“Shadow and Bone”: Netflix’s newest book-to-television adaptation awes viewers

By Nafina Raha

The Netflix original series “Shadow and Bone” premiered its full first season on the streaming service on April 23. Based off of Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling novels in the Grishaverse, a fantasy world, the show combined two different storylines from separate book series that initially took place a handful of years apart. Created by Eric Heisserer, the show brings characters from the “Shadow and Bone” trilogy and the “Six of Crows” duology together in one overarching storyline. Bardugo served as executive producer and worked alongside Heisserer in the adaptation and combination of these two storylines.

“Shadow and Bone” follows Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), an orphan in the war torn country of Ravka. She is a cartographer in the First Army, a fighting force made up of regular humans, which is at odds with Ravka’s Second Army, made up of Grisha, people with magical abilities. During a journey across the Shadow Fold, a land laden with darkness and monsters, while trying to save the life of her childhood best friend, Mal (Archie Renaux), Alina discovers that she is a Grisha with the fabled and extremely rare power to summon light. Over the course of a few hours, she goes from being an expendable, nameless soldier in the First Army to being the Sun Summoner, a legendary figure tasked with destroying the Shadow Fold. Once at the Little Palace, she is pulled into the circle of General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), the leader of the Second Army and another Grisha with a rare power: the ability to summon and control shadows and darkness. 

Meanwhile, in the criminal underworld of an island southwest of Ravka, rival gangs go head to head to find passage across the Fold and into East Ravka. Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), a spy known as the Wraith, Jesper Fahey (Kit Young), a rebellious sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a gamble, and Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), a ruthless crime boss known as the Bastard of the Barrel travel through the Fold to kidnap Alina. 

Although multiple storylines are not uncommon in the literary fantasy realm, that is much harder to accomplish on television. However, “Shadow and Bone” combines the two together seamlessly. The melding of the two storylines into one gives the show a more whole tone, offsetting the high-fantasy court drama with a raw, hard-edged crime narrative. Bardugo expressed excitement to see the characters she created in separate timelines interact for the first time.

“I thought if we just did the ‘chosen one’ storyline of Alina in Shadow and Bone, we were really kind of limiting ourselves, and we weren’t really showing the scope of the world,” Heisserer explained in an interview with Thrillist. “Alina and Mal are people who have been told that they don’t really matter, they’ve been marginalized, and it’s about them finding their power and their place in the world, and who they belong with. And in a very different way, all of those things apply to the Crows characters, to Kaz, to Inej, to Jesper…I felt there was a lot of thematic similarity that could make that work.” 

Bardugo has addressed that her first novel lacked greatly in diversity, having described it as a “very straight, very white story,” reflecting the fantasy novels she herself read growing up. Her later novels include much more diversity. The showrunners made sure inclusivity was a key factor in the casting and production of “Shadow and Bone.” 

The addition in the show of Alina being half Shu, deriving from a country south of Ravka inspired by Central Asian cultures, was one part of this inclusivity. The discrimination Alina faces from her Ravkan comrades in the First Army reflects the racism many people experience in the real world, while also expressing awareness of the specific prejudice individuals of mixed race face. 

Another aspect of this inclusivity manifested in the show’s modeling of its sets and languages after the real-world places and dialects that Bardugo initially drew inspiration from when writing the novels. Different countries in the Grishaverse pull inspiration from Russia, Scandinavia, Central Asia. The architecture, writing script, currency, and costumes were built up from these cultural influences giving the series a cultural richness lacking in much of the fantasy world. 

Emmy-nominated costume designer Wendy Partridge was the mastermind behind the extensive costumes and uniforms for the show. She took the general ideas expressed in Bardugo’s books and brought them to life. The Russian-inspired keftas worn by Grisha, in different colors and with different accents to show the order and powers of each Grisha, were hand-embroidered with extraordinary attention to detail, with 250 kefta in total being created for the show. The costume for Inej Ghafa included around 14 holsters to sheathe the character’s many knives, adding flair and grit to the spy’s appearance. The show left no detail untouched.

Netflix hasn’t officially announced any news regarding the show’s renewal for a second season, but rumors of a quiet renewal have been circling. Given the multitude of novels within Bardugo’s Grishaverse from which they can pull inspiration, there is a high likelihood that production will continue. 

If the show is officially renewed by Netflix, which could happen anytime in the next few months, a second season could premiere sometime from mid- to late-2022.