Entertainments

Finally, A Fantasy Series That Doesn’t Take Itself Too Seriously: The Bastard Son And The Devil Himself

In the first episode of Netflix’s The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself, an ominous council of witches ask our teen protagonist, Nathan, if he knows his witching history. “I know Harry shags Hermione at the end”, he replies sarcastically, before correcting himself, “Ron! She ends up shagging Ron. That was going to annoy me”. Even though it’s about witches and magic, this isn’t like the YA fantasy you may have seen before. How do you make a show in the oversaturated market stand out? Rule one: be sweary, rule two: don’t scrimp on the gore, and rule three: never be afraid to take the piss a little bit.

Though dealing in a world of witchcraft that will feel more than familiar at this point, the series, which is based on the best-selling book series Half Blood, introduces us to a whole new lore of witches. In this world of magic that lives among humans, there are two warring clans – Fairborn Witches and Blood Witches. Caught at the centre is Nathan (played by Jay Lycurgo), the illegitimate son of the world’s most powerful Blood Witch who’s on a race against the clock to receive his powers at the age of 17 and potentially bring chaos to the world. So far, so classic YA fantasy. But this adaptation, written by Giri/Haji creator Joe Barton and produced by Andy Serkis, twists what we know about the airy-fairy world of spells and potions into something far more gritty and, well, British. What we mean by this is that there’s never a missed opportunity to weave some sarcasm or dry cynicism into fantasy lore that, let’s face it, always sounds a bit silly regardless of the property.

A lot of fantasy, if mishandled, can sound like a badly tossed word salad. Warring for a seat at the table of YA witch properties is Netflix’s other adaptation Fate: The Winx Saga, which just premiered its second season. Based on the colourful, kitsch cartoon Winx Club, the streamer picked up criticism from fans for the abandonment of its campy initial premise in favour of something darker, but not particularly gritty. Picture the classic, moody YA palette, the kind bred from Twilight’s cyan-tinged vignette. If Fate: The Winx Saga fits somewhere neatly adjacent to that, then The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself is on the other side of the room. The show doesn’t rely on a dark aesthetic to create its inherent sense of foreboding, instead choosing to let its grittiness and gore do the talking. The series is far bloodier than you’d expect from a YA teen drama, and there are certainly more uncomfortably long fistfights to sit through too. Nathan is constantly dodging physical threats from a gang of Fairborn witch teens looking to keep him in place, and though his powers mean he heals at super speed, the show makes sure to give us a look at his gnarley wounds first. There’s something oddly refreshing about a witch show really leaning into grossness when you remember they’re the supernatural being associated with brewing sickly concoctions of blood and guts in cauldrons.

The magic of The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself is presented more like a curse than a gift, as Nathan and the other misfit witches he picks up along the way deal with the throws of living as outcast teenagers in more ways than one. Now, this isn’t exactly a novel concept, in fact, it’s pretty much present in every fantasy property (because it would be deathly boring to follow a protagonist who actually likes their life). But Barton’s writing, mixed with a talented cast that includes singer Roisin Murphy in her debut acting role, elevates it into something with a lot more grit than many titles sharing its same structure. But if all else fails, never underestimate the power of a good disparaging joke about Harry Potter.

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