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What’s Worth Watching: Be afraid of the dark in Netflix’s riveting ‘Shadow and Bone’

UPDATED: Thu., April 29, 2021

Based on Leigh Bardugo’s “Grishaverse” novels, Netflix’s “Shadow and Bone” asks, “What would happen if the dark really was full of terrors?”

Bullied for their mixed-race parentage, orphans Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) and Malyen Oretsev (Archie Renaux) have always stuck together. Years after leaving the orphanage where they grew up, Starkov, now a cartographer, and Oretsev, a tracker, have joined the Ravkan military.

For centuries now, the Kingdom of Ravka has been more or less cut off from crucial trade routes by a dark and heavily clouded stretch of land known as the Shadow Fold.

“When I was young, I was afraid of the dark,” Starkov says, narrating over the opening credits. “But when I got older, I learned that darkness is a place, and it’s full of monsters.”

The people of Ravka fear the dark and the terrors that inhabit it. With enemies on every other side, their only option is to send expeditions staffed by human and magic-wielding “Grisha” soldiers across the Shadow Fold for supplies.

Some of the Grisha are able to harness natural elements like fire and wind, while others, known as heartrenders, can manipulate people’s emotions and minds. Grisha seem to be equal parts revered and feared in Ravka, but, in some of the neighboring kingdoms, they are hunted.

Still relatively green, Starkov and Oretsev find themselves drafted for one of these expeditions.

During the crossing, a hoard of monsters known as “volcra” attack the ship. Amid the attack, Starkov spontaneously begins exhibiting a rare but legendary Grisha power, the ability to summon sunlight. The volcra vanish, and the ship rockets out of the fold and back into Ravka.

This new gift might be the key to defeating the Shadow Fold. But, unfortunately for Starkov, not everyone stands to gain from its destruction. Already considered an outcast for her race, the last thing she wants is to draw more attention to herself.

Days after the failed mission, on the other side of the fold, news of “the sun summoner” is starting to spread. Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), leader of “the Dregs,” and his associates, Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman) and Jesper Fahey (Kit Young), stumble into the search for Starkov, angering a rival gang leader along the way.

A sort of Tsarist-era Russian “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” the world of “Shadow and Bone” draws in viewers immediately. The series is visually stunning, from the costuming to the special effects, and the script leaves little to be desired.

“Shadow and Bone” is available on Netflix.

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