Netflix‘s recent TV adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling fantasy series, the Grishaverse, has been compared to shows like Game of Thrones and The Witcher. Highly anticipated and a hit upon release, it shares the commercial success that its predecessors enjoyed when they first came out. Now that the dust has settled a bit, the series doesn’t share their same level of intricacy (at least not yet), but that doesn’t mean it’s bad – quite the opposite. Both enjoyable and well crafted, the buzz that surrounds screenwriter Eric Heisserer’s take on the first novel, Shadow and Bone, isn’t just hype. The excitement is justified for this promising new fantasy series.
The story follows Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), who is an orphan in the Russian-inspired nation of Ravka. Her army base discovers she’s the first and only Grisha (a person who can manipulate matter) with the ability to summon and control light. This makes her the Sun Summoner, the prophesied key to destroying the ‘Shadow Fold’ that has been plaguing their world for centuries.
As a result, she’s separated from her childhood friend, Malyen ‘Mal’ Oretsev (Archie Renaux), and taken to the Little Palace to train with the formidable General Kirigan (Ben Barnes). However, unbeknownst to her, she has been targeted by the Crows, a ragtag gang of criminals with their own set of unique talents. Consisting of Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman) and Jesper Fahey (Kit Young), the gang have been hired to capture Alina for a lucrative reward.
While it revolves around the familiar trope of a chosen one, Shadow and Bones also weaves the complex storylines of its array of side characters in a coherent and engaging way. Whether it’s the trials of the Crows, Mal’s quest to find Alina, or the ventures of supporting characters such as Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan), the series never feels overcrowded. While the first half has a slower pace due to its focus on world-building, each scene expands on the lore and cultures of the world in a compelling way. Viewers will find parallels between the bitter conflicts of places like Ravka and the Little Palace with the current state of affairs in the real world.
The acting is strong throughout. Barnes is magnetic as the mysterious General Kirigan, particularly as the series progresses. The Crows are always a delight to see onscreen, especially Suman, who brings a steely yet gentle resolve to Inej, a skilled acrobat and spy. Carter is equally arresting as the calculating Crow leader Brekker, whether it’s in his stern demeanour or his interactions with the rest of his crew.
Renaux does a great job of capturing orphaned soldier Mal’s determination, while defining his character beyond his role as Alina’s childhood friend. As the lead actor, Li fits the bill perfectly. She effortlessly captures both Alina’s boldness and her quieter, more reserved side. This is very apparent when she shares the screen with Renaux, and their characters’ deep connection is palpable.
With strong plotting, an intriguing setting and great performances all around, Shadow and Bone illuminates the path forward, where Netflix’s other fantasy forays may have stumbled. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in a captivating new fictional world, this series is well worth a watch.