it, she sees General Kirigan at the shore looking out on the skiff as it leaves. Within the Fold, it is dark and quiet aside from the monsters in the distance. The crew uses markers, 38 in total, to map out how far they are from the other side.
As they pass marker 2, the monsters get louder. Mal warns Alina to get down and hide next to the sideboard while the rest of the soldiers and Grisha keep watch. The blue light at the mast goes out and a soldier lights his lantern. They warn him to blow it out, a monster appears behind him and takes him overboard. The lantern is dropped and sets fire to the deck and thus, the mayhem begins. Alina watches as other crew members, including her friends, are picked up, attacked and torn to shreds. As things start to spiral even more out of control, Alina’s mate Alexi (Antonin Masek) decides to leave the ship and risk his life on the floor of the Fold.
But before she can process what is happening, a monster grabs Mal and lifts him into the air. He fights back and Alina is able to reach a gun and shoot at it. The monster drops Mal, but it appears the damage might already be done. As he is saying his goodbyes, another monster appears behind Alina and begins to lift her away. They hold on to each other for dear life and out of nowhere, a bright light radiates from Alina.
On the western side, General Zlatan (Tom Weston-Jones) and members of the first army are waiting for the skiff’s arrival. General Zlatan believes it has been too long, but as he gets ready to leave, a soldier spots something. As he looks out to see what is going on, it isn’t the skiff he was waiting for but Alexi emerging from the Fold. They try to question Alexi, but he appears to be catatonic.
Back at the Orchid, Pekka’s men are cleaning up a bloodstain from the floor. It gives the implication that the original owner chose the second of Pekka’s options. As Pekka sets the rules under his new management, one of his men arrives to warn him that the Heartrender is gone. On the other side of town, we see Kaz and crew are leading a woman (Julia Ubrankovics) through the streets of Ketterdam. She warns him that he only paid for an hour and needs to get back to the Orchid, but he knows that it won’t be safe to go back there because of Pekka.
They arrive at Dreesen’s (Sean Gilder) to take on the job. However, it appears Dreesen isn’t ready to settle on someone. Kaz threatens to report him to the guild for kidnapping and Dreesen seems to agree to let them have it. Down below, they come face to face with Alexi. Dreesen explains that Alexi crossed through the Fold on foot two weeks prior, but they are trying to keep things quiet. Dreesen understands that he was some kind of witness to an event within the Fold where some new kind of invention detonated and killed the monsters he refers to as Volkra.
Dreesen requested a Heartrender to help get the information out of Alexi, who is too traumatized to talk about it. Milana begins to use her abilities to help calm Alexi down and you can hear how his pulse seems to become less erratic. Once he has calmed down, she asks him how he survived within the Fold. In a flashback, we see Alexi running away from the ship through the Fold when a gust of air and white light decimates the surrounding Volkra. He tells them that he witnessed the power of a Sun Summoner.
Inej seems overjoyed by the news, but Kaz and Jesper still seem to question what he is saying. Dreesen asks Alexi who the Sun Summoner is and promises to set him free for the information. He tells him that now that he is in Ketterdam, he can go anywhere in the world from here. Alexi finally opens up and tells them that Alina is the Sun Summoner. Once Dreesen confirms that the information is true, he kills Alexi. He tells Kaz and his crew that he sets sail for West Ravka at dawn and they have until then to find a way to successfully make their way through the Fold to get the job. If they can’t then, he will hire Pekka.
“A Searing Burst of Light” draws to a close as Dreesen tells them that he will pay the one million kruge in return for Alina Starkov.
We are officially one episode into Shadow and Bone and I am already in love with this series. “A Searing Burst of Light” introduces so many characters for us to invest in, including Alina, Mal, Kaz, Jesper and Inej. We get a chance to see glimpses of General Kirigan but he stays pretty hidden during this episode. You could say that he sticks to the shadows. Okay, I’ll see myself out now.
One thing I was curious about was how they would tie both sides of the Fold together. I was kind of confused in the beginning on Kaz, Jesper and Inej were going to tie into Alina’s story since it seemed like the events were happening simultaneously. But when Dreesen remarks that Alexi has made his journey through the Fold two weeks prior it all started to make sense. I’m happy they are going about it this way. While I loved The Witcher the timeline was one of the most frustrating things I think I’ve ever tried to unravel. Shadow and Bone makes there’s pretty straightforward.
I’m so excited to explore the different themes that have been brought up. First and foremost, Alina from the very beginning has openly shared how she has been treated in Ravka. Now toss in that she is this Sun Summoner who throughout the episode has been talked about with great praise. The saint who is going to save them all and the answer to destroying the Fold. Going from one extreme to another can only lead to some pretty emotional scenes for Alina in the future. How will she deal with everything happening around her going forward?
And of course, I can’t end the review portion of this recap without mentioning how much I am loving the friendship between Mal and Alina. While there does seem to be some hidden romantic tension between the two, their friendship really shines through. This is the same for how Kaz, Jesper and Inej have been portrayed in Ketterdam. While Kaz is the mastermind behind everything, it is clear he relies on the advice and help of the other two. I can’t wait to watch all of these amazing characters grow!
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