Albert Camus famously said, “fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” Art of any form is an artist’s attempt to bring to life events and incidents that matter to them. From Franz Kafka with Metamorphosis to George Orwell with 1984, fiction is but a poetic portrait of reality. And Netflix’s Shadow and Bone is another name on this long list.
This Netflix Original series was adapted from the Grisha novel trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. Shadow and Bone, like most fantasy series, has a political undertone. The “Grishaverse” finds its roots in 19th century Russia.
Why Russia, of all places?
Think of the last time you came across any fantasy show, movie, or book that wasn’t set in medieval Europe. There really aren’t many. From Tolkien’s entire legendarium to the Game of Thrones series, fans have seen allegories of the region, its culture and traditions, and political climate too many times.
Being one of the very few novels that aren’t set in medieval Europe, Bardugo drew inspiration for her series from the rich history of Russia. The writer says her series belongs to the genre “Tsarpunk“. This is a play on the works “Tsar”- a Russian emperor and “punk”, the aggressively loud music genre.
This isn’t to say that Shadow and Bone is a history lesson. The king and his actions are not parallel to the Tsardom of Russia, neither is the fictional kingdom of Ravka an alternate Russia. That being said, there are many undeniable parallels that helped Bardugo set the tone for her books and, subsequently, the Netflix series.
When Bardugo initially began working on Shadow and Bone, she stumbled upon an Imperial Russian atlas in a used bookstore. Already looking for inspiration, the writer decided that the brilliant military campaigns and trade logs of 19th century Russia were the perfect setting for her book. And so the iconic series came into being.
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Shadow and Bone and Russia- fiction vs reality
The foundation of Shadow and Bone is the kingdom of Ravka, a country in a constant state of war with multiple adversaries. This comes from 19th century Russia. This period in the country’s history is rife with wars and battles, including ones as major as the Napoleonic Wars.
Another signature element of Shadow and Bone is the highly structured social hierarchies. It wasn’t just England that was big on the system of class and rank. Both the nobility of Russia and Ravka live in ignorance of the working class to the point of disassociation.
But the class division and military conflicts of Ravka aren’t the largest indicators of the inspiration Bardugo drew from Russia. The biggest similarity between the two is the king’s leadership with the Russian Tsardom. The king of Ravka belongs to the fictional Lantsov dynasty. This name can be traced back to the Romanov dynasty, a family of Tsars that ruled Russia for three hundred years.
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What other similarity do you think we missed out on?