Netflix has struck gold with a fresh addition to its ever-growing high-profile fantasy television slate. Yes, the streaming giant pretty much already has its hands full at the moment with the highly-anticipated adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher saga. But Netflix has now also confirmed its intention to turn Leigh Bardugo‘s popular fantasy series, five books collectively known as the Grishaverse, into a brand-new show titled Shadow and Bone.
This thoroughly ambitious project finds its namesake in the very first novel — and eventuating original trilogy — of Bardugo’s magic-infused epic. The Shadow and Bone books are then followed up by Six of Crows, a spinoff duology set in a different country on the Grishaverse map, populated with a slew of new characters.
Despite the fact that events of Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows occur about two years apart in their canonical timeline, elements of both the trilogy and duology will mesh together in an overlapping plot for the small screen. We are still introduced to Shadow and Bone‘s magical heroine Alina Starkov, who uncovers a deep-seated power within herself that could bring peace to her war-torn home of Ravka.
Yet miles away, on the port island of Kerch where seedy trade and other unseemly characters flourish the most, the ragtag crew at the center of Six of Crows — the Dregs — could still be preparing for the heist of a lifetime.
As perfectly summed up by Netflix themselves:
“Thugs, thieves, assassins, and saints are at war now, and it will take more than magic to survive.”
The TV series will hail from Bird Box and Arrival screenwriter Eric Heisserer, who will serve as head writer and showrunner. Also in the ranks is superproducer Shawn Levy, who also worked on Arrival and notably keeps our Stranger Things obsessions fed (among other upcoming projects). Bardugo herself will fill the role of executive producer.
Now, this particular creative team is a legit reason to root for Shadow and Bone. Stranger Things and even Bird Box — controversial in reception as it is — have become salient cultural phenomena in their own right. Heisserer and Levy clearly know how to compel the world with the stories they champion.
But really, the strength of Bardugo’s novels and their underpinning mythologies make a strong case for a Shadow and Bone series as it is. Maybe I just adore stories that don’t neatly fit into prescribed categories, but her books are the ideal mash-up of fantasy, adventure, and even young-adult genres. They utilize tropes that work impeccably well together to form something truly unique.
A touch of realism plays a vital role in grounding the Grishaverse, be it in its plot devices or setting in general. In particular, I can’t wait to see how Bardugo’s impeccably crafted countries will translate on screen. There is a ton of alt-history inspiration threaded throughout the Grishaverse that lends grit and uniqueness to each place.
Ravka, the main setting of Shadow and Bone, takes after Tsarist Russia in look, feel, and customs. Fjerda has some kind of Scandinavian influence. Shu Han finds its roots in Chinese and Mongolian culture. Kerch is an amalgam of “the Dutch Republic of the 1700s, but it’s also got a little New York (New Amsterdam), Las Vegas, and Victorian London,” according to Bardugo. And these are but some locations that we get to visit. The books are thus filled to the brim with a vibrant, memorable atmosphere at every turn.
Meanwhile, the ever-present magic in the Grishaverse has its own real-world connections; there are some loose nods to the rules of science hidden in there. The Grisha — practitioners of such magical arts — are known to deal in the “Small Science” of matter manipulation, depending on what classification they fall into. A Grisha could control the human body, elements of nature, or composite materials like metal and glass. There are even ways to enhance these powers via dangerous drugs, which don’t have pretty side effects.
Which leads us directly to the charismatic players in the Grishaverse: the organizations, crews, and gangs in conflict with one another as they chase power. Frankly, these characters arguably comprise an area of the Grishaverse mythology that keeps Bardugo fans divided, especially when it comes to those in the Shadow and Bone portion of the series. When those original books feature a prominent love triangle between Alina and two dudes — a formula that’s all-too-familiar in many young-adult novels — I don’t blame the criticism. Still, each character manages to grow beyond their tropes, particularly the heroine. Her journey is worth watching unfold.
I’m personally partial to the dynamics and characterizations found in Six of Crows compared to its predecessor, though, so I’m mostly glad Netflix isn’t leaving any of it out. The most fascinating relationships are borne from mismatched complexity of The Dregs, as well as some others that they pick up along the way. Bardugo really hit the ground running with characters like Kaz Brekker, Inej Ghafa, and Nina Zenik, just to name a few. Regardless, everyone in the Six of Crows duology is absolutely captivating the moment we meet them.
Hence, although I’m worried that eight episodes won’t be nearly enough time for all this story, I hold out hope that Shadow and Bone manages to incorporate the best parts of both Bardugo’s series into a glorious whole nonetheless. The Grishaverse is truly compelling thanks to a combination of intricate storytelling, engaging characters, and rich mythos. To finally witness it materialize on screen makes this writer and fan a very happy camper.