Netflix’s anticipated fantasy series Shadow and Bone is finally available to watch. Based on the bestselling Grishaverse novels by Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone tells the story of an army mapmaker, Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), as she learns of her power to summon sunlight and could be the key to saving the world. With this strange new power, Alina must leave the world and people she’s known, including her childhood friend and love interest Mal (Archie Renaux), behind and train with her fellow powered-beings called the Grisha. The Grisha are led by General Kirigan aka The Darkling (Ben Barnes), who takes an instant interest in Alina as he too has a rare power to summon darkness from the shadows. With both of their powers, the kingdom hopes they can destroy the mysterious Shadow Fold that tore the country of Ravka in half. Kirigan tells her at one point in the series, “You and I are going to change the world, Alina.”
While many reviews have focused on the wonderful characters and rich storylines, I could not help but notice just how sexy (and, essentially, horny) the entire series is. With so much sexual tension oozing from all the very attractive characters introduced, it’s hard to deny that this show is enticing and plays on the tension and longing between the characters. And it’s not just Alina’s story that experiences this. The Crows--Kaz (Freddy Carter), Inej (Amita Suman), and Jesper (Kit Young); Grisha Zoya (Sujaya Dasgupta); heartrender Nina (Danielle Galligan); and Fjerdan Drüskelle (Grisha hunter) Matthias (Calahan Skogman) are all equally lustful.
The writers aren’t afraid to showcase the sex appeal of each character and the actors fully embrace this. In the first episode, within the first ten minutes we are given a shirtless fight scene between an extremely well-built Mal and another fit soldier. After the fight, Mal finds Alina and there is a slight gentle pause between the two as they see each other. There is an instant attraction and the viewers definitely feel it. Even Zoya, who Mal steals a bowl of fruit from her quarters for Alina, wants in on the action. Zoya sees the handsome soldier taking her food and ends up flirting with him, “When I get nervous the night before, I like to have a good tumble with a stranger,” she says as she circles around him. “Clears my head. That’s my remedy.” Flattered, Mal tells her he should go and begins to leave. She responds, “You don’t seem like the type who does what they should.”
These sexy moments come as no surprise for the fans of the novels as the Grishaverse novels are extremely passionate. The relationship between Alina and Kirigan is extremely intense, which is why the role of Kirigan had to go to someone who could embody sexiness. Barnes, who was already on everyone’s fantasy radar as Prince Caspian in The Chronicles of Narnia, was always the ideal actor to portray the alluring shadow Grisha. Fans of the novels and Bardugo herself even pictured Barnes for the role. The chemistry between Kirigan and Alina is very different from Alina’s relationship with Mal. While Alina and Mal share a gentle and natural bond, Kirigan and Alina’s relationship is just pure intense desire. It seemed like the one direction that showrunner Eric Heisserer gave Barnes was just to exude pure sexual energy, which he does, for sure.
There is even a moment in the series where Alina takes agency in her feelings and kisses Kirigan, which leads to the two passionately making out. This leads to the sexiest scene that left me with the most amorous reaction. Before anything further could continue, Kirigan stops to ask, “Are you sure?” Instead of just going forward with his needs, he pauses to think about Alina’s feelings towards the situation, despite the fact she initiated it. Although there is a problem with saying consent is sexy, because it should be mandatory, there is still something attractive to the idea of Kirigan making sure Alina was alright with the idea to move forward.
Another actor who I believe was told to just be as charismatic and enticing as possible is Young, who portrays the gun-slinging Crow Jesper. The character is so charming that it’s hard to not find him attractive. During the heist planning stages where Jesper is assigned the getaway escape route, he is caught by Inej checking out the stable hand. He later finds the stable hand while looking for getaway horses. The stable hand recognizes Jesper as being part of the actors troupe from earlier, which he denies, but then flirts, "I'm not against the occasional role-play." They proceed to make out, among other things, and end with both laying on the ground in the stable breathing heavily, exhausted from the sex that is never shown. Even post-coital, Jesper still retains that sex appeal as he says goodbye to the stable hand.
What the series does best is avoid the blatant sex and focus on the emotional foreplay. The build-up between the characters is more satisfying than actually showcasing sex scenes. Matthias and Nina despise one another, but understand they need each other in order to survive the cold. Although they both resist their attraction for each other, the temptation builds up as Matthias, who is rocking a built body that Nina notices, strips down to join her in bed to keep warm. It's difficult to not root for the duo to just have sex. There were many instances where I just screamed, 'just do it already.' But the anticipation grew even more when they didn't.
Then there is the tension between characters who haven't fully admitted their feelings for each other, but reveal so much with their longing gazes and with words that could make a heart flutter. Six of Crows fan favorite Kaz and Inej have that sweet connection that is instantly felt in the first episode. As Inej tells Kaz about another girl who has skills like her to join the Crows, he shuts that idea down, "I only invest in one of a kind. She isn't like you. No one is." Although they never admit their feelings for each other, there is a beautiful relationship based on loyalty and trust.“Crows don’t just remember the faces of people who wronged them,” Kaz tells Inej privately. “They also remember those who were kind. They tell each other who to look after and who to watch out for. No Saint ever watched over me. Not like you have.”
The most intimate moments in the series aren’t even when the characters are together. When Alina and Mal are separated, there’s a great deal of loss felt by both. It is through their letters and flashbacks that we learn about their romantic feelings for each other and it is through those words that one can’t help but feel their connection and yearning to be reunited. “You told me about cardinal north,” Alina writes to Mal. “And true north. Cardinal north is a direction on a map. True north? True north is home. It is where you feel safe and loved. You have always been my true north, Mal. And if I am to survive this, I need to be home again with you.” While he never receives that letter, he also writes something very similar to her, calling Alina ‘his true north’ and finding his way back to her. When they finally do find each other, Alina feels guilty for the events that happened at the Little Palace between Kirigan. She begins to confess to Mal, but he stops her. “You don’t owe me an explanation,” Mal says. “I just want to keep you safe.” Mal doesn’t see Alina as his, but that she is her own person. He has no claim in what she does and who she does it with. All he cares about is that she is safe with him. That dialogue was so sensual and was satisfying to watch.
Shadow and Bone does a fantastic job creating this world filled with copious characters while also keeping it sexy. It doesn’t need explicit sex scenes, unnecessary nude scenes, or fervent dialogue surrounding sex. The characters themselves are just so passionate in their feelings for each other, without having to be physical sometimes, and that’s tantalizing, if not horny, itself.
Shadow and Bone is available to stream on Netflix now.
Laura Sirikul is a freelance writer, researcher, and managing editor of The Nerds of Color. Throughout her career, she has written for Nerd Reactor, What To Watch, Nerdist, IGN, Movie View Magazine, Red Carpet Report, Mental Floss, Trek News, The Hollywood Reporter, Character Media, Bitch Media, and many other outlets. She has been on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Nerdist's Fangirls, and many other news shows. For almost ten years, she has covered film and television extensively along with in-depth interviews with major studios such as Disney, WB, and FOX. She is also a member of the Asian American Journalist Association and the Hollywood Critics Association. Apart from addressing topics covering film and television, Laura is a strong advocate for social awareness for the underrepresented in the entertainment industry.
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