Shadow & Bone is the first of a trilogy of books written by author Leigh Bardugo. Having such a rich universe to dive into when unfolding this new Netflix series is definitely adding a huge amount of intrigue and excitement. That and an admittedly huge budget for the production. From the trailer alone, we can see endlessly impressive CGI along with set and costume design that set alight a new interest. One that doesn’t remind you of any other in existence, which in this writer’s humble opinion, is the sign of something new, and significant.
Having such rich history withing the Grishaverse of the books, when utilized correctly can start off a new season with a huge helping hand in terms of viewers connection to the series. The protagonist Alina Starkov (a Mapmaker) is played by Jessie Mei Li, with a few cast members that definitely add some weight to the series. Ben Barnes plays General Kirigen (The Darkling) and Archie Renaux plays Alina’s longest friend Mal, with both of them having grown up in an orphanage. Within the opening few minutes we already see the first aspersions of racism being hurled toward Alina. Her opening words are “I live in East Ravka, but I’ve never been welcome here. because I look like my mother, and she looked like the enemy.”
Whilst working on her map in the bumpy carriage that she and all the other cartographers are in on their way to the empire’s grounds. Someone comments on her work saying “The fold looks different on mine. I need to get a better view from your country.” Immediately someone gently shoves his head and responds “She grew up here. come on.” Thinking this might be the end of it, was foolish. The mans next comment delivers a sharper blow. “The Shu Han didn’t want her either.” Granted this book and casting occurred long before COVID-19. One cant help but draw some connections to the Anti-Asian hate that has occurred since the virus broke out from Wuhan. With Asian hate crimes in the United States have increased by nearly 200% in the past year.
Its nearly implausible that in this day and age there are still racially motivated attacks, or any attacks made where the main factor is skin colour. But I digress. Even here in the Grishaverse, prejudice and ignorance reigns true. We see that these not-so-affectionately-called Grisha are those who have power over certain disciplines. And of course, when humanity encounters something, someone different. Their capacity to hate and discriminate knows no bounds. The Grisha to all other humans are the embodiment of the other. There are several types of these under the branch of Grisha.
Etherealki are summoners. They can summon air, fire, water. Of this there are many, but only one Shadow Summoner in existence, The Darkling. And now, another one of a kind, the Sun Summoner. Corporalki have the ability to manipulate the human body. Two kinds are spoken of, Heartrenders – who are able to increase of decrease heartbeats, can injure internal organs and influence emotions. And Healers who can mend and heal physical maladies or injuries. Fabrikators can manipulate a range of materials, glass, steel, chemicals etc. It is from this group that the Keftas are created. These are the coats of different colours that denote the different factions of Grisha, and are also bulletproof.
We learn about the mysterious Fold, that this is what killed her parents and the reason why there is so many orphans. But also, that most trips through the fold, don’t succeed. Mal gets the short straw drawn when he’s put on the next ship that’s set to sail out through The Fold for supplies. In order to keep herself and Mal together, Alina sets a small fire that burns up the maps of a location across the fold. Meaning that they have to send several cartographers across with the supply ship.
We then meet Jesper and Kaz. Two polar opposites when it comes to countenance. The former of which has an impressive skill as a gunslinger, and the latter has a bitchin crow-headed staff. Any fans of the book’s ears will be perking up reading this. As along with the trilogy that this series was based on, they also coalesce characters from another series in the same universe The Six of Crows. Who are made up of an eclectic and mischievous but sharp-witted bunch, who’s talents are many and happily lead them to be an epic team for heists and other such debauchery. This group not-so-quietly take over a job meant for another bunch of miscreants. Hearing that someone is searching for a Heartrender, but knowing that the ominous Pekka Rollins is already on the hunt makes this endeavour far more dangerous.
During the treacherous journey across the fold, there is a constant threat of Volcra attacking. Keeping quiet and every single light extinguished is the main way to avoid attracting their attention, but a foolish boy lights a lantern which results in immediate violent attacks. We get to see what the Volcra look like, menacing enough to strike fear into all aboard the ship. One of them gets a hold of Mal and begins to leap off of the ship, Alina filled with fear of losing her best friend shoots at it and manages to wound one, but then is grabbed at by another. The Crows quest marries with our protagonist tale when we learn that the person in search of a Heartrender, wants one in order to question a catatonic witness / survivor of the ship crossing the Fold. He tells the man the name of the Sun Summoner he saw, Alina Starkov.
After predictably killing the witness who told them the tale and identity of the Sun Summoner, he offers up a job to the Crows, if they can figure out a way through the fold and back, he’ll pay them one million Kruger. To bring him back the Sun Summoner, alive.
What intrigues me most about this new universe is the originality, it doesn’t remind me of any other fictional world. The aesthetic and cinematography are a perfect blend crafted with care. The budget for this production is clearly high and has been excellently utilized. As with anything supernatural or fantasy-based, it tells tales that are imbued with cultural commentary through allegory in a magical world. This pilot has the perfect amount of mystery and intrigue to kick start the series. Stay tuned for next weeks episode recap and breakdown, as we dive further into the Grishaverse.