REVIEWED: SEASON 1 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: NETFLIX | RELEASE DATE: APRIL 23RD
One of those fantasy series where you’re best off having a map to hand while watching, Shadow and Bone jumps between various fictional nations that cross real-world influences with a magical twist. There’s Ravka, a war-torn land that’s basically Tsarist Russia with an army of sorcerers; Kerch, a cosmopolitan nation inspired by the Dutch and Venetian republics; and more.
In that respect, it’s like Game of Thrones, albeit PG-13; this new Netflix series is based on a series of young adult novels (as you may notice from how very few of its world’s inhabitants are over 25). The story is primarily an adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy – which follows ordinary girl turned sun-summoner Alina Starkov – though it also brings in plucky gang of thieves the Crows, from her follow-up duology, Six of Crows.
Overseeing this adaptation is Eric Heisserer, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Arrival. His opening episode sets a great energy for the series to come, and draws the two sets of characters together in an exciting manner that will satisfy fans while not leaving newcomers too confused. As the series goes on, Jessie Mei Li brings a grounded charm to the character of Starkov, and it’s difficult not to love the way Ben Barnes camps it up in a massive black cape as the villainous Darkling, but the standout characters are the Crows – their heist sequences are basically Ocean’s 11 in a magic fantasy world, and are as fun as that sounds.
It’s not without its weak points – one subplot set in Viking-style Fjerda seems here just to set a character up for Season 2, some supporting actors fail to convince, and Starkov’s occasional voiceover narration gets a tad cloying. Nevertheless, this is a lively ride across a rich fantasy world. It’s great to see Netflix invest in exciting new young adult fantasy (which will entertain many older adults, too).