Julia Schifini joins me to talk about the worldbuilding in Netflix's adaptation series, Shadow and Bone. We talk about catholic sainthood, mythical deer, explaining your magic system, and much more!
HOSTED by Dr. Moiya McTier (@GoAstroMo), astrophysicist and folklorist
Julia Schifini is a podcaster, voice actor, mythology buff, and fellow fantasy nerd <3 You can follow her on twitter at @JuliaSchifini and check out her website juliaschifini.com to learn about all of the very cool things she does. And look for her mythology podcast Spirits wherever you get your podcasts.
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Hello there friends. Welcome to Exolore, the show that helps you imagine other worlds with facts and science. I am your host, Dr. Moiya McTier. I'm an astrophysicist who studied pretty much everything in space from planetary orbits to the radiation leftover from the Big Bang, to star formation and black holes and Galaxy evolution. But I am especially interested in the motion of stars and how that affects the habitability of exoplanets, which are planets outside of our solar system. I am also a folklorist who specializes in building and analyzing fictional worlds. And this podcast is my way of sharing those worlds and that knowledge with you. So let's get started. Hi, Julia, welcome back.
Hi, Dr. McTier. How are you today?
I'm doing great today. I just had a meeting that went right up until this and I had to leave. And I didn't want to say, "I have to leave because I'm doing something much more exciting," but this is much more exciting! How are you today?
I'm good. I'm so excited to be recording with my favorite doctor. And as I've told you off the air, I love that you're a doctor now because it's always been my dream to have a friend who I can refer to as "Doc" like Doc Brown in "Back to the Future," but this time not a disgraced nuclear physicist. So that's good.
Yes, I'll do my best not to disgrace myself, especially when it comes to nuclear physics.
Just don't accidentally sell secrets to like the Libyans or whatever I guess - it was the 80s. It was a weird time.
Yeah, I think I can do that.
Don't tell them that you're gonna make them a bomb and then send them like pinball machine parts. I think that was what happened.
I will never ever make anyone a bomb. If anyone ever asks, it's not gonna happen. Please don't approach me with your bomb making requests.
I won't send any like recommendations to you being like, "I can't make a bomb. But you know who can? My doc friend, Moiya."
So Julia, this is your second time on the show for people who skipped season one. I don't know why they would have done that. But for people who did, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself who you are what you do?
Yeah, my name is Julia Schifini. I am a podcaster, a voice actor, a sound designer. I do a lot of things. I wear a lot of hats. I also am writer and sometimes I do wrestling. So that's fun.
You're so cool.
I like to be. I also do a show on the Multitude network called "Spirits" which is a boozy dive into mythology, legends and folklore. Every week we pour a drink and learn about a new story from around the world.
Yes, I love Spirits, [it's] one of the first podcasts I ever started listening to, [it's] such a great show. Please check it out. I'm going to be of course putting links in the show notes. But um, check it out organically just like wander over to Spirits, and find some really cool mythology stuff.
And every couple months or so, we have a really cool guest on who helps us give advice from mythology and folklore named Dr. Moiya McTier. And you might like those episodes.
You might. I love the advice from folklore episodes. So Julia, one thing that I asked all of my guests is what fictional worlds you've been inhabiting lately, excluding the fictional world we're going to be talking about on the show.
Ooh, right now I am in the middle of a book called "The Good Luck Girls," which my podcasting friend Lauren Shippen recommended on the internet and I was like, "ooh, I need to get that." It is a fantasy Western about several girls who are forced into prostitution and managed to escape after one of them kills one of the men that they are supposed to be sharing the night with. And it is very intense, but very good, and a lot of fun. And I'm thoroughly enjoying it right now. I like fantasy Westerns a lot. I want to read more of those.
I had never heard those two words put together are there others? Can you recommend others?
Also in that genre, not fantasy, but like historical retelling is the "American Hippo" series by Sarah Gailey, which is kind of a what if, because, historically, the United States government considered bringing hippos into the United States to deal with certain like invasive species. And they were like, "we're gonna farm hippos. They're gonna eat a bunch of these invasive crops that are like growing down in these swampy areas near like Louisiana and stuff. And then we'll also like farm them for their meat and stuff." And there were like, articles run in the New York Times and stuff like that, about how it was gonna be this new version of pork and like beef and stuff like that. It was much more sustainable. Obviously it didn't happen. But the "American Hippo" series by Sarah Gailey kind of explores a world where it did, and also features a heist.
I love the idea of bringing hippos in, but something similar happened in South America. The cocaine hippos that are now like an invasive species in their own right.
And slowly moving towards the United States, they keep tracking them and they're like slowly going North.
I wonder if there's some like climate reason? I wonder what's driving that migration? Yeah, it's interesting. It is interesting. Should we talk about this show we're here to talk about?
Sure, why not?
So today we're gonna be talking about "Shadow and Bone", the new Netflix show that just came out on April 23. It's based on a couple of series by Leigh Bardugo, the "Shadow and Bone" trilogy where the show gets its name, but it also incorporates characters from the "Six of Crows" duology, which I will admit I haven't read, but Julia has.
I have, I've read those five books. I know that there are additional books that have been released. But those are the five that I have read in preparation for that Netflix series coming out. And then also because I like the books.
Yeah, I've heard a few of my friends who are very into fantasy say that the "Six of Crows" duology were some of the best books they had ever read - the best fantasy books they'd ever read. So definitely going to check that out.
And guess what Moiya? Those ones are about heists. Big heist energy.
So the show is based on books by Leigh Bardugo, who actually executive produced this show, and Eric Heisserer who wrote the "Arrival" screenplay, the movie with all of those really cool arthropod like aliens. They work together on this show, and I love when authors actually work on the show adaptations of their books. I think it makes it so much richer and better and maybe minimizes the chance of the book fans going crazy because they don't like what happened in the show.
That is true. That always helps.
The world in "Shadow and Bone" is inspired by 18 hundred's Czarist Russia, which I love as an inspiration for a world there are some strong Catholic musings, which I think we'll touch on later in the episode. And the story follows Alina Starkov, a young woman in Ravka. That's the main country here. Ravka's First Army, there are two armies there. We're going to talk about that. So Alina is in the first army and she finds out that she has the power to summon sunlight. And I think normally, that wouldn't be a big deal. We have a sun, it's fine, but in this world, it's very important because Ravka has been split in two by the Shadow Fold, or the Unsea. So Alina is ability makes her important to the Grisha who are people that have special powers or abilities in this world, because they have long been feared and persecuted and blamed for the Shadow Fold's existence. So if Alina can tear down the Shadow Fold, then maybe Grisha will be able to, you know, be regular parts of society again and not forced into serving in the Second Army, which is something that's really messed up. So Julia and I have thought of some cool world building things that we noticed while we were watching the show. And we're just gonna chat about them. And Julia as the guest today, would you like to go first?
Hey, Moiya, there's a lot of saints in this.
So many saints, there's literally a book of saints.
The Lives of the Saints, which I think is so interesting, because there's really no talk of a higher deity or like what the uniform or like a structured religion of Ravka is. It's just like, "we worship saints." And we're like, cool, where do the saints get power from? Who are they saints of? Who were they worshiping to begin with? Who was the first saint worshiping? is my question.
And who decides who becomes a saint? That's my kind of big question here. And it's really interesting, because you mentioned like, there is a book of saints, which Leigh Bardugo actually released an illustrated in-universe copy of that, that you can buy. I think it came out like sometime in October of last year. So if that is something that interests you, and you want the expanded lore of this, you can buy it, but it's got like, I think 13 or something different saints that you can learn about in the book, and it looks really cool. I haven't read it, [but] it looks really cool.
The link will that will definitely be in the show notes.
Yeah, but that kind of raises the question for me at least like, what is the religion here? Is it just the worship of saints, which is fine, like you could do that. But there's chapels mentioned in the books at least, and we see some forms of worship in the TV show. We see Inej also worships the saints. So it's not like strictly a -- I don't know how best to say this -- white Ravkin tradition, because we know that Inej is Suli, which I guess is like the show's version of Romani. It kind of makes it seem like, or at least the books kind of make it seem like this is a nomadic traveling people. There's a lot of like, I guess, stereotypes about Romani people during this time that sort of align themselves with what they are portraying the Suli as, so I'm so curious as to what the structure is like. Is there some sort of clergy system happening here? Because we see the Apparat, or however they pronounce it the show.
That's how I would have said it.
But he's just like kind of assigned that by the Tsar. And it's very confusing.
Yeah, the idea of having this whole canon of spiritual creatures without also having the hierarchy of godlike beings is interesting.
Yeah. Because the only like, major god figure that we see in any of the religions - there's two, there's the God of Bartering, who is featured heavily in the "Six of Crows." I'm not sure if they really mentioned it in the series.
I don't remember that.
He's the Ketterdam god. He's like, "oh, everything is merchants and therefore we worship the god of bartering."
And, like, very briefly, the Fjerdans talk about Gel, who is the major tree god, I guess, in the Fjerdian northern religion. So yeah, there's no real like, God. There's no major deity, there's no like monotheism really happening here. It's just like, "we worship these people who kind of had unnatural abilities," which is weird given that Grisha who are people with unnatural abilities, exist in this world? So why are we worshiping some and not others? It's very confusing.
It is very confusing, and one of the saints, the only saint that I know of is Saint Ilya, who was a Grisha, but it sounds like the other saints weren't, or not all of them were. So, it's just like regular humans doing presumably fantastical feats that get them sainthood.
Or in classic sainthood, being martyred, dying terribly. Doing like a good deed, and then dying terribly is usually how we go about getting saints.
And that is referenced in the show, and probably also in the books. It's been a while since I've read the trilogy, but there's talk of Alina, you know, once you become a saint, then that's basically just a stepping stone on the way to martyrdom. Alina just got wrapped up in this world without really wanting to or meaning to, and then she became a saint and people just assumed that she might die.
Well, that's the weird part, too, is like Alina kind of does things out of order. Usually, if we're talking about like, Catholic saintdom, you have to die terribly first. And then the church like probably a couple 100 years later is like, "Yeah, that's a saint. We're cool with that." There's a whole process, [and] I know that there's like a complicated process in like becoming a saint like being canonized. But in this one, the Apparat is just like, "you're a saint now, because we've been expecting the Sun Summoner." I think it's because of her title that they kind of figure out like, "Oh, she must be a saint, because we knew that the sun summoner was going to come and happen." And so calling her "Saint Alina" before she is martyred, is kind of like, "well, we all know how it's going to go down, but you could die peacefully in your sleep and will still think that you're a saint."
Absolutely. Did you notice any other very Catholic things that weren't necessarily directly related to the story of the saints in this world?
I mean, the saints are just so there and so obvious. I think it's really interesting that they kind of talked about like amplifiers, and these like artifacts that are supposed to imbue certain powers on to certain people because like in Catholicism, your church needs to have a relic in order to be like a church. So it has to be one sort of like holy relic of some kind within your church in order to like, have it count as a Catholic Church. It could be anything from like a piece of clothing that Jesus wore, or a saint wore or something like that. But I've seen churches in Rome, where it's just like, "here's the full skeleton of a saint. That guy is just here, and you can see it."
That is very much a church. There's a lot of relics.
So that's really interesting. And in the books later on, especially in the duology, "Six of Crows," they talk a lot about saint relics. And it's really interesting, and I don't want to spoil like anything about the the book series or the TV series, because obviously, there's much to happen. But there's like, relics that you know, they can't possibly have. So they're like passing off these relics of people who haven't died yet. And you're like, "no, that's not right. That's not it," but it's just really interesting.
Oh, that's great. A relic black market.
It's really interesting to see kind of like the I don't want to say fanaticism, but the way that people will take advantage of religious fervor and I think we see it a little bit in the TV series, especially once Alina has like, introduced yourself to the world as the Sun Summoner, and the people who like are religious start to be like, "this is my saint. This is a living saint in front of me."
Yeah, I mean Inej believed in Alina even before she saw the demonstration of Alina's power, but afterwards it was much more intense and even other people like Kaz and Jesper started believing a little bit more.
Inej seeing Alina use her power in that ballroom scene literally brought me to tears. I'm like, that actress crushed that scene, just the look on her face. I was like, oh my god!
Beautiful. So I have three things. One of them is something that I think they did really well.
One of them is something I think they could have done better. And the third is just like a cool connection to folklore. So I'm gonna start with what I think they did well. I want to start positive.
I also think that there were things that they could have done better. So I'm on boat with you.
Great. So the thing that I think they actually did really well was bringing in more political insight into the world than I saw in the books. Or maybe it's just that I didn't notice it in the books and it was there. But this ties into Alina's sainthood and her potential martyrdom because Alina was used as like a political pawn in this world, for lack of a better term. So Ravka is a country fighting multiple wars. There's the Fjerdans to the north, the Shu Han to the south. Ravka is fighting a lot of people, but they're also divided by the Shadow Fold. It's separates Ravka into West Ravka and East Ravka, and the political ramifications of that were kind of lost on me when I read the books, you know, there are lots of consequences of being at war and having your country divided like this. It has to be really difficult. You know, you can't get supplies to the other side. You can't get information to the other side. This is based on an 1800s world. They don't have cell phones, the Tsar of Ravka can't just like call up the Darkling on the phone and be like, "hey, how's the war going over on that side?" So it's really difficult to lead a country like this. And in the show, they added a couple of things. So one thing that they added that's not in the book at all is a brewing Civil War. There's this general Zlatan who is riling up the first army, that's the army of regular humans. No Grisha. So General Zlatan is riling up the first army and the citizens of Ravka, and trying to get them to turn on East Ravka which is where the Tsar, King Pyotr is and also trying to get them to turn on the Second Army which is made up of Grisha, and declare West Ravka as a sovereign nation. So that is just way more political intrigue than I saw in the books. And then another way that they brought it into the show that I really appreciated was bringing in characters from the "Six of Crows" duology especially Nina and Matthias. So Nina is a Grisha. She has the ability to like control people's heart rate, she's a Heart Render, I love that.
We're gonna get to the, "if you had a Grisha power, which one would you want?"
Yes. And Matthias is a Druskelle, which is a Fjerdan warrior essentially dedicated to killing Grisha, because they see them as abominations.
The direct translation I think they use is, "Witch Hunter." He's bascially a Witch Hunter because they think that Grisha are witches -
And witches are bad.
And because we don't learn much about Fjerda in the first book of the "Shadow and Bone" trilogy, I thought this was a really nice way of just infusing more worldbuilding and more background knowledge into the show. Because you get to see how Matthias and Nina actually interact because of where they come from. And I just really appreciated that, good job "Shadow and Bone."
I will say, they do touch on that in the duology. We learn a lot about Fjerda in the first book of the duology, "Six of Crows", and you get these like kind of flashbacks that we're seeing in the TV show right now. Like happening at present where Nina has been captured and is taken by Matthias.
Some steamy scenes in there in case that's something you're interested in.
I just love how fully horny Nina is 90% of the time. She's just like, "my tits are out" - they're not actually out, but I wish they were just like, "I'm gonna keep you warm. You're gonna keep me alive. It's fine. I definitely didn't notice how friendly you got in the middle of the night. Okay." She's great. What a great character.
Yes, I agree. 100%.
I do think though that they had to include a little bit more of that political intrigue into the "Shadow and Bone" stuff because you have the "Six of Crows" crew there you have the crows there. And Alina doesn't know about the Civil War stuff. She's on the other side of the Shadow Fold. She doesn't know what's going on. but these guys you know they are traveling through that and like a lot of what motivates the crew to come through, and capture Alina is knowing that this civil war is kind of brewing and that someone would pay big money to like not have East Ravka have the Shadow Summoner. So I think it makes perfect sense to kind of include these tensions because it is so important to see the other side with the crows kind of traveling through there like from Ketterdam to West Ravka, and then having to go to East Ravka.
Yeah. And I love imagining the conversation that created this amalgam, this joining of the two series. I can't imagine which came first, like did they decide to bring in the "Six of Crows" characters first? Or did they decide that they wanted more political intrigue first. It probably was all happening at the same time. But I think that this is a really beautiful example of how choices that you make in your storytelling, can work in tandem with choices that you make in your worldbuilding to create something that's larger than the sum of their parts.
Yeah, if I had to take a wild guess, I think they were like, "We should include the 'Six of Crows' folks, like ASAP" because I think just like from observing fandom interactions, the "Six of Crows" crew are much more popular than the "Shadow and Bone" crew.
That's because they're all so hot.
I know. They're all so hot and people love heists. God damn it.
So what else do you have for me, Julia?
I knew you're gonna want to talk about this. So we got to talk about it, and this is a great conversation for us to get our "what Grisha power would you want?" conversation. They kind of explained it in both the books and the TV series that Grisha don't really have superpowers, they just have the ability to manipulate the small sciences. So [they can] manipulate stuff on a scientific molecular level almost, [and] I'm not sure exactly how they go about doing this for certain things. I don't know how much like molecular chemistry and stuff like that, like the Etherealki, the people who can manipulate the elements. I really love this idea of a whole group of Grisha, the fabricators who just do like science stuff. So it's like, "we work with metal, we work with chemicals, we like make cool stuff." If you're a D&D fan, they are like the artificers of the Grisha, which I think is really cool.
They are and they get so much shit for it.
They do. It's silly, but I get it. They don't have like the combat readiness, and so much of the Grisha's "worth" in Ravka is the fact that they can fight in the wars, but like also, they're making weaponry for the wars. They're out there, like, you know, making it possible to cross the Shadow Fold because of the light that they use and stuff like that. So I think the fabricators get a bad rap, but I think it's really cool. I just like the idea that they are studying the Heart Renders, and the Healers are studying biology together and stuff like that. It's very cool, I like it a whole lot. I think I can more realistically understand the idea of Heart Renders, Healers and Fabricators as opposed to [people] manipulating fire. Like, how? Explain. [There's] no source of heat. Where is it coming from?
You have thoughts? I'm sure.
I have so many thoughts. This was my point that I thought they could have done better actually explaining - [and] I'm going to use the word "magic system," but they do not say that the Grisha use magic. It's the "small science," but I am going to call it a magic system because it's just easier. I think they could have explained it a lot better in the show, [especially] how it works. They do a pretty good job of explaining how it works in the books, and I understand that you're dealing with like limits on how much you can actually show on a screen when you're putting together a TV show, but just a few more details would have notched it up a little bit for me.
Yeah, and not just like a passing comment from Ben Barnes about the "small sciences" and you're like, "what, explain? I want more training montage for Alina." Tell me how she is in particular. [How is she] manipulating the sun? Is she calling certain types of energy to her that allow her to do that? I want more information. And I know the books do a better job explaining it, but I always want more.
Yes. There's that scene when Ben Barnes playing Kirigan/The Darkling/Aleksander, whatever you want to call him. He explains the Small Science by saying, "we do not conjure from nothing. we manipulate that which already exists around us." That's in Episode Three of the show. And I understand this, slightly. I've looked into how it worked from the books and it is a type of molecular chemistry. Leigh Bardugo uses that phrase exactly. So good job, Julia. But the way it works is that there are molecules in the air around us, and for the Etherealki, for example, the people who can summon the elements like fire or wind or water, they have to conjure or manipulate the molecules that already exist. So for the fire ones - [the] Inferni, they have to gather combustible molecules in the atmosphere like you need oxygen for combustion to happen. You need other molecules that can catch on fire and you do need a catalyst so you can't just create a flame from nothing but you would need like a flintstone to make the spark, and then that can create the fire.
So they're going "The Last Airbender" M. Night Shyamalan style? And not, you know, the "Avatar The Last Airbender" - firebender style. Okay, I see, I got you.
You got it.
They also talk about the, "like calls to like", as part of the Small Sciences, which I think is really interesting. Kind of this idea that like there's some sort of like affinity within a Grisha that calls out to the element that they are able to control. So that's why like an Inferni can't also manipulate wind like a squalor can, you know, and like, that's why there's also the division between the different types of Grisha - the elemental ones.
The Etherealki, Corporealki, and Materialki.
The Fabricators and so I think that's interesting, because you kind of do have to explain like, yeah, sure, there's specialties. But why is this person in particular able to do that, but not the other things? So I think that is interesting, because it makes everyone a little bit unique, and very cool.
Yeah, it's a really cool magic system. And I just wish that they had explained it a little more, not just because I'm a sucker for cool magical systems and I want all of that information readily available. But because I think that more information actually makes it easier to parse a new fictional world, especially for people who haven't read the books. When I build worlds, I think it's very important to establish the rules of your world first. Like, how does your world actually work? And to share those rules with your audience. And it doesn't have to be explicit, it doesn't have to be a big exposition dump, you can do it subtly. But if you don't share your rules with your audience, then they're going to be coming into the story with assumptions based on the rules that exist in our reality. And sometimes, when those rules aren't the same, it's going to create confusion. So understanding more about how the Small Science works would add some cool depth. Like, if you know how the small science works, then you understand, what are the limits of these powers? Does it exhaust them to use it? Like can they just use them forever? I didn't realize that Tailors could change a person's face so that they look like someone else. Like knowing more about how the Small Science works would have helped with that.
Yeah, I think that is kind of the exception to the rule with the Tailors because Genya is the only one as we know, that exists, and they say that kind of in the show.
Yeah, she's like, "I'm almost as rare as you, the Sun Summoner."
She's so cool. I love her so much. I think that they would have benefited from doing more of that explanation during the kind of like training montages that Alina has with Baghra. Baghra is the one that kind of explains the like calls to like and stuff like that in the book, just throw in an explanation monologue as you see her like whacking her with the thing and Alina trying to call the sun. It would have been so much easier if that had been included.
I'm sure Alina has questions. Why hasn't she asked him these questions?
The audience has questions too. Yeah. All right. This is my question time, though. And it is what kind of Grisha would you want to be?
Yes. If I'm living in like our world, and I could choose a Grisha power, I wouldn't want either the Sun Summoner or the Darkling power.
I take issue with the Darkling power. The idea that you can summon shadow - [which] isn't a thing. shadow is the absence of light. So unless the Darkling is like controlling photons and sending them away and Alina can like bring photons towards her. If that's the difference between their powers then fine, but I don't think that's the case. So I think shadow summoning is stupid.
From a Small Science perspective.
It also helps that he's like the only one that can do it.
Okay. So if I had to choose, I've always wanted to control wind.
Yeah, but it doesn't seem like it's as cool as being able to control wind in "Avatar The Last Airbender" where you can fly with it. So in this world, I'm thinking like, the Tidemaker. Yeah, the people who can control water.
I'm into it. I feel like we'll see more cool Squaller shit, once Zoya has more time in the sun, cuz she's cool as hell.
I did like that they made her an important character earlier, and that they shortened the time where she's just a bitch.
Yes, that did help, I think. I [also] think I would want to go Heartrender myself because I just like the idea of being able to like calm people the fuck down. I forget if I can curse on this. Can we retake that? Okay, great.
No, I like cursing and I like spoilers.
Great. So I really do like the whole Heartrender thing, we see a lot of really cool stuff that like Nina can do with it both in the season of the TV show and in the the duology the "Six of Crows" she does some real cool shit and I I am all about it.
Yeah, the scene when - I don't want to give too many spoilers, but it is very cool. I got the impression that she was a particularly talented Heartrender.
Yes, she is.
So she can do more things than an average Heartrender can?
So it's interesting because the "Six of Crows" duology canonically takes place after the "Shadow and Bone" series. So Nina has different training then, like the average Heartrenders at the little palace would have. I'm not going to spoil as to why or how, but she has some cool abilities that she learned from some very cool sources. And I'm excited for people to find out about that.
I'm excited to find out about that.
Little spoiler dance.
Yeah. Oh, I love this as the spoiler dance. You can't see it. But we're doing it.
It's a little shoulder shimmy.
Yeah. All right, I think the shoulder shimmy is a good moment to take a break. And when we come back, we're going to talk more about some of the worldbuilding in the show.
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All right, welcome back. I've already said my thing about the Small Science, and how I think it could have been explained better. So that was my second thing. Julia what else do you got?
I also have a small complaint circle time.
I'm not sure if this is like a worldbuilding thing or like a choice that the TV show made that I'm kind meh about and don't get me wrong, I think the show is enjoyable and worth watching and all of that. I was really excited when they announced the casting and when Jessie Mei Li was announced as Alina because I was like, "I don't know if I can get behind another goddamn white girl savior in something like this." And so the idea that you have an Asian actress as the main character is super cool. And then I watched the first episode, and like everyone just being hell of racist at her, and I was like, "I think we could have not done that. I think we could have just told the story of Alina being from like, a poor orphanage background and still gotten the same point across without everyone being like, so she's, she's part Shu Han huh?" And we don't have to make it weird, [and] use weird fantasy slurs on her. It's okay. So I like the idea of my protagonist being a mixed race girl who is like now saving the country that sees her as [the] "other" but I also didn't need the racism angle, I guess in order to do that.
Yeah, that's kind of where I'm at.
All right. I see that.
Yeah, I don't know how you felt about it kind of going into it. And I know, it's like, as a white woman, not really my place to say but I was like, I almost kind of want people of color to be able to watch this show where the protagonist is a woman of color. And not be reminded like, "Oh, yeah, people are racist against women of color."
Yeah, that would be nice. I didn't have any issue with it, because I thought that it was realistic. People are going to be racist in a world where things are hard and you're at war. That's the type of thing that breeds racism. And there's this moment in the show that I didn't appreciate at the time, but I noticed it afterwards in the connection to her race, but it's the moment after she declines to wear the black kefta, and the Darkling says something like, "Are you so desperate to be like everyone else?" And she's like, "Well, yeah, it'd be nice to know what that's like," because I grew up as a black person in a very rural white part of Pennsylvania. And you know, that's what happened. I really did want to know what it was like to be just like everyone else. And I think that it would have been comforting to not have to watch that racism. But not everything in fiction has to be comforting. And I think that it really did strengthen her background. And I did really love that she wasn't the frail, feeble, white girl that she was in the books, [cause] that really pissed me off. But this was better.
Just in general, I think they made Alina and Mal much more likable, and I'm all about it. I think Mal was saved by the fact that we were seeing his perspective, more than in the books. And so you're like, oh, Mal really does miss her and didn't know about everything and like is worried about her and not just like, abandon her cuz she 'lied to him about who she was. But yeah, Archie Renaux, super hot and much more likeable is Mal.
Being able to hear some of the letters that Mal wrote, I just did so much to switch that perception of him.
For sure. I love that. I also just like that we're seeing more of the world than I feel like we saw in the books, you know what I mean? Like, I am excited to see more of what lies beyond the shores of Ravka, and kind of that like main continent. There's a lot of real cool islands and stuff out there that I have a variety of people and cultures. And I hope we get to see more of those in future episodes. There's also more characters coming. I assume in the next season, if we're following the plotline of the books, and I am so excited to meet them.
Yes, I'm also so excited. But I'm intrigued because the end of the first season is not what I expected cause they had to combine the "Six of Crows' storylines, or like the character lines in with "Shadow and Bone", and I am in this state where I don't know what to expect next from season two even though I have read book two of this trilogy. And so I'm excited. I like when I don't know what's gonna happen.
Yeah, me too. But there's just like a couple of characters that I know are coming soon. And I was like, "Yes. Excellent. Bring them on!"
And some new places. If I recall correctly, in the second book, we do see some other very cool places.
We do, and I'm stoked about that. Oh, gosh.
Was that your last one?
I think so. Did I hit all three of mine.
Yeah, you said three things.
All right. So my third one is just some cool folklore that exists in this world that also ties in interesting ways to folklore that exists on Earth. I love when that happens. I love when authors either take from folklore and use that in their stories or if they twist it in some cool way. I also really love when authors just make up their own folklore. Which happens in this world too. So this folklore that I'm going to talk about is about Ilya Morozova, the Saint. So we learn from the apparat that Ilya Morozova, aka the Bonesmith, badass name; is one of the oldest and first recorded Grisha. He was extremely powerful, and used his power and his finger bones to make three mythical creatures: the Stag, the Sea Whip, and the Firebird. These three animals, according to legend in the Grishaverse can be used as really powerful amplifiers. These are objects that come from animals that Grisha can use to amplify their power, but you have to like go out and kill the animal and then wear a part of it on your person. But you know, sometimes magic is dark.
Yeah, that's true.
Yeah. So the Sea Whip and the Firebird appear in later books and so I assume they will appear in later seasons, but the Stag is what's focused on in season one and the Stag appears all over in folklore, which makes a lot of sense because deer appear all over the world. They're actually native to every continent except Antarctica and Australia.
Oh, Australia, [you're] missing out. You got all those dangerous animals.
But they do have kangaroos. And I feel like kangaroos are the deer of Australia.
Okay, explain that thought process.
I don't know. They're just like cute and fast, but also can be very dangerous. And they're giving me similar vibes.
Okay, I'll allow it.
This isn't a scientific reason for why they're the same thing. It's just based on vibes.
I thought you were gonna be like, "strong legs."
They do have strong legs. But you know, deer are very cool. They're majestic forest creatures. So it's pretty easy to see how they get referenced in the lot of mythology. Forests are mysterious places where lots of magical things can happen, and so that connection seems pretty obvious to me. There is a specific connection to old Russian folklore, and the stag god, Karhuhas. Who may have been a god of fertility and forest protection in the Russian steppes in the bronze and iron ages. So from like 2000-1000 BCE and this is the part of mythology history that's just like, very murky because we don't really have writing from this time we're going based off of things like cave paintings and tattoos that people would have worn. So the Ice Princess who was discovered in the ice around this part of the world has a tattoo of a deer on her - which implies that deer were pretty important icons in this folklore and there's a connection to a Siberian myth in this stag-as-an-amplifier storyline. But there's a Siberian myth about a reindeer who steals the sun. And that's why winter is dark. So she steals it on the winter solstice, and then a hunter has to slay the reindeer to get the sun back. And that part of the story, slaying the reindeer to get the sun back is just so incredibly evocative of Alina having to get this amplifier from the Stag in order to really access her Sun Summoning power. And I just loved that. And then just an interesting thing about that Siberian myth, female reindeer are highly regarded in Russian and Siberian pagan religions, because they were bigger and stronger than male reindeer. They're the ones that actually keep their antlers in the winter. So you know all that stuff about like the reindeer pulling Santa sleigh being male, they have antlers. They're all ladies, and the female deer were the ones who led the herd. So they're like the life giving mothers and that has nothing to do with the show. It's just some cool facts.
Yeah, and I mean, you have all of these European myths and stories about like the Wild Hunt, or like the White Stag, and stuff like that where there is just a desire to catch this questing beast [which is the] general category for these kind of creatures. So I really like just the tradition of the questing beast, and in particular, like multiple questing beasts in the case of "Shadow and Bone" being included in the series, because I think that it is a very European, Slavic origin, mythology that it makes sense to take its own spin on things.
Yeah, absolutely. And there are a lot of other fantasy examples of this great stag being one of these questing beasts or questing creatures. They do this in Sarah J. Maas's "Kingdom of Ash" series. It's like 7-8 books long, but there is a stag there. I think there's a stag in [Marion Zimmer Bradly's] "The Mists of Avalon." So if you have other examples, listeners, of stags in fantasy being used as these questing creatures and connected to power in interesting ways, I would love to hear them please tag @exolorepod on Twitter or write to firstname.lastname@example.org. I just want to know about all the cool stags in folklore and fantasy.
Tell us about them.
Yes, please. Any other thoughts about the "Shadow and Bone" adaptation from the books?
I really like them. They're kind of like cotton candy to me, where it's like, I've read these books, I enjoy them. I don't think it's like the best series I've ever watched, you know. And I think there are some like valid criticisms about the way that the story is told and like just some production issues and stuff like that, but I really enjoy it. I think it's a fun watch. And if you like less-going-to-devastate-you "Game of Thrones", this is a good series for you.
That's a beautiful description.
Also, if you just like a good love triangle, this is also great. I really enjoy a lot of the interviews where they are talking about the cast and crew, and how Ben Barnes is like, "Hey, guys, I'm not a cool teen like the rest of you." The rest of the cast is like in there, like, you know, mid 20s, probably and Ben Barnes is over here like, "what's up, cool kids? I'm 40 years old." And the man looks like he's still in his 20s, it's incredible.
He's made a deal with the devil.
Listen, he played Dorian Gray. I think he just like channeled that energy real hard.
I have heard really great things about him and how he approached some of the more sensitive scenes. And there are themes in this book that might be kind of difficult for people to sit with this] idea of [a] very old powerful man kind of grooming a young woman. There are definitely some cringy scenes in there, but I have heard interviews with Ben Barnes where he talks about how he wanted to be really intentional in those scenes. And, you know what spoilers, here they are. There's a scene where they have their first kiss, and it's Alina who initiates it, and he wanted that to, you know, show her agency in the situation and take away some of the creepy, grooming aspects that are very heavy in the books.
And I mean, the Darkling is a bad guy. He's a bad dude. You should not like him. I'm team Mal and Alina all the way, and especially now that Mal was more likable than he was in the books. But yeah, if you like a good, "clearly this choice is bad" love triangle, this is the series for you.
But there are some people who are very staunchly team Darkling.
Oh, no, I was gonna malign a very contentious fandom thing from a different fandom. And I'm deciding not to do that. Anyway.
Anyway, Julia, I'm wondering how you feel about the book versus TV medium for the story? Is there anything about it that you feel lends itself particularly well to one of these media?
So I think the story is being told well, in the TV medium, in terms of like, making the characters likable, and you know, showing off who they are as people, I think, like you mentioned, the magic and science of the series is kind of lost a little bit because of just like, they don't have time to explain the whole magic system to us, especially because now we have double the amount of characters that are in the original books. I think they are doing the best with what they have at the moment. And I think that I am going to watch more if they make more seasons, I'm going to watch more. So that's where I'm at. I'm not like woefully disappointed with either. So I am here to stay.
Such a glowing endorsement.
Listen, again, I like the series, I have small little problems with it. I don't think it's like going to revolutionize the TV industry or anything like that. But I am excited for these actors who get to play in the space. And I am excited to like, see things that I like on my television.
Yes. I also liked both of them. I think that the main loss that I saw in the TV show was pacing. I feel like it was really hard for me to tell how much time had actually passed when Alina was in the little Palace in the TV show. But it was a lot clearer in the books because they were going through her daily schedule. You know, there's that scene where Marie and Nadia when they lead her to the training grounds, you know, that was part of her daily schedule. And in the book, they go much more into that. And I feel like that could have maybe easily been done with a couple more montages like you said, Julia, we have this tool that shows the passage of time, and the absorption of a lot of skill and information on the part of characters and TV shows and it was not utilized in the show in the way that it could have been.
Yeah, I think the problem was they chose to do the montages through the letter writing to kind of show the passage of time. But the problem was we weren't seeing enough of Alina's like day to day training stuff. In my opinion. I think we were spending too much time with the Darkling, and not enough time being like, "Oh yes, here's how magic works and why you're special and you're important and why it's frustrating to everyone else around you that you're not like getting it yet." They didn't spend enough time with her not getting it and that was my problem.
Yes, I agree. I know that like fighting is a big thing in the books, her learning how to fight, they did bring this up in the show - the gloves too. And they say in the show that the gloves are supposed to help her be able to divide the light so that there can be two streams. But in the books, it's so much cooler.
David makes those cool gloves.
These mirrored gloves that Alina can use to like bounce beams of light off each other and eventually, like get to the cut, right? She does really cool things with those gloves in the books. There's a lot of cool training that happens in the books that I think was an important part of character development, like an important part of her arc leading into the second book. So I'm interested in seeing how they're going to pick that up in the second season since they just didn't show it in the first one.
Yeah, also shout out to Luke Pasqualino, who plays David and is just incredibly hot.
Also shout out to Kit Young, who plays Jesper, and is just droolworthy
From the get go they're like, "this man [is] gay as hell!" [That was very] clear from the beginning. [They were] like, "no other character is going to get a sex scene. Jesper is gonna get a sex scene though."
I didn't even realize that that was the only sex scene.
I'm looking forward to more Jesper in season two because Kit Young is doing an incredible job with that character.
Yes. I don't know if I've ever watched a screen adaptation of a book where I just absolutely loved [a character so much] to want to read the book for him. But even if the story was crap, I would read "Six of Crows" for Jesper just because of the way Kit Young brought that character to life on the screen.
Just hold the goat. Just like gently caressing the goat's cheek, and he has to say goodbye to it incredible. So good.
Love it. Well, Julia, is there anything else you want to say about "Shadow and Bone"?
I want to own a kefta they're really cool looking. I don't know which one I would want, but they look really cool.
Well, if you are a Heartrender, then you would wear a red one.
I get the red one with the black trim. Which is cool. But I don't know, I think the Inferni have the coolest looking one. The blue with like the fire . Yeah, that's cool as hell.
Thanks so much for joining me, Julia. This has been a treat. I can't wait to see Season Two and hopefully chat about that with you too. Maybe we could even watch part of season two in person.
That would be so nice. I would love that.
That would be great.
Thank you for having me on. I love talking about stuff with you.
Yeah, same here. When the listeners want to look up your stuff and learn more about you. How can they do that? Where can they find you online?
They can find me online on twitter at my name @JuliaSchifini. You can find me on Instagram @julesvernerose, like the author plus the flower. And I have a website that I need to update which is just JuliaSchifini.com" and you can check out my stuff at Multitude which is Spirits, a boozy dive into mythology, folklore and urban legends. And I am a player on Join the Party for season two, which is a campaign all about superheroes in a fictional upstate New York City.
I also love Join the Party. How about your other sound design and voice acting work? Where can people check that out?
Oh, hell yeah, I just wrapped up on two projects that people can check out immediately. Those are "Primordial Deep", which is basically like "Jurassic Park", but under the ocean, highly recommend that one. It's a lot of fun. And currently coming out is "Life with Leo", which is a Sci-Fi, romantic comedy about an Android lawyer who is gifted an Android that is programmed to love her by one of her clients. It's very fun. So check those out they're a lot of fun, [that's] "Primordial Deep" and "Life with Leo".
Yes, please do. Oh, awesome. And at the end of some episodes in season two, it's not as consistent as it was in season one. But I love to include little creative prompts. So one thing that I think would be an interesting mental exercise is thinking through the science of the Smell Science, and how it works. And imagining another type of Grisha that might exist in this world based on like, you know, if you can manipulate the molecules and stuff around you, what else would you be able to control?
That is a great question. I feel like you can start going into, like Earth elemental stuff. Obviously, that makes the most sense, given that you have elementals already, and if you're going to have fire, wind and water, you might as well have earth as well.
It's like they said, "Oh, dirt. That's not a molecule."
It's too complicated. There's too many minerals and stuff like that. But then you get into like all the cool stuff. Maybe that's like something that like the Fabricators and stuff because obviously they're out there manipulating like metals and stuff like that. So are they secretly just the elemental manipulators too?
Are they just Earth bending the metals to make cool technology?
Metal bending like our friend Toph from "Avatar The Last Airbender"?
Look at this crossover.
Awesome. Do you have any ideas for creative prompts or worldbuilding prompts?
I've been thinking a lot about Tarot lately? I think it would be interesting to explore a magic system based solely on Tarot. Here's my pitch, people are born assigned a tarot card and gain certain abilities based on that Tarot. I don't know how that would work, but I love it.
I love it too. Think that out. Cool. Well, thank you so much for being here. Julia and chatting about "Shadow and Bone". I love when you're on the show.
Thank you. Thank you for having me. I feel so special whenever you asked me to be on
Oh, I feel special every time you say "yes".
I will always say "yes" Moiya, anytime.
You might wish you had never said that.
No. doubling down.
All right, well, thank you have a great rest of your day. And that's a wrap. This episode of Exolore was edited by Mischa Stanton, the cover art is by Steven J. Reisig. The transcript is by Iesir Moss, and the music is from purple-planet.com. Exolore is a member of Multitude Productions, an independent podcast collective and production studio. I highly recommend checking out the other Multitude shows, all you have to do is type "Multitude" into the search bar of your favorite podcast app. If you want to support me and my worldbuilding work. The first way to do that is to rate and review the show on Apple podcasts. It's free, you don't need any sort of Apple device and it really does make a difference and help the show grow. Second, you can support me on Patreon. Your monthly support would make it possible for me to continue working on this passion project of mine. So if you're able, please head on over to patreon.com/exolorepod. Again that's patreon.com/e x o l o r e pod. If you can, be sure to follow Exolore on Twitter or Instagram @exolorepod, and if you like this episode, share it with your friends and subscribe to the show because that way you can catch me next time on another world.