Shadow and Bone
Based on Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels, Shadow and Bone is Netflix’s newest fantasy genre release. It’s a thrilling high-fantasy series set within a rich, original universe. In many ways it fills the void left behind by Game of Thrones and is suitable for an even larger audience, without excessive violence or sexual explicitness.
For newcomers unfamiliar with the literary collection, it will take time to adapt to the lore – grishas, squallers and summoners are some of the various types of humans. A writing team led by Eric Heisserer (Arrival, Bird Box) ensures that viewers’ engagement with these cultural specificities isn’t in limbo for long. Better yet, the details are unveiled though considerate character development with minimal sequences of clunky exposition. It’s easy to be quickly drawn into the story when the protagonist, Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), is thrust into her high-stakes mission within just a few minutes of the opening episode.
An orphan mapmaker living in the war-torn region of Keramzin in Ravka, Alina prepares for a dangerous adventure with her childhood best friend Mal (Archie Renaux) on a supply mission that entails crossing through a vortex-like border called The Fold, which divides the kingdom and seems to be expanding. In a thrilling sequence, the two head into The Fold and face off against vicious dragons. Alina unleashes a power that certifies her as a Grisha – a super-powerful being who could be a linchpin for the world’s safety.
As in many apocalyptic narratives, the real threats are humankind, and criminal machinations indicate Alina will fight more enemies than one. An enigmatic leader of the Grisha called The Darkling (a charismatic Ben Barnes) is introduced to Alina in the second episode and the show treads on familiar YA dystopian territory with this pair. However, there are subversive choices made later on so that it doesn’t feel like a product from 2015, when the genre was all the rage.
Incredible work by the visual effects team and production designers is key to the show’s immersive success. With a multitude of intriguing characters politicking around Alina and the careful world-building of a realm that looks like an alt-Russian facsimile, the show has legs to last for many seasons. This first makes a strong case for more.
Shadow and Bone is released on Netflix on 23rd April 2021.
Watch the trailer for Shadow and Bone here: