The series from Eric Heisserer (Arrival) is executive produced by Bargudo and incorporates plots and characters from five of the seven main books in the Grishaverse series: the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology.
There's a lot that goes on in Bardugo's books, and while the show no doubt will establish the world for those who haven't read them, some might want to go into the series with a base-level understanding of the world, the characters, and the magic. If you're one of those people, take another gander at that trailer, and read on for SYFY WIRE's primer on the Grishaverse.
Now, it should go without saying that there might be some spoilers for the show ahead given that we're talking about its source material. We'll do our best to keep it to the basics, however, and only introduce the key characters we know have been cast and the books we know will be included.
So, let's jump in.
WHAT IS A GRISHA?
Those who can wield a kind of magic in Bardugo's books are called Grisha, and the magic they practice is called the “small science.” While their magic abilities differ, the core of Grishas' powers comes from the ability to manipulate matter.
What kind of matter can they manipulate, you ask? All sorts of kinds, though a single Grisha usually only develops abilities in one of three main areas.
The Corporalki (aka members of the Order of the Living and the Dead) are Grisha whose magic focuses on the human body. Corporalki are either "Heartrenders" (soldiers who rip their enemies to shreds), "Healers" (pretty self-explanatory), or "Tailors" (those who can change someone's physical appearance for a short period of time).
In militaristic Ravka, Heartrenders become soldiers, and two of General Kirigan's (Ben Barnes) right-hand men — Ivan (Simon Sears) and Fedyor (Julian Kostov) — fall into this category. Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan), a member of Kaz Brekker's (Freddy Carter) gang the Dregs, is also a Heartrender, while Ravkan Genya Safin (Daisy Head) is a Tailor.
The Etherealki (aka members of the Order of the Summoners) can manipulate the natural elements. These Grisha are either "Squallers" (control of wind), "Inferni" (control of fire), or "Tidemakers" (control of water). In very rare cases, there are also "Sun Summoners" and "Shadow Summoners," though, in Shadow and Bone, only one Shadow Summoner exists: Barnes' General Kirigan (aka The Darkling, leader of Ravka's Grisha army). As the trailers also give away, however, Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) is the first known Sun Summoner.
The last order is the Materialki (aka members of the Order of the Fabrikators). These Grisha work with composite materials like metal, glass, chemicals, or textiles. "Durasts" focus on solid materials like metal and glass while the "Alkemi" work with chemicals to make poisons and blasting powders.
WHAT ABOUT ALL THESE KINGDOMS?
Different countries in Bardugo's world treat the Grisha differently. In Ravka, where Alina and General Kirigan reside, every child is tested to see if they're a Grisha, and those that pass the test are siphoned away from their family to undergo extensive training and work for Ravka's Second Army (the Grisha army led by General Kirigan).
Even though Alina is a Sun Summoner, in the books, she managed to subconsciously trick the test when she was a child in order to stay at the orphanage with her best friend, Mal (Archie Renaux). As a young woman, she is now a mapmaker in the Ravkan First Army (the non-Grisha, human army) with her lifelong friend, Mal, who's now a tracker, at her side.
The country of Ravka was inspired by 1800s Tsarist Russia, and has a big tear of darkness through it that Ravkans call the "Unsea" or the "Shadow Fold." We don't know at the beginning of Shadow and Bone how the Shadow Fold got there, but we do know that it's grown over time. The Shadow Fold is a dangerous place and is uninhabitable due to the monstrous "volcra" (violent, winged creatures) who live in it. We get a glimpse of one in the trailers.
Ravka is bordered to the north by the mountainous, Grisha-hating Fjerda (roughly based on Scandinavia) and to the south by Shu Han (roughly based on Mongolia and China), a technologically advanced country that puts their Grisha through inhumane scientific experiments. The other major country that may come up in the series is Kerch, a small mercantile island to the southwest of Ravka. In the books, the Dregs — Kaz Brekker, Inej (Amita Suman), Jesper (Kit Young), and Nina — live in the Kerch city of Ketterdam.
And there you have it — those are the brushstrokes of Leigh Bardugo's world. We're still in the proverbial Shadow Fold about how the Netflix show adapts everything. The good news is we only have to wait until April 23 to find out.