Epic fantasy delivered in television format certainly was not invented by the 2011 premiere of Game of Thrones, based on the A Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin, but it most certainly did bring it into mainstream pop culture like no other series before it. More importantly, it revealed that the longform storytelling available to a long-running television series was a far more suitable medium for adapting such epic works than the constraints imposed by feature film runtimes.
Since GoT finished its run in 2019, a number of fantasy novels are finding their way into production, including the works of Robert Jordan, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis, just to name a few. Streaming powerhouse Netflix was also quick on getting in on the action with their acclaimed adaptation of The Witcher, based on the books by Polish novelist Andrzei Sapkowski, and are now following up with a new fantasy series based on the bestselling Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows books by Leigh Bardugo.
For those unfamiliar with the books, whilst the series taps into a rich tradition of fantasy storytelling including a heavily detailed world deeply entwined with magic, it is somewhat of a different take than what many consider to be the primary basis for fantasy fiction. Swapping out medieval European influences in favour of a distinctly 19th-century Tsarist Russian flavour, this new series not only manages to deliver a fresh and visually stunning twist on familiar tropes, but it also manages to do so in a way that still honours many of the great fantasy traditions without seeming either clichéd or derivative.
Fans of Bardugo’s later Six of Crows books, set in her expansive Grishaverse, will be excited to hear that this first season not only serves and an adaptation of the first book of the Shadow and Bone trilogy, but it also introduces the Crows as well, those loveable rogues from Ketterdam. By introducing this secondary thread, showrunner Eric Heisserer (screenwriter on Netflix’s Bird Box) dials up the intrigue as two very different worlds move ever closer to their inevitable collision.
First of all, it is abundantly clear that Heisserer has entered this series as a fan of the source material, and that his love of Bardugo’s work is abundantly evident in the extraordinary detail that has gone into making her fantasy world a reality. Indeed, Heisserer was first given the opportunity to pitch for the series on the back of a 2017 tweet he had sent to Bardugo praising her work, and the care he has put into adapting it is undeniably the result of an intense affection for the books.
@LBardugo I am halfway through SIX OF CROWS and relishing every page. Thank you for this superbly-crafted heist novel.
— Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer) February 4, 2017
There’s really so much to love about this series, it’s hard to narrow it down — from the extraordinary performance of Jessie Mei Li as the heroine Alina Starkov, whose sudden manifestation of magical abilities thrust her into a dangerous world of intrigue and away from her devoted childhood companion Mal (Archie Renaux), through to the quick repartee and delightfully roguish antics of the three Crows (Jesper played by Kit Young, Inej ‘The Wraith’ played by Amita Suman and Kaz played by Freddy Carter) — there’s little doubt this series will prove popular not only with fans of the original books, but by anyone who loves a well-crafted, and beautifully presented piece of epic storytelling.
Richly detailed, visually spectacular and well-constructed, Netflix has knocked this one completely out of the park. Quite simply, the best word to describe season one of Shadow and Bone is amazing. Let us hope there are many more seasons to come.
‘Shadow and Bone’ is streaming now via Netflix