The plot of the series is based on the first volume of the Grisha Trilogy by the American writer Leigh Bardugo. The entire Grishaverse, on the other hand, also includes the Six Crows duology , three additional novels extending the lore, and several short stories. The cinematic potential of this universe was noticed shortly after the premiere of the first part of the series, but only now has the story of Alina Starkov been transferred to the screen.
Such protection of the source material is not strange, because the world created by Bardugo is interesting in its diversity of cultures and has a rather interestingly constructed system of magic. It is true that the book’s story rubs against certain patterns of the young adult genre , but it can engage the reader enough to reach for the next volume and find out what will happen next with the characters. And there is a whole range of people to locate your sympathies.
But let’s move on to the show itself. Eight hour-long episodes of the epic tale of friendship, magic and might have a chance to draw us in, right?
A country torn in two
The kingdom of Ravka is an internally divided state. And literally, because the Shadow Fold runs through its center, an area shrouded in impenetrable darkness inhabited by bloodthirsty monsters called volcra. The fold was created hundreds of years ago by the Black Heretic, a powerful magician, who thus brought misfortune, death and war upon the kingdom.
It is in the ever-looming threat posed by Folda that Alina Starkov, orphaned in childhood, and her best friend, Malyen Orecev, are brought up. Recruitment to the army in Ravka is compulsory, so she becomes a cartographer and he becomes a military tracker in the First Army. They are to – like all young people in Ravka – serve the king in the fight against what lurks in the Fold, as well as with hostile neighboring countries.
The army of the Ravka Kingdom consists not only of poorly equipped soldiers from the areas beyond the Falda, but also elite units of the Second Army consisting of Grishas, i.e. people who can use magic. The Grisha, like ordinary soldiers, have a duty of service, but are also a privileged group that is better fed, dressed and educated. As a result, they grow up with a sense of superiority, most of them become arrogant and do not win sympathy among the ranks of the soldiers, or among their First Army commanders.
When Alina, in a moment of danger, reveals her power to summon the sun and goes to the Little Palace, where the Grisha are training, we get to know with her this other world, dripping with wealth and ensuring a comfortable life for the chosen ones. The girl instantly becomes a star, a saint in her lifetime and the object of everyone’s interest. It also attracts the attention of a few powerful players from the criminal underworld, so she begins to be in danger. And praise for these gangsters and their thugs, because without this plot, Shadow and Bone would be quite a one-track – and therefore boring – production.
Gangster, witch and Mother Ravka
In addition to the story of Alina and Mal, Shadow and Bone is a bit of a heist show . The rising star of the underworld, Kaz Brekker, receives an important commission, gathers a team of talented and colorful characters and sets off from the island of Kerch through the Falda to Ravka. At his side are the quiet and dangerous Inej and the impulsive sharpshooter Jesper. They are a band with interesting dynamics and work together quite well, even when they have to make quick changes to their Grand Plan.
We can watch the world outside Ravka thanks to them and grishas named Nina, who was the source of the story about witch hunting – another danger awaiting our heroes. This world, cosmopolitan and multicultural by definition, resembles Victorian London and has many elements of style that we could see before, for example, in the Carnival Row series .
Ravka’s kingdom, however, is reminiscent of tsarist Russia – starting with uniforms and long-eared caps, and ending with the palaces of aristocrats dripping with gold . This visual tzarpunk is the best element of the entire production. Unfortunately, this is also where the originality of Shadow and Bones ends .
Mary Sue like any other
The main character, Alina Starkov, has many features of a typical young adult heroine . Although she lacks the clumsiness that often characterizes such heroin, she is not as outspoken as some of them, but these are the only differences between her and any other Chosen One. It is a character, unfortunately, somewhat boring and predictable. Even her behavior, which is supposed to be impulsive and unreasonable, is fairly easy to predict. Thus, it fits perfectly with his best friend Mal, who was written as if he had nothing else to do in his life but to look after Alina, and somewhere in this time-consuming activity he lost his self.
Throughout the series, we observe not only the intimacy between Alina and Mal, but also her growing attachment to General Kirigan, who decides to introduce her to such a strange and fascinating world of magic, here called Little Science. And if there’s a character in this show whose potential has been wasted, it’s Kirigan. Ben Barnes may have become the face of several large productions over the years and played the role of more or less likeable characters, but here he definitely lacked charisma. And this is what the general who wields dark magic, whose orders the Grisha follow without batting an eye, should emanate. The fact that he absolutely doesn’t feel the chemistry between him and Alina doesn’t help. It is a pity, because throughout the season they have a whole range of feelings for each other, which are difficult to see until they are served to us on a plate.
This is a really wasted potential, because the creators and actors did not manage to create a strong foundation for this series. Their dynamics, changing between seasons – well! Even in episodes – it could attract viewers and excite those who know the books inside out, and it turned out poorly.
The sun comes after the shade
However, the authors should be commended for some changes made to the literary original. The first is a combination of themes from the Grisha Trilogy and the duology of the Six Crows . It was thanks to this procedure that we were able to meet, among others, Kaz, Inej and Jesper, and we did not die of boredom eating caviar with Alina.
The second thing they did well was a minor but significant change in Alina herself. In the series, she received mixed ancestry (her mother was from a hostile country of Shu Han), and throughout her life she was the object of prejudice and hostility from those who might consider themselves citizens of Ravka. Thanks to this, the hostility of some of the supporting characters is understandable, and not that the main character must always have a hill.
The cast of the series is full of new faces, which is also a plus, because they are not associated with any larger production and can be more credible. In fact, the most famous names in Shadow and Bones are the aforementioned Ben Barnes and Zoë Wannamaker, who viewers most associate with Mrs. Hooch from the Harry Potter movies and several episodes of Doctor Who .
Will the story go on?
If in 2012, when the rights to the screening of Bardugo’s first novel were hastily bought, someone tried to translate the Grisha Trilogy into cinema films, it would probably share the fate of the Golden Compass or the Incompatible series as an unfinished or forgotten series by viewers. However, it took just a few years for books and series productions for young people to interest Netflix and other streaming platforms, which breathed new life into this genre and poured a penny.
Shadow and Bone will definitely be an important item for fans of Leigh Bardugo’s prose, he has a good chance for the second (and maybe even third) season. Maybe it will also be a test of imagination, as is the case with the screening of a series of books loved by some fandom. It can also be a nice change for young fantasy fans after the not very successful Cursed and a step towards the next screen adaptations. At the same time, however, for older fans of fantasy series, it will be a production that is unlikely to stay with them for longer.
The series premieres on April 23 on Netflix.