Shadow and Bone was a delightful surprise find on Netflix. Being an avid consumer of all things Sci-fi and Fantasy I am usually well versed on what series are coming across the various platforms, but for some reason this slipped past my notice.
As is the modern trend for tighter story telling this series was only 8 episodes long and whilst it was excellent it was just the right length. The pace matched my interest beautifully and whilst I could have gobbled up the series in a single binge, I savoured it more like a fine wine, taking time to appreciate it, and there is much to appreciate.
Shadow and Bone is set within a fascinating well-constructed world. It is primarily a fantasy series set within a timeframe something akin to say 1900 Russia. A little more advanced than muskets and magic but not overly steampunky in its feel. The magic is nicely handled. It shows a world where magic is more common place although still frowned upon, magic users, or Grisha, are essentially hand magicians and serve within the army.
The central premise is that within Ravka there is a vast black desolate cloud called the fold, splitting the country in two. It was created by a rogue Mage ages ago and although traversable by wind powered skiffs it is a dangerous place filled with bat like fiends called Volcra. Ravka is at war against Magician hating fanatics and at risk of internal splits when a new hero appears who may have the power to banish the fold forever.
Our hero is of course this special one. Someone unaware of their power. She is played by Jessi Mei-Li how handles the role with confidence and strength. The tale is really of her and her friendship with fellow orphan Mal (Archie Reynaux) and it is their closeness that drives the heart of the plot. The cast is supported by a delightfully sinister Ben Barnes and capable British acting stars like Zoe Wannamaker. None are especially famous but you will most definitely be sitting there saying ‘I know that face’.
What adds to the depth of the story is the addition of heist elements with three gang landers, a club owner, gunsmith, and former slave assassin. These three anti heroes provide a counterpoint to the heroics of the main story although to be fair are good enough to carry it on their won. The fun comes in seeing how and if they will succeed and how they dovetail into the main plot.
I sat watching the series marvelling at the world building and assuming it came from a book. The tight plotting and characterisations all seemed too neat for a series created from scratch and after a few episodes I did catch in the credits that the series is based on a series of books by Leigh Bardugo, I was also not surprised that the series was aimed at a young adult audience. All the leads are in late adolescence and there is much in the sub text about growing, learning and fighting prejudice.
Overall, the series is a lot of funny with plenty of mileage in it for at least another two seasons which I hope Netflix will put its mind to. I take this welcome chapter in fantasy as good indications that the upcoming Lord of the Rings and Wheel of Time series will find a suitable home and be able to do justice to their source material.