By Zoe Talbot
In a world overtaken by darkness and war, the people of Ravka look for the light. Based on “The Grisha” Trilogy and the “Six of Crows” Duology, both written by Leigh Bardugo, the series follows an orphan mapmaker named Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) after she discovers she has a power that could save her country from the monstrous Shadow Fold. The Grisha are people with the ability to call earth, fire, wind, flesh. Alina has the rarest gift of light.
Alina’s life has never been simple to begin with; beyond being an orphan, she grew up looking like the enemy because her mother was Shu, making her an outcast. However, she always found a friend in Malyen Oretsev (Archie Renaux), a fellow meek outcast full of heart. Now, having grown up, the two are the best of friends. They are seen making sacrifices for one another as Mal is sent on a dangerous mission across the fold, and Alina volunteers to go redraw some lost records. This is when they discover that Alina is a Sun Summoner — a rare elemental that can harness light and project it. While this makes her extremely valuable, it also makes her an assassination target to many other powerful individuals.
While the General (Ben Barnes) works to train Alina to defeat the monsters in the Shadow Fold, a shady group known as the Crows is also working to find the Sun Summoner and make their way across the fold for a job worth one million kruge. The team is made up of criminal mastermind Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), assassin Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), gunslinger Jesper Fahey (Kit Young) and spy Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan). Together, they must navigate both sides of the war, love, betrayal and the criminal underground on the way to Alina and riches beyond their wildest dreams.
“Shadow and Bone” pleasantly surprised me. I generally find Netflix Original shows to be less creative and built for the fantasy genre, but the world-building and execution were well-paced, full of drama and visually interesting. I think that, especially as you’re getting acquainted with all of the different characters and politics, it can definitely be confusing at first, but it starts to unravel nicely after all of the initial exposition. It felt so easy to become immersed in this fictional country, its troubles and hopes for a brighter future.
I was particularly impressed by how Ravka as a country feels so well established, even for those who haven’t read the source material. I feel like that can be a huge feat for adaptations, especially with only eight episodes to accomplish it, but there were small instances that pointed to moments of culture or the war that fit so efficiently. Furthermore, all of the visual effects were so well utilized, from Alina’s sun summoner moments to the thrill of traveling through the fold. The tone of this world was so well put together between the costumes, set and acting, and I felt so attached to this fight against something so much bigger than the characters, but also dealing with individual characters and their personal agressions.
Something that I would have utilized better is Alina’s storyline versus that of the Crows. While I loved them both and the Crows were much more humorous and entertaining, their side plot made everything harder to follow. I wanted to care about Alina and their journey equally, and I think that beginning to cram two separate series together into eight episodes was a large task. It was done well, and I’m glad the Crows were a part of the journey because they are fantastic characters with brilliant actors. However, I do think that it was an ambitious choice that I wish could have been given more attention had there been more time or had the show’s structure been different. “Shadow and Bone” had so much good, and perhaps that was the problem — I wanted all of it, and I wanted more of both. There just was not enough time or episodes allotted to satiate both of those feelings.
Overall, I found this adventure to be so exciting, thrilling and full of life. I will definitely be looking into reading the series, as I was so thrilled with these characters, their lives and missions. I would wholeheartedly recommend the series to fantasy and YA enjoyers, especially if you enjoy more fantasy worlds like “Game of Thrones” or “Lord of the Rings.” This show does so much right and is definitely worth a binge.