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The Life and Times of ‘Shadow and Bone’

Everything you need to know about Alina and the gang.

Alina Starkov and the Darkling, played by Jessie Mei Li and Ben Barnes respectively, have their fateful first encounter on Shadow and Bone on Netflix

Shadow and Bone is pretty much everywhere on the internet these days. It might just be that the almighty algorithms clocked me immediately as the Grishaverse-obsessed person that I am (and have been since the early 2010s), sure, but with the second season recently dropping on Netflix, I feel like we are all seeing much more of Alina, Kaz, the Darkling, and the rest of the crew.

Maybe you also want to know what all the fuss is about, or maybe you just enjoy Ben Barnes’ face and want to see more of it—I’m most definitely not judging. If you’ve never hung around Shadow and Bone fandom spaces and don’t know where to start, fear not: This guide will tell you everything you need to know.

So what is Shadow and Bone about?

Shadow and Bone is based on the Grishaverse novels written by author Leigh Bardugo between 2012 and 2022. The first two installments of the saga are more in the young adult fantasy genre, while the final duology should probably be considered new adult fantasy since the characters have all aged out of their teenage years.

If you like politically troubled realms, unique magic systems and eternal struggles between light and darkness, then you’ll definitely find plenty to enjoy in Shadow and Bone. Without getting too deep into its beautifully intricate and complex lore (but do get into it if you get the chance because it’s just so delightful), the story opens with Alina Starkov (played by Jessie Mei Li), a young mapmaker enlisted in the army of her country, Ravka, which is based on 19th century Russia.

Ravka is split in two by a sea of pure darkness known as the Shadow Fold, which is inhabited by terrible monsters. The presence of the Fold has wreaked havoc on Ravka, its citizens, and its relationships with its neighboring countries—and there seems to be no solution in sight until Alina discovers that she has the power to summon light, making her a very particular kind of Grisha.

Grisha are this world’s magic users—even though they would never call their powers magic, but prefer the term “Small Science”—who have the ability to manipulate matter and natural elements. After her powers are revealed, Alina steps right into their world, meeting new allies and enemies, and above all, the Darkling (played by Ben Barnes). The Darkling is Alina’s mirror and her equal, and has the power to control shadows.

The story unfolds from there, following Alina’s quest to destroy the Shadow Fold, the alliances she forms, and the enemies she fights.

Three of the Crows, Kaz Brekker, Inej Ghafa and Jesper Fahey, as they appeared in the first season of Shadow and Bone on Netflix
I don’t have time here to get into how awesome the Crows are but you’ll find out pretty much as soon as you hit play on the very first episode of the show (Netflix)

How many seasons of Shadow and Bone are there?

If that sounds up your alley, then it’s time to start your Shadow and Bone marathon. The show currently has two seasons, and both are available on Netflix. Each season has eight episodes that vary in length between 40 minutes and a little over an hour.

These two seasons cover the entirety of Alina’s story—meaning the first three books of the Grishaverse saga—but leave plenty of hooks for a future in which the other installments could possibly be adapted. Nothing has been confirmed, though, so we’ll just have to wait and see. 

(featured image: Netflix)

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Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.