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Exceeded expectations

A review of Netflix’s “Shadow & Bone” from someone who read the books

Danny Edwards, Arts & Entertainment Editor
Originally published May 3, 2021

Courtesy of Shadow & Bone

I have waited in eager anticipation for the release of Netflix’s “Shadow & Bone” for over a year. As a long time fan of the books, I can proudly say that I couldn’t be happier with the adaptation. 

Author Leigh Bardugo has created a truly magnificent world called the Grishaverse. In it, she has created countries and cultures and, most importantly, intricate characters that travel throughout the world in her stories.

There are two book series that take place in the Grishaverse that have been combined for Netflix’s “Shadow & Bone.” This is the “Shadow & Bone” trilogy and the “Six of Crows” duology. 

The events of “Six of Crows” take place two years after the “Shadow & Bone” trilogy ends, but to create a more cohesive storyline, showrunner Eric Heisserer and Bardugo, who is an executive producer, decided to push the “Six of Crows” timeline back slightly. 

On screen, we get never-before-seen content for the “Six of Crows” characters. Their storylines are masterfully interwoven with those of “Shadow & Bone.” Both sets of characters are able to interact with each other, and although this is not canonical for the books, that doesn’t mean the show isn’t faithful.

Quite the opposite, actually.

“Shadow & Bone” is the epic tale of a young woman named Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) and her childhood best friend, Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux). Alina is a mapmaker and Mal is a tracker in the First Army for a country called Ravka. 

Ravka has been at war with their neighbors for decades. They are surrounded by enemy countries to the north (Fjerda) and to the east (Shu Han). Directly west lies a large stretch of darkness and shadow called “the Fold” or “the Unsea.” 

Ravkans are cut off from trade and resources. They either have to cross the Fold or go into enemy territory. Few who cross the Fold make it back alive for it is filled with dangerous flesh-hungry monsters called Volcra. 

The Second Army in Ravka is made up entirely of people called Grisha. Grisha possess special powers they use to manipulate various elements or as they call it “practice the small science.” 

General Kirigan (Ben Barnes) of the Second Army, aka the Darkling, is a Grisha that possesses special powers of shadow. His ancestor created the Fold and he seeks to find a way to destroy it for his country. 

Alina Starkov has always been ordinary until a journey into the Fold unlocks a power that could change the world.

While “Shadow & Bone” is an incredible journey filled with magic, saints and epic feats, “Six of Crows” is a little different.

Here we move to a southern country called Kerch. The capital of Kerch is Ketterdam, an Amsterdam inspired city that is bustling with trade, merchants, gangs and crime. 

The gang we focus on is called “the Dregs.” They run “the Crow Club” and commit crimes up and down the filthy city streets.

Especially heists. They love heists. 

In the “Six of Crows” duology there are six characters we follow. However, since the show focuses on events prior to the books, we instead observe three original members and two others on the screen.

Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), aka Dirtyhands, is the leader of the Dregs. He is ruthless, fueled by greed and my favorite character. 

Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), aka the Wraith, is silent on her feet and an incredibly skilled acrobatist. She collects information without anyone being the wiser.

Jesper Fahey (Kit Young), no alias, is a talented sharpshooter with an equally sharp tongue. He is chaotic, bisexual and here to party. 

These three are given a job: one million Kruger (Kerch currency) to kidnap Alina Starkov. They travel from Kerch to Ravka getting into trouble and looking good while doing it.

The other characters from “Six of Crows” that we see are Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan) and Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman). 

Nina is a soldier of the Second Army and a Heartrender, a Grisha that can manipulate pulse and blood flow. She is kidnapped by a group of Drüskelle. 

Drüskelle are holy soldiers from Fjerda, tasked with hunting Grisha and bringing them for trial and execution. To them, Grisha are evil witches that must be eliminated. 

Matthias is a Drüskelle, but unfortunate circumstances force him and Nina to travel together, putting them both in danger of banishment from their respective countries.

I was extremely pleased with the ways that the “Six of Crows” characters were combined with those of “Shadow & Bone.” I didn’t expect the characters from both series to interact with each other, but now that I’ve seen it I’m so glad it happened.

As the show has already been renewed for a second season, I can only predict that it will focus on the events of “Siege & Storm” (the second of the original trilogy) and “Six of Crows.” This wraps everything up nicely to be completed in a third season that will focus on “Ruin & Rising” (the third of the trilogy) and “Crooked Kingdom” (the second of the duology).

Now let’s talk about the costumes. One of the things I appreciate so greatly about Leigh Bardugo is her commitment to aesthetics. Nothing is ever out of place.

While many fantasy novels take on the aesthetic of medieval England, “Shadow & Bone” takes its inspiration from imperial Russia. The result is a beautiful array of garments, specific to each character but consistent in design. 

Soldiers of the Second Army, for example, wear a type of coat called a “Kefta.” Keftas can be blue, red, or purple. These colors recognize the order of Grisha. There are designs embroidered on the Keftas which colors correspond to a subsection of that order. 

Seeing these outfits on screen emphasized Bardugos writing skills, as they were just how I imagined when I read the books. 

Alina’s story mostly takes place in Ravka, a clearly Russian inspired country. This is reflected wonderfully in the architecture and fashion of the aristocracy. 

The outfits for the Dregs are less formal, but nevertheless impressive in individualization. Everything everyone wears makes sense for their character.

The show was filmed in Hungary, and whatever production did, they did it right. I felt immersed in the world, transported into my favorite books. 

It feels so validating to have everything I pictured reading the books for the first time four years ago be so incredible on screen. 

Netflix remained incredibly faithful to the books, no doubt aided by Bardugo being an executive producer. 

If you haven’t read the books you can still watch the show. But I recommend reading the “Shadow & Bone” trilogy first, then the “Six of Crows” duology. It will only enhance your experience. Also, the books are really, really good.

I was so excited to see these characters I feel like I’ve known for so long and I was not let down.

Now I will wait in eager anticipation for season two, I can’t wait to see more.

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