Into the Grishaverse: A beginner's guide to Netflix's Shadow and Bone

Nick Romano
·9 min read

Netflix has your next fantasy TV obsession already teed up.

Shadow and Bone, based on author Leigh Bardugo's massively popular fantasy series of young-adult novels, is coming to the streaming platform this April 23. It's not Game of Thrones. There are no dragons or shame bells here. It's not Harry Potter, either, despite the presence of Madam Hooch actress Zoë Wanamaker as a professor of magic, in a sense. But the show will introduce such an intricately realized world marked by war, magic, and a different kind of Chosen One story.

For those just now hopping aboard the Grishaverse bandwagon, here is a crash course in everything Ravka, the Small Science, and Sun Summoners.

First of all, what the heck is the Grishaverse?

Illustration by EW; Netflix (2); DAVID APPLEBY/NETFLIX (2); ATTILA SZVACSEK/NETFLIX Netflix's 'Shadow and Bone.'

The Grishaverse refers to all the stories in Bardugo's books, which are set in a world she described as more "Imperial Russia, not Medieval England, repeating rifles instead of broadswords."

There's the primary Shadow and Bone trilogy, consisting of Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising. There's the Six of Crows duology, which are two side stories that take place later on in the novels' timeline after Shadow and Bone Book 1: Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. We have the King of Scars duology, King of Scars and Rule of Wolves, which are also set in a different time. Bardugo then wrote other supplemental materials, like The Language of Thorns and The Lives of Saints.

So, yeah, there's a lot. But trust that you don't have to read all of these books in order to enjoy Shadow and Bone, the Netflix series.

The Grishaverse gets its nickname from the Grisha centered in this...

Wait, what are Grisha?

Netflix Julian Kostov as Grisha Heartrender in 'Shadow and Bone.'

"Grisha" is what the people of this world use to refer to magic users. Although, they don't really call it magic. They call it the "Small Science." Grisha can manipulate matter at its most fundamental level. Think of them like the benders of Avatar: The Last Airbender. They can't create matter out of nothing, they manipulate what's around them.

There are Corporalki, who are considered the highest rank of Grisha by the king of Ravka — the fictional country where this show is set — because they have mastery over life and death. Those within this tier who are dubbed Heartrenders can control blood flow and heart rate, and are trained to kill someone on the spot. Healers, on the other hand, are... self-explanatory.

The Etherealki are the summoners. Squallers can call upon wind, Inferni can manipulate fire, and Tidemakers can control water.

There aren't really earth summoners in the sense of Grisha flinging boulders over their heads. But there are Materialki, or Fabrikators. Those categorized as Durasts can manipulate solid matter like stone, metal, wood, and textiles, an ability they use to make things in this world. They are more like tinkerers than fighters, though some do head into battle. Alkemi are known for chemical manipulation, which comes in handy for making blasting powders and poisons.

There are a few other types of Grisha you'll encounter in Shadow and Bone that are rarer. Tailors are like illusionists who can temporarily change the physical appearance of themselves and others. The king and queen of Ravka have one at their disposal in the palace.

Netflix Ben Barnes as General Kirigan in 'Shadow and Bone.'

Shadow Summoners can manipulate darkness, which is a lot more powerful than it sounds. General Kirigan (that's Ben Barnes' character) is the only Shadow Summoner in the king's army of Grisha, dubbed the Second Army, which he leads. Kirigan has enough mastery over his abilities that he can not only blind someone with shadow but actually kill enemies.

The most coveted of the Grisha is the elusive Sun Summoner, who can conjure light.

Why are Sun Summoners so coveted?

So, it's kind of a long story, but here's the short version.

Way back in the timeline of Ravka, hundreds of years before the events of Shadow and Bone, the king of the time chose a Shadow Summoner as his military advisor. This Grisha, as the story goes, grew hungry for more power, leading the king to put a bounty on his head. He then used a forbidden form of Small Science called merzost in an attempt to form his own army. (If the Small Science is all about the manipulation of matter, merzost is about creation and it's forbidden because it requires a great sacrifice from the Grisha and takes a harsh toll.) The Shadow Summoner became known as the Black Heretic when he lost control of the power and inadvertently created The Shadow Fold.

What's The Shadow Fold?

Netflix

The Shadow Fold, also called more simply The Fold, is a large expanse of impenetrable darkness that divides Ravka. You can't simply travel through it because there are hideous winged monstrosities called volcra that will attack anything that enters. There are those who've survived a journey through The Fold and lived to tell the tale, but it didn't come without scars.

It's also difficult to go around The Fold because to the north is the heavily militarized country Fjerda, which is constantly threatening to invade Ravka. Plus, its people think of Grisha as demon witches and there are specific hunters called drüskelle that threaten Grisha lives. To the south is another country, Shu Han, which is this world's interpretation of an Asian nation that has also been at war with Ravka.

So, The Fold is a really big problem for Ravka, which has been cut off into East Ravka (the inland) and West Ravka (the coast). This prevents East Ravka from trading with other territories. West Ravka has been sending supplies through when they can, but now West Ravka wants to become an independent nation.

The creation of The Fold also created a stigma around Grisha for some time, especially Shadow Summoners. But now, in this main story, Grisha have been exalted by the current Ravkan king and hold a special place within his palace's Second Army. The only problem with that is that Grisha, once they are discovered, don't really have a choice whether to join or not.

So, a Sun Summoner could disperse The Fold?

That's what the legend says. Alina Starkov, played by Jessie Mei Li in the show, is revealed to be a Sun Summoner, which kicks off this whole saga.

NETFLIX Ben Barnes and Jessie Mei Li in 'Shadow and Bone.'

She's a low-ranking mapmaker in the king's First Army (the Ravkan army comprised of non-Grisha) along with her childhood best friend from their orphanage, Malyen Oretsev (Archie Reneaux), who serves as a tracker. She's also half Shu, which has been the subject of a lot of racial discrimination her entire life. Many have disregarded her as a result. But when she enters The Fold on a skiff with Mal and their troupe becomes overrun by volcra, she inadvertently releases her untapped Sun Summoner powers and banishes the creatures in a blast of searing light. That puts her on the Grisha's radar, specifically General Kirigan, who welcomes her into their ranks.

That's the main starting point for Shadow and Bone Book 1, as well as season 1 of the show.

Is season 1 strictly adapting the events of Shadow and Bone, then?

Not exactly. The show's first eight episodes are actually a mix of two books in the Grishaverse: Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows.

Six of Crows is more like a fantasy heist story that takes place in Ketterdam, the capital city of the island nation of Kerch that rests in the ocean close to Shu Han. It's the epicenter of criminals and con artists, much different from the landscape of Ravka.

Netflix Kit Young, Amita Suman, and Freddy Carter in 'Shadow and Bone.'

As mentioned earlier, the book takes place after the events of Shadow and Bone, but Eric Heisserer, who's the showrunner of the Netflix series, was such a fan of Six of Crows that he and Bardugo decided to remix elements of the story in with Shadow and Bone in ways that'll be fun to discover for longtime book readers but newcomers won't think twice about.

As Bardugo explained to EW, "It was a question of figuring out how to really Frankenstein these stories together because you really can't put the plots of these books together. It is one too many antagonists, it's too much magic too fast. So, we decided that we were going to lock them together using the story of Shadow and Bone but bring some of the characters in from Six of Crows. As soon as we understood what the mechanism of that was, we understood how this was all gonna work."

Netflix Danielle Galligan and Calahan Skogman in 'Shadow and Bone.'

Because of this, we'll get to meet characters like Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), leader of the Crows gang and a rising star in the criminal underworld; Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), a.k.a. the Wraith, a member of Kaz's gang who's like Batwoman, Black Widow, and Sinbad all rolled up into one; Jesper Fahey (Kit Young), the sharpshooter and compulsive gambler of the Crows; and Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan), a Heartrender and spy for the Grisha army who comes into contact with Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman), a Fjerdan drüskelle.

Will season 2 then adapt Siege of Storm and Crooked Kingdom simultaneously?

It's too soon to say. While there is a lot of hype around season 1, and Shadow and Bone does come prepackaged with its own dedicated fan base, Netflix has not announced a second season at this time. That's not to say Heisserer and Bardugo don't have ideas as to how that scenario would play out.

"I have stacks of material. I don't know if they'll ever see the light of day," Heisserer tells EW. "We have a lot of big, grand plans. But one step at a time. Let's just see if season 1 lands the way we hope it does."

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