it’s the new Game of Thrones, but without the incest, swearing and nudity

Heroine Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) is a soldier in the army of “Ravka” (a stand in for pre-20th century Russia). When crossing a cursed void, “The Shadow Fold”, that splits the kingdom in two she is revealed to have untapped magical abilities. These mark her as a “Grisha” or magician, a caste held in both awe and suspicion by commoners. 

So it’s off to the imperial capital in the company of Grisha big cheese General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), who dresses in black, throws menacing gazes and has pinched Alan Rickman’s villainous Die Hard beard. He is cordial and there are hints of a romantic spark with Alina, however, given his fashion choices – and the fact he is referred to in the novels as “The Darkling” – might there be a teeny chance he’s actually a baddie? 

Half a world away in the city of Ketterdam, an Ocean’s 11 style rag-tag of street urchins led by the mercurial Kaz (Freddy Carter) are drawn into the conspiracy around Alina’s powers. They feel like a Dungeons and Dragons party brought to life: Kaz’s gang, “the Dregs”, include knife-wielding Inej (Amita Suman), sorceress Nina (Danielle Galligan) and sharp-shooting Jesper (Kit Young). 

There are a lot of complicated names to keep track of yet the story chugs forward with gusto. And the production values are impressive – Ketterdam, in particular, is as vividly rendered as King’s Landing or Winterfell. Harry Potter fans – are there any left? –  will, meanwhile, be pleased to see Zoë Wanamaker (Rolanda Hooch in the Potterverse) pop up as a magical instructor who knows more than she’s letting on.

Shadow and Bone is good clean fun with a vengeance (with the potential exception of a coyly-shot gay sex scene). Those who watched Game of Thrones for the nudity and cruelty may find it lacking that spicy kick, but this is fantasy with heart, a towering imagination and a genuine new take on the genre. It could be a real phenomenon for Netflix. 

Shadow and Bone is on Netflix now