The Shadow and Bone wig budget doesn’t seem to be quite as high as it is in other fantasy shows — Game of Thrones, for example — but the cast still looks quite different in costume than they do in real life.
Based on the Shadow and Bone trilogy and Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo, the Netflix series is set mostly in the fictional country of Ravka, inspired by imperial Russia. The story follows a young woman named Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), a mapmaker who discovers that she is has the power to summon light. This makes her one of the Grisha, a class of humans who have varying magical powers, but she’s the only one in history that can manipulate the sun’s rays.
Because Ravka is split down the middle by a dangerous shadowed area called The Fold, this extremely rare ability makes Alina a hot commodity — the army wants to use her to destroy the Fold, and thieves from the neighboring country of Kerch want to sell her to the highest bidder.
Other characters in this universe include Mal (Archie Renaux), Alina’s childhood best friend and an expert tracker, and General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), a Grisha army commander who’s keeping secrets of his own.
“He’s the most powerful in the universe, manipulates the darkness and is feared by other people because he’s employing this politics of fear to push his agenda,” Barnes, 39, told Us Weekly exclusively in April 2021 while discussing his character. “He has a grace about him and a sort of quiet power, which was very interesting to play. I’ve played boy with sword, going to rescue damsel and defeat the dragon. I played that in the fantasy world, but not this. But then what really interests me is the idea that every person has the capacity to be everything.”
Like Game of Thrones, the world of Shadow and Bone is heavy on geography. In addition to Kerch (loosely inspired by the Netherlands), there’s Shu Han (based on China and Mongolia), Novyi Zem (Australia and the American colonies), the Wandering Isle (Ireland) and Fjerda (Scandinavia).
One of the major changes to the show is that Alina, who was Ravkan in the books, is half-Shu on screen. This means that she faces additional prejudice and harassment as a minority in a mostly white world.
“Not only is Alina’s ethnicity really important to the world-building — we understand who’s at war with whom — [but] it’s important for her as a character,” Li, whose mother is British and father is Chinese, told Elle in April 2021. “Her journey is, essentially, where do I belong? And as a person of mixed heritage, you grow up thinking, ‘Well, I’m not X enough, I’m not Y enough.’ They wove that into the story.”
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Scroll down to find out what the stars of the Grishaverse look like on and off screen: