Fantasy fiction is quickly becoming rich fodder for streaming television adaptations and, following on from the enormous success of its adaptation of The Witcher, Netflix now has its sights set on an adaptation of the international bestselling Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows books by Leigh Bardugo.
The series takes place in Bardugo’s Grishaverse, in what actor Kit Young describes as a “brilliant Tsarpunk type of setting” with 19th century “Imperial Russia as the kind of key visual reference”. It’s set within the fictional country of Ravka, which has been torn in two for centuries by a dark, magical wasteland known as the Shadow Fold.
As audiences head into this visually stunning and detailed magical world, we find a young mapmaker named Alina Starkov who unleashes a new power that may be the key to uniting her country once and for all. Yet many dangers are afoot for young Alina, and on the other side of the Fold, three young criminals from the faraway city of Ketterdam have their own schemes taking shape.
So, why don’t we meet the cast of the newly released Shadow and Bone?
Meet Alina Starkov (played by Jessie Mei Li)
An orphan and a cartographer for the Ravkan First Army, Alina Starkov is played by Jessie Mei Li, who is also slated to appear in Edgar Wright’s next feature, Last Night in Soho, due for release later this year.
Prior to becoming an actor, Mei Li worked as a teaching assistant in secondary school.
“That was the age group with which Shadow and Bone was quite popular, so I was aware of the books,” she tells Supanova. “As soon as I started auditioning, I then sort of crammed through them.”
Having direct access to Bardugo, who even has her own cameo appearance in episode three of the series, was an enormous help.
“Leigh was brilliant. She came to set a few times and it was just so lovely having her there and she seemed to have a good time. But also, these are her babies, and she just sort of let us be free with them; let us kind of bring our own personalities to these characters, which I think can be a really difficult thing for an author to do.”
Meet Malyen ‘Mal’ Oretsev (Played by Archie Renaux)
A devoted childhood friend who has fought to be at Alina’s side since their time together in the orphanage, Mal once more finds himself separated from Alina when her powers reveal themselves. The steadfast and determined Mal is played by Archie Renaux, who is also set to appear in the upcoming Morbius comic book film alongside Jared Leto and Matt Smith.
Like Mei Li, Renaux was first introduced to the books during the audition process, but says they were paramount in approaching the role.
“There’s a lot, a lot, a lot to know about,” he says. “It is packed full of new things to learn about, and geography and powers and stuff. But yeah, they’re fantastic.”
Sadly for Renaux, however, he quickly learnt he was the only one of the cast not to keep a memento from production (more on that below), but in the event they get to make season two he plans to take “twice the amount and make a little shrine, a little Mal shrine in my bedroom”.
Meet the Crows – Jesper (played by Kit Young), Inej ‘The Wraith’ (played by Amita Suman) and Kaz (played by Freddy Carter)
Fans of the later Six of Crows books will be thrilled to learn that season one not only draws upon the first Shadow and Bone book, but also introduces the rogues featured in the latter books.
Led by the brilliant and scheming Kaz Brekker, who actor Freddy Carter describes as “a kind of classic film noir anti-hero, just 30 years younger”, the Crows are an odd trio from the crime-riddled city of Ketterdam. Kit Young, who plays the charismatic gunslinger Jesper, describes it as “a bit more like Amsterdam or Vegas, or Victorian London… It’s our version of Gotham, really”.
Young’s character, who oozes roguish charm from every pore on his body, tells us that in developing his character “the western influences were key”.
“But once we started to put on the costumes, there was something, especially in some of the linings of the costumes, that felt very kind of swashbuckling,” he says. “Felt a little bit pirate-y with the rings. This idea of this gunslinger meets pirate meets kind of criminal was just so much to play around with. It was just perfect, really.”
For Amita Suman, who brings the dangerous and uniquely talented Inej Ghafa, or ‘The Wraith’, to the screen, getting to play the role was extra special as she tells us she previously read Six of Crows.
“I don’t even know how many times now,” she reveals. “And it is my all-time favourite book. I love it. So, so much, and anyone who hasn’t read it, read it because you’re going to go on the most incredible journey.”
As for the wicked assortment of knives brandished so effectively by Suman’s character in the series, she proudly tells us that “I have all of the 14 knives, but the rubber version… I do have them all and I’m going to frame all of it and put it in the next house and move into.”
So clear your schedules, because Netflix’s next big fantasy epic, Shadow and Bone, is streaming now – just in time to settle in for a long weekend binge-fest!
Lead image: Ben Barnes as The Darkling/General Kirigan and Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov in ‘Shadow and Bone’