How 'Shadow and Bone' Creator Eric Heisserer Brought the Grishaverse to Life

The new Netflix show is based on a complex bestselling fantasy book series.


When you pick up Shadow and Bone, the first novel in author Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy book series set in an alternate, magical version of our own world, the setting, populated by element-wielding humans called Grisha, armies of highly trained soldiers, and morally grey characters who flit between the worlds of each, takes some time to get into. That’s not because of bad writing or convoluted plotting, but because the world depicted in the so-called “Grishaverse” novels is so highly complex, requiring a full-page map and an introductory explanation of the magic-users’ gifts, that it takes about five or six chapters to understand enough to get truly immersed.

Shadow and Bone, the first book that serves as the title of a new Netflix show, introduces Alina Starkov (played by newcomer Jessie Mei Li), a lowly army cartographer from Ravka, a country based loosely on Russia,¬†who learns by accident that she possesses the rare magical ability to channel pure light, making her a powerful (and dangerous) Grisha. In Ravka, Grisha are trained as soldiers and led by General Kirigan (Westworld‘s Ben Barnes), himself a Grisha with power over darkness and a not-so-secret disdain for the nation’s weak monarchy.

To bring the Grishaverse to life onscreen for Netflix, Bardugo and show creator Eric Heisserer, who wrote the screenplays for Bird Box and Arrival,¬†decided to combine the stories and characters from¬†Shadow and Bone with those from another beloved book in the series, Six of Crows, in order to give¬†first-time viewers and die-hard fans a richly imagined introduction to the world of the Grisha.¬†“It was a crucial part of the reason why I wanted to get the job,” explained Heisserer in an interview. “I thought if we just did the ‘chosen one’ storyline of Alina in Shadow and Bone, we were really kind of limiting ourselves, and we weren’t really showing the scope of the world.”


Material from the first book was already¬†a¬†lot to fit into a single show, but Heisserer was also excited by the prospect of also specifically¬†mixing in¬†Six of Crows‘¬†Crow Club,¬†a band of teenage criminals from the slums of Ketterdam whose story in the novel¬†takes place after the first trilogy has ended¬†and has a tone more akin to Ocean’s 11 than The Lord of the Rings. By adding in surly fledgling crime boss Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter) and his crew, the show tempers the romance and high court drama of the main story with a parallel crime-caper narrative, weaving them both together by using flashbacks and lots of creative license-something adaptations of this nature really could use more of.

“Alina and Mal [Alina’s childhood friend] are people who have been told that they don’t really matter, they’ve been marginalized, and it’s about them finding their power and their place in the world, and who they belong with,” Heisserer said. “And in a very different way, all of those things apply to the Crows characters, to Kaz, to Inej, to Jesper, and later on to the rest of the team, so I felt there was a lot of thematic similarity that could make that work.”

Bardugo was actually the one who brought Heisserer aboard, knowing (thanks to a few exchanges on Twitter) that he was a huge fan of her books, having read Six of Crows in 2017. “Netflix called me out o the blue, and said, ‘Mr. Heisserer, we know you like the Grishaverse, we know how much you like Leigh Bardugo’s books.’ And my first thought was, ‘Are you listening to me? Are you in the room right now??'”

The collaborative nature of their adaptation was a far cry from all those horror stories out there of authors who have had their work mangled and modified without any say in the matter. (Bardugo actually has a cameo appearance in the third episode.) “Sometimes I feel like maybe I was just dragging her along kicking and screaming when she had books to write,” he said, “and instead I was calling her day and night asking her all manner of questions, ‘What about this? Where does this come from? How do you mean this? Tell me how to pronounce this thing?’ And she was like, ‘Eric, really, I’m on deadline.'”

He considers himself the “custodian” of this world, above all else, that Bardugo has built her career out of.¬†“We didn’t always agree on everything,” Heisserer said.¬†“There were some things that I just thought would inherently work better on the show, or couldn’t be expressed nearly as well in the show as in the books. And there are things that she’s connected to emotionally, so those were the ones I was most careful with.”


Heisserer said that the most exciting parts of the story¬†were those you wouldn’t necessarily notice at first glance, but were instrumental in realizing this fantastical world to its fullest extent.¬†“I was so fascinated with the Shadow Fold [an enormous cloud of darkness populated by deadly monsters that bisects Ravka down the middle],” he explained.¬†“It’s something that I hadn’t seen in other fantasy books, movies, TV shows before, so it was a new thing to create, and what does it look like, and how do people travel through it, what does the surface of it look like on the outside, and how does it behave?”

The same amount of thought was put into all of the show’s lush sets, which were designed according to which real-world places Bardugo took inspiration from in her books. Posters and banners line throne rooms and drinking halls with script written in languages that were invented for the show, riffs on Russian, Dutch, and Scandinavian dialects-just the sort of exacting attention to detail you can expect from someone who invented the Heptapod language. “If I can nerd out a little bit, we did do a lot of work,” Heisserer said. “I had gone as far as to create foreign currency, three types of currency to be exact.” Even the labels on the bottles of alcohol in the bar in Ketterdam were written in three different languages, none of which can be found anywhere else on Earth.

“The interesting thing about fantasy,” Heisserer continued, “is the moment you bring in something that’s sort of a relic of our world, it sticks out like a sore thumb. There’s a board game that two people are playing in the background. You never see it. But I was like, ‘We should be playing a board game somewhere. It can’t be chess. Let’s do something new.'”

Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef,¬†Cuong Nguyen¬†will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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