A few years ago, when the new-and-better-resourced movie version of Stephen King’s IT was about to come out, I was talking with my mom about, well, it. She and my sister had both re-read the book and then gone to see the movie. I mentioned that I was planning to do the same and my mom said, “Mmmm, I’d suggest the opposite: see the movie first, then re-read the book.” I took her advice and it worked. I enjoyed chapter I of the IT movie just fine but then recognized all it was lacking when I re-read the book a few months later. IT stands out as one of King’s best book (minus the children gang-banging in the sewers to resolve their trauma which was never great and so it’s not like I can really say it “hasn’t aged well” and yet IT REALLY HASN’T AGED WELL!) and so seeing the movie first, without being weighted down by the book’s superiority, meant I was able to enjoy both iterations of the story. For what it’s worth, having re-read and appreciated the novel, I have never bothered to see the poorly reviewed IT: Chapter II.
I remembered this IT situation this week as my partner and I tore through the first season of Netflix’s Shadow and Bone, based on the “Grishaverse” novels by Leigh Bardugo. I wrote recently about how nothing was sparking for me—few books and almost no shows—and so finding this show so delightful felt like a really lovely bath on sore muscles. The story focuses on Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), an orphan working as a cartographer for the Ravkan army (Ravka = a stand-in for Russia). Alina is half-Ravkan, half-Shu (Shu = a stand-in for China) and so also deals with anti-Shu racism from her fellow Ravkans. Ravkan society includes Grisha, people with specific magical powers who also fight for the army under the leadership of General Kirrigan (Ben Barnes), the only “darkling” grisha who can summon shadows. The nation of Ravka is bifurcated by the Shadow Fold, a vast No Man’s Land of darkness filled with flying, people-eating monsters. Through twisty circumstances, Alina discovers that she is the lone grisha who can summon light, the “Sun Summoner” of lore, which strains her relationship with her childhood bestie Mal (Archie Renaux); makes her a pawn in the game of Ravkan politics and Grisha society; and brings a bounty on her kidnap which is undertaken by The Crows, a band of lovable rapscallions made up of the wily leader Kaz (Freddy Carter), sharpshooter Jesper (Kit Young), and badass spy/acrobat/knife fighter Inej (Amita Suman). There’s also a whole side plot involving a kidnapped “heartrender” named Nina (Danielle Galligan) and a Fjerdan witch-hunter, Matthias (Calahan Skogman). (Fjerdan = a stand-in for Norway or Finland or some Scandinavian country with which the Ravkans are at war; it’s a lot.)
I loved this show. I heard early reviewers comparing it to Game of Thrones but Shadow and Bone is far less violent, grim, and adult than GoT. It felt closer to an elite CW show, in the best possible way, soapy and dark but not self-serious and full of cute people wearing interesting outfits. It has a big, likable cast; just about too many plot lines; and a cool universe that feels both familiar enough to be comforting and new enough to be interesting. When my partner and I took a pause from our binge to watch the much-lauded Bo Burnham special Inside we mostly felt grumpy that we were not watching Shadow and Bone instead. I intend to read the books but I’m so glad I watched the show first. Assuming that, as is usually true, the books will be better, I’m tickled that I got to have the pure, unadulterated enjoyment of watching the show.