True story of shadow and bone

shadow and bone, the new fantasy adventure series premiering on Netflix on April 23, is not a true story. Anyone anticipating the debut (and there’s an army of fans who are) will tell you that the series is based on a series of novels by best-selling writer Leigh Bardugo.

Those books– a collection of five novels known as the “Grishaverse” series – tells the story of Alina Starkov, an orphan from the fictional kingdom of Ravka who discovers she has a supernatural ability that could change the course of her world. It’s a swashbuckling universe populated by unforgettable characters – spies, thieves, mystics and kings – and while it’s all spun from Bardugo’s imagination, some moments feel stranger than fiction for good reason.

Right here, T&Cs talks with Bardugo and producer Eric Heisserer about how the show references world history and Lady Gaga without losing what makes it unique.

The Russian Connection

Shadow and Bone, the new Netflix series based on novels by Leigh Bardugo and inspired in part by 19th century Russia, is now streaming.


The Shadow and the Bone Kingdom of Ravka was built entirely in Bardugo’s imagination, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t inspired by moments in a non-fictional world. “I can cite a very specific piece of research that really changed the course of the books,” Bardugo says. “Obviously Ravka is heavily inspired by Tsarist Russia in the mid-1800s. And some of that was just in sync with the themes that were already in my head for this story – a failure of industrialization, the great divide between rich and poor, this army of young conscripts.

When she wrote the first draft of the story, two orphaned characters in the final version, Alina Starkov and Malyen Oretsev, had parents. “I didn’t want to play in the orphan fantasy trope,” Bardugo explains. “And then while I was researching I learned that when Napoleon attacked, before that Russia was all about France, the aristocrats were just heavily invested in being as French as possible, and then Napoleon attacked and all of a sudden it fell out of fashion. Many nobles simply went into hiding in their country houses, but many chose to serve, and they served at the front side by side with their serfs It was kind of an eye-opening moment for a lot of them, spending those long nights in siege with people they hadn’t even considered people before, so when they got back, a lot of those officers released their serfs. I found it so poignant that I went back and really thought about the origin story of Mal and Alina.

embrace the fantasy

shadow and bone l to r kit young as jesper fahey, amita suman as inej ghafa and freddy carter as kaz brekker in shadow and bone cr courtesy of netflix © 2021
Kit Young, Amita Suman and Freddy Carter in the new fantasy series Shadow and Bone.


According to producer Eric Heisserer, the story is a great setting to have for a story like shadow and bonebut it’s also important to remember that in a fantasy world, you can choose what’s real.

“[1800s Russia] was absolutely the blueprint my team and I started building this world with,” he says. “You need something like that when you take on such an ambitious project as a second-world fantasy show, because everything is made from scratch, everything is bespoke.”

Having those touchstones to reference, however, means making decisions about what real-world history exists in the shadow and bone universe and what is wrong.

“You guys are having conversations that I never expected to have,” Heisserer says. “For example, my costume designer came to me and said, ‘Okay, I know we’re in this era and we’re inspired by this era. However, I would really like to dress someone in a material that wasn’t invented until a bit after the 1860s. What kind of leeway do I have? “We had to make calls like that on a regular basis. But it was always in service of how best to portray the show and fill the world. It has to feel like a place where you’re kind of transported.”

It hasn’t always been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with set design and props,” he says, “realizing it was so easy to bring in something familiar, until we realized it stood out like a sore thumb. It was like, ‘Oh, it’s an Earth relic. What’s it doing here?’

The story goes

shadow and bone l to r jessie mei li as alina starkov in shadow and bone cr david applebynetflix © 2021
Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkhov in Shadow and Bone, streaming now on Netflix.


Just because Bardugo found inspiration in the 1800s doesn’t mean the modern era hasn’t had an impact. “You never really know what’s going to inspire you,” she says. “I was once in a hotel in Italy, I was there for a meeting with my Italian editor. I was in my room and all of a sudden I heard screams downstairs. And I looked down and there was this crowd of teenagers, and I realized that Lady Gaga was at the hotel. And she was coming out of the hotel and getting in her car, and these kids were throwing themselves out into the street, into traffic, to get closer to her. At the time, I was working on these scenes where people were literally grabbing onto Alina and ripping her clothes off and trying to be close to that kind of moment of salvation. And that invariably influenced the way I wrote those scenes.

Make TV magic

shadow and bone l to r ben barnes as general darkling kirigan and jessie mei li as alina starkov in shadow and bone cr courtesy of netflix © 2021
Ben Barnes as General Kirigan and Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov in Shadow and Bone.


If there is a certain type of fantasy series that seems to be set in a past that has all the qualities of the future, shadow and bone has ensured that his universe is unique but never incongruous.

“You have to be careful bringing things that look futuristic into something that’s otherwise rooted in history,” says Heisserer. “Because one of the pleasures of the books and then the show, I hope, is a question that Leigh asked, which is ‘How about bringing magic to a gunfight? You want it to be the extra spin; the taste of magic is really what you need. You don’t need any more lasers.

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Patrick F. Williams