Netflix just dropped its newest fantasy series, “Shadow and Bone,” based on Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels. Bardugo’s book series are worldwide bestsellers, with millions of copies having been sold and translated into 38 languages. As a result, the show can be confusing at times, particularly when it comes to terminology. However, “Shadow and Bone,” released April 23, is a thrilling and compelling work of fantasy.
The story follows Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), an orphaned soldier who is half-Ravkan and half-Shu. When Alina, her troop and her best friend Mal (Archie Renaux) are sent into the fold — which is a treacherous swath of darkness that divides Ravka into the East and West sides — they discover she is Grisha. Grisha are those who practice “small sciences” and have special capabilities to harness certain elements. Alina finds out she’s a Sun Summoner (the first of her kind) and is immediately taken under the wing of manipulative Grisha leader, General Kirigan (Ben Barnes).
Meanwhile, in the city of Ketterdam in Kerch, Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), the leader of a street gang called the Dregs, is hunting down the Sun Summoner for a wealthy merchant. Along with the swift, acrobatic Inej (Amita Suman) and sharpshooter Jesper (Kit Young), Kaz sets off to Ravka to find Alina.
A third subplot follows Nina (Danielle Galligan), a Ravkan Grisha kidnapped by Fjerdan men since Grisha are hunted as witches in their country. But when Nina is caught in a shipwreck, she and Fjerdan-born Matthias (Calahan Skogman) are forced to work together, forming an unlikely bond.
Similar to “Game of Thrones,” these separate storylines remain just that until they all become interconnected toward the end of the first season.
“Shadow and Bone” primarily takes place in a fictional war-torn Ravka, which is heavily inspired by imperial Russia in the 1800s and can be observed in the show’s costume, names and language. While other fantasy series tend to seek inspiration from a vaguely medieval England, this sets “Shadow and Bone” apart right off the bat.
The Netflix adaptation also takes the “Shadow and Bone” trilogy and combines it with characters from the “Six of Crows” duology written by the same author, which takes place in Kerch (inspired by the Netherlands).
The cast — a group of mostly fresh-faced actors — are great in their roles. Perhaps the most fun and memorable characters from the show are Kaz, Inej and Jesper, who provide flair and comic relief to an otherwise dark show. Barnes, a veteran actor perhaps most well-known for playing Prince Caspian in the Narnia movies, portrays an extremely convincing Kirigan who viewers will love to hate.
If there’s one thing that “Shadow and Bone” does well, it’s slow-burn romance. Alina and Mal clearly have feelings for each other, but something always stops them from acting on them. The two characters have great chemistry together, and if the series is renewed for a second season, hopefully more will be seen of them.
Kaz and Inej also have an interesting dynamic. While not as obvious as the feelings Alina and Mal have for each other, there is definitely something there, particularly on Kaz’ end. As for Nina and Matthias, it’s the classic enemies-to-lovers trope.
In the series, there are many fantastical elements that required extensive CGI, and they don’t disappoint. Alina’s ability to harness the sun is in sharp contrast to Kirigan’s darkness, which was presented as an inky swarm of black across the screen.
However, the show is fast-paced and can be confusing at times. There are many terms used that might be unfamiliar to people who haven’t read the books, but it becomes much easier to catch on after the first few episodes.
Besides “Shadow and Bone” being somewhat confusing at the beginning, it’s a thrilling show with twists and turns, concluding season one with a cliffhanger that will leave viewers wanting more.
“Shadow and Bone,” rated TV-14, can be streamed on Netflix.