Steampunk and fantasy clash in Netflix’s new series Shadow and Bone, premiering Friday. The show is based on books by bestselling author Leigh Bardugo and follows a young woman named Alina Starkov as she’s thrust into a magical, yet dangerous, world after serving as a mapmaker for the army.
She eventually learns she is a “Grisha,” a magical individual with immense power, who can control light. Bardugo crafts this Grishaverse over seven novels, taking readers through a war-torn world filled with battered characters and complex schemes to outsmart the enemy. In Starkov’s case, her battle is against the darkness.
The trailer shows her being taken into the dangerous Shadow Fold where creatures of darkness prey on voyagers. Bardugo told Entertainment Weekly the idea came from her asking, “What if darkness was a place?” When others learn how powerful Starkov is, she begins her training and plot twists, love triangles and clever quips follow.
I’d love to see this show take off with people both familiar and unfamiliar with the book series. For those new to the Grishaverse, you should know a few things:
The Shadow and Bone trilogy began in 2012 and was followed by the Six of Crows and the King of Scars duology, which continue the plot chronologically. This is important because the new TV show is merging the first two series. Originally, there were two years between the last Shadow and Bone book and Six of Crows.
It’s been confirmed that at least five characters from Six of Crows are coming into the plot early. In an interview with Cinemablend, executive producer Eric Heisserer described Shadow and Bone as setting Six of Crows up like a prequel.
“It required building some story… so that we don’t break anything in Leigh Bardugo’s timeline. It’s interesting the way that Six of Crows is built in that you do get into backstories that are outside the current timeline,” he said.
While the first book series follows Starkov and her quest to magnify her power, the second series follows a clever band of criminals looking to pull off a heist. How these two storylines will intertwine in an eight-episode series (if they do at all), we have yet to find out.
I’m always skeptical of book-to-screen adaptations. Naturally, I’ve been hurt by book recreations gone wrong like Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Mortal Instruments (movie and TV show alike) and The Darkest Minds. Some novels are just better left in print.
This adaptation could be different because Bardugo was on the executive production team. It’s encouraging when the author gets to tag along because it means they probably had a say in what to cut, combine or keep. On the other hand, the mashing of so many stories at once could very well kill the show.
Personally, I adored the characters and plot of Crooked Kingdom much more than I ever did reading about Alina and her accumulated posse. It’s likely these quirky characters will feel forced into the series too early, too. The terminology will also probably get confusing. The three countries focused on are Ravka, Fjerda and Shu Han — which all have different languages, cultures and religions.
I’ve been excited about this adaptation since it was first announced in 2019, but honestly have little faith in its success. The costumes and scenery are beautiful just from the trailers, but the overdone animation is already a turnoff. It seems fantasy is a tough genre to break into nowadays, but the Shadow and Bone world has the added bonus of “magic meets industrial revolution.” I also like that most of the actors aren’t very well-known, giving us a fresh slate.
The Grishaverse subreddit has been exploding with excitement and concern as the series draws closer to its release. I don’t think fans of the books alone will be enough to keep the TV show alive, and the subreddit reflects that as fans attempt to bring newcomers in while also attending to hyperspecific details that come from obsessing over the book series.
I’m hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. “No mourners, no funerals,” the characters from the Six of Crows duology like to say for good luck. I certainly hope this show isn’t led to an early funeral.