New Netflix Series ‘Shadow and Bone’ Is Likely to Be One of the Most Inclusive Fantasy Series Yet
The highly anticipated Shadow and Bone Netflix series premieres April 23, based heavily on the bestselling Grishaverse series. The story centers around a war-torn world and Alina Starkov, a poor soldier who discovers she has incredible power — the ability to summon and wield sunlight — as well as the charismatic, magical and sometimes sinister characters that cross her path.
The world of Shadow and Bone is inspired by early 1800s tsarist Russia, and although much of fantasy champions straight, white narratives, the creative team behind this series wanted to tell a much more inclusive story. The first book in the Grisha Trilogy, Shadow and Bone, was written over a decade ago, and author (and executive producer) Leigh Bardugo has commented on the aspects of the story she wished she had done differently.
She says: “I’ve been very candid about the fact that when I wrote that first book, I was really echoing a lot of the fantasy I had grown up on and it is consequently a very straight, very white story. I think you can see as my books progress, I really start to reflect what our world looks like in a more realistic way. So that was something I wanted to make sure that we not only carried over but that the show could do better than I had done. And I hope that will get better yet.”
While the Shadow and Bone Netflix show takes its name from the first book in the Grisha trilogy, the series features characters from Six of Crows, a spinoff duology which takes place in the same universe. This is where Bardugo says she started to find the confidence to write a world that looked much more like the one that exists around us — a world that features complex, interesting and unforgettable people of color.
Here’s a look into the making of the Grishaverse:
Eric Heisserer (showrunner, executive producer and writer for Shadow and Bone) and Bardugo also felt that the most organic and obvious decision was to make Alina biracial. Jessie Mei Li, who plays Alina, is biracial herself; and she has spoken about how her own experiences informed her portrayal of the character. “[Alina] spent her whole life being told she looks like the enemy. She’s had to stand up for herself and grow this thick skin, but she’s also so vulnerable,” she says. “It was really nice to be able to bring some of my own experiences.”
The Shadow and Bone Netflix series is set against the backdrop of a magical, wonderous world, but it’s the humanity and relationships of the story that form its heart. With the inclusion of Six of Crows character Jesper, a mixed-race bisexual man, the TV series is closer to our reality, and appeals to a larger audience — an audience that is not necessarily used to seeing itself on-screen. Kit Young, who plays the character, says that “Jesper’s bisexuality — it might be a surprise to the viewer if they didn’t see it coming, but it’s not something that has to be hidden. It’s not something in our world that is frowned upon. These are just facts of life where a large number of people are accepted for who they are.”
“I wanted to write fantasy worlds that reflected the world around me, which is not very straight, and not very white,” Bardugo says.
While we don’t have exact details about every character in this updated Grishaverse, we’re hoping that means we’ll see some more diverse sexualities and LGBTQ representation. The fantasy genre has infamously not done the queer community any justice, mainly by fundamentally ignoring its existence. However, this doesn’t have to remain true of the genre; and, in fact, the younger, newer generation of fantasy writers have already taken matters into their own hands. We just need companies like Netflix to get on board … and if Shadow and Bone is any indication of what’s to come, we have a feeling they’re on the right track.
You can stream the new Shadow and Bone Netflix series starting April 23.