“Shadow and Bone” is set in a world that is torn apart by magic. For years, a dangerous, barren location called the Fold—totally dark and dead inside, except for the winged, gargoyle-like monsters that hunt whoever attempts to pass through it—has divided the kingdom of Ravka. On one side of East Ravka, which only has access to the sea through the Fold; on the other side is West Ravka, which wants sovereignty. There are two armies who have sworn loyalty to the king of Ravka: the First Army, which includes soldiers and warriors, and the Second Army, exclusively populated by the Grisha, or individuals who can wield magic. In the First Army serve Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), a cartographer, and her best friend, Malyen Oretsev (Archie Renaux), a tracker and fighter. Inseparable since they grew up in the same orphanage, there is clearly something between Alina and Mal—an exceptionally deep bond that always results in them finding their way back to each other. Is that the connection that activates Alina’s magical power during her first trip through the Fold?
Whatever the cause of it, once Alina is revealed as a Grisha, her whole world changes. Sworn to defend the whims of the kingdom, Grisha come in many forms. Heartrenders can tell whether someone is lying or telling the truth depending on their heart rate, while Healers are, well, self-explanatory. Inferni can control fire, Squallers can control air, and Durasts can manipulate materials. They all live in the Little Palace in the West Ravkan capital city Os Alta, and they all serve the formidable, foreboding General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), who can control darkness, and they are mostly hated and resented by the common people. The Grisha are rewarded for their innate abilities by the Ravkan elite, and dreaded, hunted, and killed by others in this world, such as the Fjerdan. And when Alina is revealed to have a unique, nearly mythical, power, the law of the land dictates that she must leave Mal behind and go with the General to the Little Palace for training.
That revelation, and the literal and figurative journey that Alina takes afterward, makes up the bulk of the primary “Shadow and Bone” plot. The other main plot exists in reaction to Alina’s: Crime prodigy Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter) wins a bid to kidnap Alina for an impressive payout, and enlists two members of his gang to help: sharpshooter Jesper (Kit Young) and spy Inej (Amita Suman). They’ll have to travel through the Fold, sneak into the Little Palace, come away with Alina, and somehow sneak back across the Fold to deliver her to their employer. It’s a heist that could get them killed at any moment, but “Shadow and Bone” avoids going too grim-dark thanks to the underlying hope of its characters, and the strength of their performers.