With an 8.1/10 rating on IMDb, Netflix’s Shadow and Bone is one of 2021’s most pleasant surprises for fans of Leigh Bardugo’s writing and not only! With 8 episodes, available to be binged immediately, the tv series adaptation of Bardugo’s popular books offered an enchanting introduction to a world full of magic and intrigue.
If fans’ reactions on social media are any indication, Shadow and Bone has left a gap that can only be bridged by a future Season 2. If you have yet to be persuaded that the show is worth watching, here are some reasons why you should binge it this weekend.
By adapting the first book of Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy and simultaneously providing a prequel to the more well-received Six of Crows, Netflix’s Shadow and Bone has managed to appeal to an even wider audience than each book in itself. Do you want to see the slightly trashy, well-worn YA trope of a teenage girl from a humble background saving the world, with the essential love story and ball thrown in? No shame in that! Alina’s story fits that in many ways, but there are also interesting twists.
Do you like villains who are entertainingly evil and appropriately terrifying but still have a reason for whatever it is they’re doing? The Darkling – better known as General Kirigan in the adaptation – is all of that, and Ben Barnes does an amazing job at embodying him.
Are you more drawn to underdogs, who have been forced by circumstances to do bad things but are good people deep inside? Kaz and his crowns, Inej and Jesper are a perfect trio. They’ve been brought together by sad circumstances, they’re essentially criminals, but their dedication to each other is amazing. No matter how hardened they are, they got each other’s back no matter what, and we can’t wait to see more of them.
Shadow and Bone unfold between Ravka and Kerch – fantasy countries loosely based on Russia and the Netherlands but this doesn’t mean it’s all about white characters, on the contrary. Alina is part Shu; her mother was from Shu Han, a country based on Chinese and Mongolian cultures. Since Shu and Ravkan's relationships aren’t the best, Alina has to deal with microaggressions her whole life, but this isn’t all there is to know about her. If anything, her heritage makes her more complex.
Inej is Suli, coming from a nomadic people likely based on Romani or Jewish travelers while Jesper, a black character, is Zemeni, coming from a country partly inspired by the American colonies and Australia among other influences.
But the diversity doesn’t stop there. We also see characters, both major, like Jesper, and minor, like Nadia who is lgbtq+. Moreover, there’s a good representation of disability. For reasons not yet shown in the first season, Kaz is disabled and has to walk with a cane. The narrative does its best to portray this realistically: while Kaz’s limp doesn’t prevent him from having adventures and his cane seems to be a strength rather than a weakness, it still slows him down and causes him pain, making for a nuanced portrayal.
What is great about the diversity in Shadow and Bone is that no character is just one thing. They each represent their people, but are also characters in their own right, with unique traits and backstories.
Not everything in Shadow and Bone is original, but there’s no doubt that Bardugo’s Grishaverse is a well-developed world and a lot of thought has been put into its workings. This is by no means the first fantasy story based on Russian aesthetics and folklore, but it’s still refreshing, given the number of works situated under the vague medieval England umbrella. The existence of an Amsterdam equivalent, plus other countries we don’t see, which are however represented by characters descended from there only makes this world more nuanced, suggesting there’s much more to explore.
While this is a story largely concerned with underdogs, there’s a clear social stratification, and we’re introduced to many characters from different backgrounds, from soldiers to palace dwellers and from criminals to magic users. It’s always good to feel that a fantasy world could almost exist independently of the particular story unfolding in it. The Grishaverse is such a world.
“Magic” might not be the best word, but let’s unpack this for a moment. The Grisha, which can roughly be understood as magic-users, actually prefer the word “small science” because they don’t generate something out of nothing. Rather, they manipulate existing things, from natural elements to metals to human body parts. Being obliged to only work with what is there adds an interesting handicap to their ability, meaning that they are powerful, but have their limitations – in plain words, they’re human.
This “small science” is juxtaposed with “merzost.” Which is closer to magic as we understand it. This is a cool ability that bends the Grisha limitations, but its power means that it’s very easy to lose control. Is it used discouraged for good reason? You should watch the series to find out.
Whether or not you like romantic subplots, you can’t finish Shadow and Bone without at least one ship. I don’t make the rules. The chemistry between the characters is just this amazing. For the moment, we have more teasing and no relationships but given some character dynamics, this is for the best currently. If there’s a payoff in the future, it will feel even more rewarding.
While not without its faults, Shadow and Bone is a great tv show that restored my faith in adaptations. It’s a show that takes the best from Bardugo’s books and makes them into something that works excellently on the screen. Just make sure you don’t have any deadlines when you start watching, as the show is so immersive you might binge it all in one day!