Shadow of a fantasy

Published date04 May 2021
Publication titleSignal
IT’S rare that an adaptation of a book will satisfy readers more than anyone else.

When popular books are turned into films or TV shows, from Big Little Lies to Gone Girl to Game of Thrones, the readers who made the stories best-sellers are sometimes disappointed in the finished product. Maybe it eliminated a beloved character or scene. Or maybe it just doesn’t live up to the brilliance of the written word.

Less common are adaptations that lose something in translation from page to screen, so that only those who have read the source material can really appreciate — or worse, understand — what’s going on. That’s unfortunately what’s happened with the majority of Netflix’s Shadow and Bone, an adaptation of two book series by young adult fantasy author Leigh Bardugo.

Shadow is a less than graceful combination of the book series set in Bardugo’s fantasy world: a chosen-one trilogy and a related but independent heist duology. In trying to bring together disparate characters, Thrones-style, creator Eric Heisserer has made a series that’s likely to satisfy book readers (I’m one of them), but a bit too obtuse for a newbie who doesn’t know what the heck a ‘‘Grisha’’ is. And it’s a shame, because as the eight-episode first season gets going, there’s a rollicking fantasy adventure to be had with some stellar performances from the cast of fresh faces.

Shadow is set in a magical world where some wizard types, known as Grisha, have powers over air, water, fire or inorganic matter. Some can heal or harm others with a flick of their fingers. The world is geopolitically divided, just like our own. There’s the hulking Ravka, a stand-in for Russia, which has been blighted by a dark ‘‘Shadow Fold’’ the sun can’t penetrate and man-eating creatures.

It’s there we find our heroine, Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), a young, low-level soldier hopelessly besotted with her childhood best friend Malyen Oretsev (Archie Renaux). When Alina and Mal’s lives are endangered, Alina reveals her rare Grisha power of ‘‘Sun Summoner’’, the ability to summon and control sunlight, which might be the key to ridding Ravka of the dreaded Fold forever. She’s whisked away for training by the mysteriously powerful (and obviously handsome) General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), leader of Ravka’s Grisha, leaving behind her beloved Mal.

Meanwhile, across the sea on the island nation of Kerch in the city of Ketterdam — which in the books is more established as a version of Amsterdam — a group of young street-gang...

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