Here are our impressions of the first season of Netflix's new fantasy series, Shadow and Bones (Darkness and Bones), inspired by Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse.

First of all, I need to make a confession to you. I have the book on the nightstand next to the bed Six of Crows from one year. I started it, I liked it, but I didn't finish it, because the thesis sucked my desire to read. Yet this book has always intrigued me a lot.
Now I took it back in my hand, precisely because I saw it Shadow and Bones (and I finished the first draft of the thesis. Yes, this helps too).
But what does a book called Six of Crows with a Netflix TV series?
In this article, I will tell you my impressions of the series Shadow and Bones. What I liked and what I disliked, and why now I want to read one of his spin-offs about secondary characters. And yes, so I'll tell you what the book has to do with it Six of Crows.

Warning: this article contains spoilers about Shadow and Bones
Alina Starkov and General Kirigan, respectively the protagonist and the antagonist of Shadow and Bone
Alina Starkov and General Kirigan, respectively the protagonist and the antagonist of Shadow and Bones

What is it about? Shadow and Bones?

Shadow and Bones is a television series produced by Netflix and released in recent days, namely April 23.
This series is based on the fantasy trilogy of the same name written by Leigh Bardugo. Bardugo is an Israeli author who grew up in the United States. He debuted in the world of fantasy fiction in 2012 with his own Shadow and Bones, first volume of the homonymous trilogy, also composed of volumes Siege and Storm e Ruin and Rising.
The first season of Shadow and Bones takes up the plot of the first volume of the trilogy of the same name. In Italian, the series is translated as Darkness and Bones.
In this article I will refer to the English version of the series, as I have watched it in the original language and find myself more comfortable with the English terminology.

The world divided by darkness

Shadow and Bones is set in a fantasy world where the Kingdom of Ravka, evidently inspired by Russia in the early twentieth century, is found again split in two by an unnatural calamity. It is the fold, that is, a strip of land invaded by overwhelming darkness and inhabited by terrible monsters. Unable to cross it from the North via the Kingdom of Fjerda or from the South from the Kingdom of Shu Han due to tense diplomatic relations, the people of Ravka must cross the darkness to refuel, often paying very high prices.
The Fold was created several centuries earlier by a Grisha, that is, by a person with the power to manipulate matter. This Grisha, the Black Heretic, had the unique power to manipulate the darkness and created the Fold after rebelling against Ravka's Tsar.

Alina: from orphan to Sun Summoner

In this delicate situation, we follow the story of the young woman Alina Starkov, a Shu Han orphan who grew up in Ravka. Alina, as a map maker, joined the Ravkian army along with her childhood friend Malyen Oretsev, said Mal.
During her first crossing of the Fold, Alina will save Mal, thus discovering that she is a Grisha who controls the light.
For the army, this is a very important discovery, because that would make Alina la Sun Summoner, that is, the one who will be able to cast out the shadows that divide Ravka.

Alina will then be taken to the royal palace by the general Kirigan, descendant of the Black Heretic and able to control the shadows. Isolated from Mal and surrounded by hostile people or people with very high expectations, Alina will be trained to control her own power by the gruff old woman Baghra. However, over time Alina will find herself more and more in tune with Kirigan and her dream of redemption of the Grisha thanks to the destruction of the Fold. Thus, little by little, the two will start a relationship.

The secondary plots: the hit of the Ravens, the journey of Nina and Matthias and the hunt for Male

However, in the meantime the outside world has discovered the Sun Summoner. In the distant city of Ketterdam, someone offers a disproportionate sum to kidnap Alina. A group of criminals, i Crows, formed by the planner Kaz Brekker, the thief Inej Ghafa and the gunslinger Jesper Fahey accepts the assignment and embarks on a long journey, full of challenges and dangers, to get to Alina.
Always in the meantime, their possible informant, Grisha Nina Zenik, was kidnapped by a group of witch hunters from Fjerda. During the captivity and after the shipwreck of the ship that was carrying her, Nina will bond with Matthias Helvar, a young witch hunter with a gentle soul.
Meanwhile, Mal will try to reach Alina. To do this, he will hunt down a mythological deer, which should be able to enhance the powers of the Grisha.

The revelation at the ball

The streets of Alina, the Ravens and Mal will cross at the palace during an important holiday.
Here, Alina will discover from Baghra that Kirigan is none other than the Black heretic himself, intending to use it not to destroy the darkness, but to tame it and use it as a weapon to subdue anyone who wants to harm the Grisha.
Meanwhile, the Ravens will put a plan in place for kidnap Alina, just as Mal returns with information about the location of the mythological deer.

The showdown

In the chaos of the party and the following days, Alina and Mal will find the deer, but they will be joined and captured by Kirigan, who will take advantage of the situation to kill the magical animal. By grafting the deer antlers into Alina's bones, Kirigan makes sure he can control the girl's power as well and prepares to enter the Fold.
However, in the dark, Kirigan's plans will be upset by a combined action of Mal and the Ravens, thanks to which Alina will be able to free herself. In a bloody battle, Kirigan will be thrown to the monsters that inhabit the darkness.

The few survivors of the expedition will then have to decide what to do with their lives. Alina will buy the Ravens' silence with the jewels given to her by Kirigan and leave with Mal, promising to destroy the Fold when she is strong enough. The Ravens, on the other hand, will return home to get back on their feet, meeting Nina and Matthias on the return journey.
However, from the darkness of the Fold will emerge Kirigan who, although wounded, has finally taken control of the monsters.

So what does it have to do with it Six of Crows?

Well, Six of Crows is another fantasy book written by Leigh Bardugo. It is set in the same narrative universe as Shadow and Bones, also called Grishaverse, and, together with the volume Crooked Kingdom, is the first book of a separate duology.
Shadow and Bones in itself it has never been a book that has particularly caught my attention, also because in the circles of those who read contemporary fantasy it is Six of Crows the work really put on a pedestal.
So when I saw the trailer di Shadow and Bones, I had not immediately connected this series with the book abandoned stalled on the bedside table. At least until I saw e recognized three characters who also appeared in Six of Crows. When I saw them, interest sparked and I watched this series.

The result? Now I want to finish reading Six of Crows more than ever. And later I will also want to resume the trilogy from which the series is based. But later (and maybe), and now I'll tell you why.
And I will also tell you how Shadow and Bones owes a great deal of its own success to Six of Crows.

From left: Jesper Fahey, Inej Ghafa and Kaz Brekker, characters from Six of Crows in Shadow and Bone
From left: Jesper Fahey, Inej Ghafa and Kaz Brekker, characters from Six of Crows in Shadow and Bones

What I liked about Shadow and Bones?

Shadow and Bones is, as far as I know, a book about Alina's discovery of being a Sun Summoner and her attempt to escape Kirigan's machinations. More or less, the first season of this series follows the plot of the first book of the trilogy.
However, the Netflix series also features some significant differences compared to the original material. Differences that, personally, I have found that enrich the story a lot, albeit at the cost of complicating it.

Alina's new cultural background

First, Alina in the books is not of ethnicity Shu, but a commoner commune of Ravka. However, I personally believe that including this feature has made the TV Alina a more interesting character as well more focused on the eternal feeling of being a stranger.

Alina, in fact, is a stranger to Ravka primarily because she is a Shu. Then, discovering that she was a Grisha, she felt alien to the popular class to which she belongs and, therefore, to Mal. However, being the Sun Summoner, Alina is a stranger even among the Grisha, both because she has unique powers and because she is a newly arrived commoner. Alina hopes to have a connection and a relationship with Kirigan, who is as unique as she is, but eventually discovers that the Darkling just wants to use her, so she is a stranger to him too.
In all of this, the fact is accentuated that the only person Alina is not a stranger to is Mal. And it is precisely her strangeness towards the Grisha that prevents her from blindly joining Kirigan's crusade

The addition of the Ravens

An even greater difference is theinsertion in the plot of a whole series of characters who do not appear in the book. But that appear, hear hear, in Six of Crows.
I'm talking about our trio of thugs from Ketterdam, namely the cynical planner Kaz Brekker, the religious thief Inej Ghafa and the likeable gunslinger Jesper Fahey. And, surprisingly, also two characters who in the series have had very little to do with the main plot, thus resulting essentially superfluous: the shrewd Grisha Nina Zenik and the witch hunter Matthias Helvar.
In fact, in the original book, Kaz, Inej and Jesper are not involved in a plan to kidnap Alina, nor is Nina and Matthias meeting up.

Nonetheless, these additions are generally an enrichment to the plot.
In fact, I believe that the story of Kaz, Inej and Jesper was the most original and interesting of the entire series. Between the incredible skill of the actors and actress, the beautiful montages of their shots and their overall great characterization, these three characters are a pleasure to see in action.

The excellent characterization of Kaz, Inej and Jesper

The most interesting thing (and highly instructive for those who want to characterize their characters well!) Is that all three criminals are highly competent people, but always equipped with a characteristic that will be an obstacle to them in carrying out their plans.
In fact, Kaz is a person without too many scruples and full of resources, but does not have the physical skills to overcome an equal fight unscathed. Inej is an exceptionally stealthy thief, agile, acrobatic and good with knives; however, her faith and moral code will often confront her with difficult choices. Finally, Jesper is all in all a good person, kind and cheerful, as well as an incredible gunslinger; however, his gambling addiction will prove to be a significant handicap.

Diversity in Shadow and Bones

The inclusion of Kaz, Inej and Jesper also has the merit of adding further diversity to the cast of characters. In this sense, however, it must be emphasized that this series is already very rich in people of all ethnicities.
Therefore, we are absolutely not faced with an example of performative progressivism, of those so dear to Disney or to series like The Witcher. On the contrary, we are faced with a representation done well, which exploits the ethnic complexity of the world to make settings and characters more varied and interesting.

Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar in Shadow and Bone
Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar in Shadow and Bones

What I didn't like about Shadow and Bones?

In the previous paragraph I said that additions to the book's plot are generally a good enrichment for the plot.
Here, I generally say, why the story of Nina and Matthias, as cute as it is (at least for me, who love these sugary stories), it tends to be very unrelated to the main storyline and to be very superfluous.
Given how crowded the cast of this series is, the story of Nina and Matthias tends to add a layer of complexity that is of little use. Also, as Nina and Matthias only meet the rest of the cast at the end of the last episode, it appears that their introduction you lack a payoff, that is, of a serious implication on the plot. And this, from a narrative point of view, is a problem.

However, it must be said that, probably, in the next season we will see the big blow told in Six of Crows, in which we will see these five characters team up together.
In this sense, the payoff of the subplot of Nina and Matthias could present itself in the second season of the series. Quite questionable timing in which to insert a payoff, certainly. But it could also have been a good choice, as it will give more depth to Nina and Matthias characters.

Obviously, Shadow and Bones it also has other various defects. Between infodumping, not too interesting main plot, sometimes questionable magical worldbuilding and other flaws here and there, Shadow and Bones it is far from being a masterpiece. However, I believe that the narrative involving Nina and Matthias is the most evident and the one I can express myself best on.

Some final thoughts

Shadow and Bones it amused and interested me a lot.
I found the main storyline enjoyable (if not brilliant), and I fell in love with virtually all of the characters. Alina and Mal are not the most interesting protagonists of all time, unfortunately, but they let themselves be followed. Kirigan has quite an engaging past, but it's nothing we haven't seen in other sauces before. Of course, much of the character's charm, at least in my opinion, comes from the dark eyes of Ben barnes. But I've always had a thing for Barnes since the days of Prince Caspian, so I don't have too much say in the matter.
I found the worldbuilding, although magic tends not to have the iron rigor of the systems of Brandon Sanderson. However, from a cultural point of view, the world represented is very well taken care of, in my opinion.

The inclusion of the genus heist

That said, it's pretty obvious whoever wrote the script for Shadow and Bones he knew perfectly well that he was in his hands an interesting story, but not an exceptional one.
For this he inserted the characters of Six of Crows and, consequently, typical plots of the genre heist, that is, the stories that tell the stroke of the century. In the wake of books like The Deceptions of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch and Mistborn di Brandon Sanderson, in fact, the genre heist in fantasy it has had considerable success over the past 15 years.
In this sense, Six of Crows it is considered one of the best examples of this genre. And, in general, it is also considered a better book than Shadow and Bones.

Like the characters of Six of Crows are the most interesting part of the series

It was therefore a smart choice to include characters and themes from Six of Crows in a classic plot like that of Shadow and Bones.
Unfortunately, the result was a almost unpleasant thickening of the main cast, of the places visited and of the subplots present. This thickening is particularly alienating especially in the first episodes, where the unpleasant need to do is very much felt infodumping on the spectators.

However, as the episodes progressed, Kaz, Inej and Jesper turn out to be the most solid and interesting characters, at least for me. Plus, their shots are shot and edited so well that they're the nicest parts of the series. I don't even have to tell you how much their shots reminded me of the sessions Blades in the dark.
And if I feel like watching the second season it will be for Kaz, Inej and Jesper, and their heists.
In short, this series is called Shadow and Bones, but we all know that the most interesting flab is the one it comes from Six of Crows.