Bring Forth the Light: A review of Netflix’s Shadow and Bone

Eric Heisserer brings Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse to life with a fresh twist in this new Netflix adaptation of the bestselling series “Shadow and Bone” and “Six of Crows”

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Popular book series by acclaimed author Leigh Bardugo made its debut on laptop screens across the country, and it’s a hit. Screenshot via @GrishaNetflixTV on Twitter. (Hustler Staff/Eva Pace)

Ashley Monteiro, Staff Writer

Filled with adventure, magic, thievery, greed and darkness, the Grishaverse is an engaging fantasy world. The dark universe consists of three series: the “Shadow and Bone” trilogy, the “Six of Crows” duology and the recent “King of Scars” duology, written by author Leigh Bardugo. During the past few years, I fell in love with these series through their well written characters and detailed adventures, so when I learned that a Netflix adaptation would arrive in 2021 I rejoiced with other fans around the world.

“Shadow and Bone,” directed by Eric Heisserer, arrived on Netflix Friday, April 23. The series takes the first installments of the “Shadow and Bone” and “Six of Crows” series we all know and love and combines them into a nicely-packaged eight-episode season with three connected plotlines set within the same world.

The first plotline follows Ravkan army cartographer Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) as she attempts to get herself reassigned to the same expedition as her childhood friend, Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux), to avoid being separated. The expedition is across the Fold, a region that splits Ravka in half filled with darkness and winged creatures known as volcra. During this journey, the army’s ship experiences a volcra attack that prompts Alina to unintentionally call forth the light and rescue her crewmates. This event draws the attention of General Kirigan (Ben Barnes) who reveals to Alina that she is a grisha, a human who possesses the ability to practice magic known as the Small Science. More importantly, Alina learns that she is the only grisha sun summoner. She is whisked away to the Ravkan capital where she is presented to the king as Ravka’s hope for destroying the Fold.

Meanwhile, across the sea in the city of Ketterdam, we are introduced to a gang of thieves known as the Dregs led by the mischievous Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), a.k.a “Dirtyhands,” who works alongside his sharpshooter Jesper Fahey (Kit Young) and spy Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman). The Dregs receive a job for one million kruge: find a way to cross the Fold and retrieve the rumored sun summoner. Kaz and his crew find themselves seeking the help of the Conductor, a man who offers them passage across the Fold in his train, and soon find themselves in the Ravkan capital enacting their plans while avoiding the attention of the court.

The third story follows a grisha Heartrender named Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan), who possesses the power to control the body’s internal systems and sensations. While visiting an inn, Nina is captured by witch hunters known as Drüskelle from Ravka’s enemy nation Fjerda and is held captive aboard a ship. During her captivity, Nina forms a relationship with one of the Drüskelle, Mattias Helvar (Calahan Skogman), and the two escape following a storm that sinks the ship. Together, the two of them must brave the frigid winter while overcoming their differences and stubborn personalities.

As the season progresses, the plots begin to converge on each other as we learn more about the truth behind the Fold and Kirigan’s true intentions. Alina must navigate her moral compass and emotions while evading Drüskelle, the Dregs and Kirigan in order to reunite with Mal. The Dregs attempt to pull off their scheme of kidnapping Alina, but ultimately they team up with Alina and Mal to fight back against Kirigan once his plan is set into motion. Meanwhile, Nina and Mattias make it to safety, but a shocking betrayal drives a wedge in their relationship after Nina is faced with a tough decision. The episodes are rich with excitingly treacherous fights, beautifully animated displays of grisha’s powers and direct quotes from the books that any long time fan will know and appreciate.

Going into the season I admit I had some initial concerns. From past experiences with other TV and movie adaptations I know full and well what it’s like when the adaptation doesn’t do the books justice. However, this is one of those rare moments where I’ll say that this TV adaptation blew my expectations out of the water. I was impressed by the actors’ ability to bring each individual character to life by paying special attention to details from the book such as Kaz’s gloves, Nina and Mattias’ constant banter, Kirigan’s loneliness and Jesper’s wittiness. I was also amazed by the detailed sets which closely resembled what I envisioned in my mind when I read the books. Ketterdam’s bustling nighttime alleyways and Ravka’s lavish palace ballrooms felt real to me. The realistic CGI of the Fold and grisha’s powers was just the cherry on top.

I look forward to the future of “Shadow and Bone,” and I hope that Netflix decides to renew it for more seasons, especially as it keeps popping up on the streaming service’s “trending” queue. The fact that the many members of the crew including the actors took the time to actually read the books before filming makes me believe that they will handle these stories with care. While I’m mostly impressed with season one, I also hope to see some book topics further expanded upon in future seasons, such as a closer look into the lesser known types of grisha, the history of grisha saints and Ravka’s political instability. 

Overall, I’d say that this is the promising start of a new fantasy adaptation that is sure to drive in new fans and show the full scale of what the Grishaverse has to offer.

★★★★★