Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

What You Need To Know Before Watching Shadow And Bone

If you've seen the trailer for Netflix's new series Shadow and Bone, you know that it's the kind of TV series that requires some active viewing. The series is a high fantasy that follows characters as they attempt to navigate a war-torn world with various factions, some frightening creatures, and a looming darkness that threatens everyone's survival.

A series with that much worldbuilding may seem daunting — but luckily, there's a whole canon surrounding Shadow and Bone that can help serve as an introduction to the series. From basic information about the region the story is set in, to essential facts about the main characters, there's a lot you can read up on before you begin Shadow and Bone — and all these details may make the show easier to understand. 

Here is everything you need to know about Shadow and Bone before season 1 drops on Netflix. Of course, be aware there may be some minor spoilers ahead for the series.

Shadow and Bone draws from a couple of different book series

Like many fantasy TV series that have come before, Shadow and Bone is an adaptation. Most distributors just don't trust TV writers to do this much worldbuilding without some kind of blueprint to work from. With the glut of fantasy adaptations in the streaming ecosystem right now, the thought of taking on a new one might seem off-putting, but Shadow and Bone has a pretty unique feature: Instead of drawing from a single book series, it actually takes elements from two separate sources, both by author Leigh Bardugo.

Bardugo is the creator of the "Grishaverse," a broad fantasy setting that is currently home to a trilogy, two duologies, eight short stories, and two companion books. It's arguably the richest trove of source material this side of Amazon's Wheel of Time. The first season of Netflix's Shadow and Bone takes narrative elements from both the original Grisha trilogy, which includes the 2012 novel of the same name, as well as the Six of Crows duology. 

Fans of the book series will obviously have a bit of a head start when it comes to the series' dense mythology, but it's not a prerequisite to have read the books if you want to check out Shadow and Bone.

Shadow and Bone is set in a fantasy land based on Imperial Russia

One of the hardest parts of watching a fantasy show can be orienting yourself within the world its characters inhabit. Shadow and Bone is primarily set in war-torn Ravka, which has notable similarities to Tsarist Russia under the Romanov Dynasty. (Point of note: Leigh Bardugo has always been clear that it shouldn't be viewed as an alternate history, but rather a setting inspired by the Russian Empire [via The Atlantic].) The region, which is ruled by a monarchy, is actually divided in half, with the other half known as West Ravka. That's where rebellion is brewing at the outset of Shadow and Bone.

The series will also introduce fans to Ketch, a small island that's home to the city of Ketterdam. The city is home to the Crows, a group of charming con artists who will play a significant role in the series. There's also Fjerda, a region to the north of Ravka that's distrustful of the Ravkan way of life, and whose people bear a strong resemblance to Vikings. Finally, fans will see Shu Han, a mysterious locale whose inhabitants are in conflict with the Ravkans, too. Some of these elements, like the Crows, come from the Six of Crows duology mentioned above, and not the Grisha trilogy from which the TV series draws its name.

These locations all play an important part in the Shadow and Bone narrative — as does one more location that poses a seemingly insurmountable threat to the story's characters.

In Shadow and Bone, you'll meet the Grisha

At the center of any good story are unforgettable characters, and Shadow and Bone is no different. It follows Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), an orphan mapmaker who learns early on that she is a Sun Summoner — a type of magical human long thought extinct. She is taken in by the Grisha, an order of magicians whose science-based magic is known as the "Small Science." Grisha are humans, and there are three categories within their ranks: the Corporalki, who can manipulate the human body; the Materialki, otherwise known as the Fabrikators, who can manipulate materials like wood, glass, and metal; and the Etheralki, or Summoners, who can manipulate natural elements. 

Alina is drawn to the Darkling (Ben Barnes), who heads the order and is a confidante of the royal family. Barduga likened him to Rasputin, though once he discovers Alina's power, she ends up becoming an integral part of the quest to free Ravka from the terrifying and mysterious entity that has been slowly draining its life for years.

Beware the Shadow Fold in Shadow and Bone

Remember that thing about Ravka being split in two? That's due to the Shadow Fold, or the Unsea — a huge, mysterious swath of pure darkness that can best be described as the absence of everything. Its origins are unclear to the Ravkans — but they are well aware of the damage it has done. By cutting off much of the land, including Os Alta, its capital, from West Ravka, it's made it nearly impossible to navigate back and forth across the land. With trade routes and port cities inaccessible, supplies and goods are hard to come by. This will ultimately make life in Ravka unsustainable.

The Fold is dangerous, not only because its darkness is seemingly sentient and resists most forms of light, but because it is guarded by the terrifying winged Volcra. Alina's ability to summon light, therefore, is obviously an asset in attempting to navigate the Fold — and could be the key to destroying it for good.

With all of these basic story elements in mind, it should be a little bit easier to understand the fantastical world of Shadow and Bone when the series hits Netflix on April 23.