Welcome to the Grishaverse! Where darkness and love roam, elemental magic can be summoned with the flick of one’s wrist and dastardly schemes are the lifeblood underneath it all.
The Netflix series is an adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling young adult fantasy series, and this first season is based on the first book titled Shadow and Bone. The story follows Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), a mapmaker left orphaned by the Shadow Fold, the monster-filled void that divides her country Ravka, in two. Years later, Alina and her best friend Mal (Archie Renaux) serve in Ravka’s First Army and are assigned to cross through the Fold as part of the war effort. When their skiff is attacked, Alina summons an inexplicable power to save Mal’s life. As a result, people call her the Sun Summoner, a mythical being with a rare ability that no other Grisha, or magic-wielder, has. General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), the leader of the First Army, believes Alina is the miracle they need to finally destroy the Fold and unite East and West Ravka. From that moment on, Alina’s life is changed forever.
Meanwhile, across the fractured country in the dark city of Ketterdam, criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter) is approached for a dangerous job. Kaz turns to his gang the Dregs for help, which includes sharpshooter extraordinaire Jesper Fahey (Kit Young), and Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), a talented spy. If they can pull off this mission successfully, they will walk away with one million kruge, enough money to start anew. If not, they may very well lose more than just their lives.
This season also stars a number of characters played by Daisy Head, Sujaya Dasgupta, Calahan Skogman, Danielle Galligan, and more who all play some part in building the world of the fantasy trilogy and Bardugo’s companion duology titled Six of Crows.
The excitement that has surrounded the show since the first casting announcement has been a constant topic of discussion on social media. This adaptation, while not wholly faithful, indeed lives up to much of the hype that will satisfy fans and introduce new readers to the series.
The special effects are beautifully done, as are the set designs and the costuming – the latter two steal the show with precise attention to detail, from the Grisha’s multicoloured keftas to each individual kruge. Each element adds another dimension to Bardugo’s already rich world. The series was shot on location in Budapest, and the city’s gothic architecture and moody weather are good surrogates for a dynamic fantasy realm.
With that said, it is clear that Netflix has high hopes for the show, seeing as during the lead up to its release, many have dubbed Shadow and Bone as the best contender to fill the Game of Thrones shaped void in our lives; though the show still retains the usual YA tropes and tone, from what they’ve shown us so far, it is entirely possible.
A key factor for an engaging fantasy is the believability of the scale and scope promised to the audience. The visible difference in atmosphere and circumstance from one storyline to the other makes for not only a noticeable shift in the plot itself but speaks to the varying levels of gravity and accompanying obstacles each group of characters must overcome. The season does a great deal to set the stage, yet fulfil many of the viewer’s needs.
In addition, certain changes have been made to the characters and their backgrounds, which is not uncommon when a literary medium is adapted for the screen, and to address the ever-present and ever-important matter of inclusion. Jessie Mei Li’s Alina, in particular, is perhaps the most prevalent example, seeing as Netflix cast an Asian actress in the lead role. As a result, Alina was given a marginalized background which was not the case in the books, but better amplifies much of Alina’s insecurities and character-arc. Mei Li does not disappoint. Her strength as an actress and as our leading heroine is evident from the start, and is reaffirmed in each subsequent episode.
Bardugo’s characters feel fully realized and it is refreshing to see such a diverse group of young, capable talent bringing these characters and stories to life. The chemistry between the characters is genuine and well developed throughout the eight-episode series. The plot itself is well-paced too, featuring enough twists and rousing fight choreography to keep viewers eager for the next chapter.
With the second season of Shadow and Bone already in the works, fans are sure to enjoy the beginning of what could be the next book-to-tv triumph! And so, to those who will be watching soon, “No mourners, no funerals.”
Shadow and Bone debut on Netflix on April 23rd
by Kacy Hogg
Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favourite films include the Harry Potter series, Cinderella, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95