It seems every week we have a new historical fantasy series aimed at the teen and tween demographic. Shave off the actual telling details and shows like The Nevers and The Irregulars are easily confused—they’re all about young people with superpowers in the 19th century, right? At first taste Shadow and Bone seems like more of the same ilk, but an intriguing setting, sumptuous production design, and a more mature take on the tropes of the genre elevate the proceedings.
Based on the books by author Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone takes place in Kingdom of Ravka, a fantasy analogue of pre-Soviet Russia. The land is ravaged by war and sundered by a great supernatural region of darkness and horror called the Shadow Fold, which splits the country in two, as though someone dropped Mordor right in the middle of The Shire. Our heroine is orphan Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), a cartographer in the Ravka Army who is recruited into the ranks of the Grisha, the nation’s feared and powerful magical corps, after she displays enormous mystical power during a dangerous trip through the Shadow Fold.