After Netflix dropped the release date for Shadow and Bone, alongside promotional images for its TV series adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. For fans of the book series, which includes the main trilogy, two additional duologies, and two short story collections, the April 23 release date feels like a windfall. There is so much that it's still unclear, and for someone who hasn’t read the book, a lot is unclear.
Series creator Eric Heisserer explained in an interview that because the series would be combining two books set on different timelines, he and author Leigh Bardugo worked on establishing backstories for the Six of Crows characters, which appear later in the story. While we might not get a heist in this season, we will likely get the building blocks of the Six of Crow's story, including the moments that led each character to Ketterdem and the Dregs.
The Grishaverse is huge, and each of its major nations and cities is inspired by different countries and cultures. Ravka is inspired by Tsarist Russia, Ketterdam is loosely based on Amsterdam and Dutch culture, while Shu Han is based on Mongolia and China, and Fjerda is based on Scandinavian culture. This makes for an extremely enriching book world, and it will be cool to see how the Grishaverse is explored in the "Shadow and Bone" TV series.
Alina is described as a sickly, skinny girl with dull brown hair, dark circles under her eyes, and sallow skin. Her ethnicity is not explicitly described, but she is generally understood to have either Ravkan or mixed Shu-Ravkan ancestry. However, Alina is half Shu (Asian) in the TV series. A worldwide casting call for a "biracial Asian actress" was released in April 2019. The casting was a deliberate choice made by showrunner Eric Heisserer and author Leigh Bardugo:
"For the series, Alina is half Shu (Asian). It is a decision Leigh and I made together after a lengthy discussion of the character," said Eric Heisserer.
In her newsletter to fans regarding the newly announced Netflix adaptation, Bardugo wrote, "We also talked about how to bring more diversity into play early in the Shadow and Bone narrative. This is something the show can do better than I did. That means some of the characters aren't going to look the way they were described on the page—and that's the way it should be."
General Kirigan is the powerful and mystifying leader of the Grisha army with the ability to summon shadows. Fans were happily surprised when Ben Barnes was chosen to play him. He’s been a leading fan-cast selection since the books came out.
Later, it was confirmed The Darkling, played by Ben Barnes in the upcoming adaptation, would be referred to as General Kirigan. In Leigh Bardugo’s books, he is exclusively addressed as The Darkling and his name is not revealed until the trilogy’s final book.
In an interview with RadioTimes, showrunner Eric Heisserer and Bardugo herself explained why the change was necessary.
“We just wanted to make sure that people had a name that they could call him outside of the General,” Heisserer said. “This is one of those changes where it works well on the page, it doesn’t bother you, but then the moment you get actors in a room and you have [the actors] speaking to Ben Barnes it starts to get weird.”
While the Shadow and Bone trilogy plays solidly in the high fantasy space, Bardugo’s an incredibly talented writer who has built out the world with heist and horror stories that add depth and complexity to the Grishaverse. There’s also the fact that each book centers around an engaging quest that will make you feel like an excited little kid on the adventure of a lifetime.
Different countries in Bardugo's world treat the Grisha differently. In Ravka, where Alina and General Kirigan reside, every child is tested to see if they're a Grisha, and those that pass the test are siphoned away from their family to undergo extensive training and work for Ravka's Second Army (the Grisha army led by General Kirigan).
Even though Alina is a Sun Summoner, in the books, she managed to subconsciously trick the test when she was a child to stay at the orphanage with her best friend, Mal (Archie Renaux). As a young woman, she is now a mapmaker in the Ravkan First Army (the non-Grisha, human army) with her lifelong friend, Mal, who's now a tracker, at her side.
The country of Ravka was inspired by 1800s Tsarist Russia, and has a big tear of darkness through it that Ravkans call the "Unsea" or the "Shadow Fold." We don't know at the beginning of Shadow and Bone how the Shadow Fold got there, but we do know that it's grown over time. The Shadow Fold is a dangerous place and is uninhabitable due to the monstrous "volcra" (violent, winged creatures) who live in it. We get a glimpse of one in the trailers.
Ravka is bordered to the north by the mountainous, Grisha-hating Fjerda (roughly based on Scandinavia) and to the south by Shu Han (roughly based on Mongolia and China), a technologically advanced country that puts their Grisha through inhumane scientific experiments. The other major country that may come up in the series is Kerch, a small mercantile island to the southwest of Ravka. In the books, the Dregs — Kaz Brekker, Inej (Amita Suman), Jesper (Kit Young), and Nina — live in the Kerch city of Ketterdam.
And there you have it — those are the brushstrokes of Leigh Bardugo's world. We're still in the proverbial Shadow Fold about how the Netflix show adapts everything. The good news is we only have to wait until April 23 to find out.
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