Leigh Bardugo has shared her joy over Netflix‘s adaptation of her Grishaverse novels Shadow and Bone, which will be released globally on April 23.
The hotly-anticipated fantasy show takes its name from -and is based predominantly on- Leigh’s book of the same name, which is the first in a trilogy, and also draws from her Six of Crows duology.
In an exclusive chat with MailOnline, the novelist, 46, detailed how much she has enjoyed bringing her characters to life on screen, and even joked that casting Ben Barnes as The Darkling, aka General Kirigan, was like getting ‘a unicorn’.
Gushing: Shadow and Bone creator Leigh Bardugo (pictured in 2014) shared her joy over Netflix’s adaptation of her books in an exclusive interview with MailOnline
Shadow and Bone follows Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), an unassuming mapmaker who discovers she has the power to summon light and is her country Ravka’s first Sun Summoner.
She learns she could help destroy the ominous Shadow Fold, a swath of darkness full of terrifying creatures that has split Ravka in two for centuries, and it is up to her to master her powers so that she can save her country from its foes.
Reflecting on the show and her books, Leigh tells MailOnline: ‘For me, these things are meant to live side-by-side, the show is an alternate timeline of the Grishaverse.
‘I think they did an exceptional job of maintaining the things that make these stories pleasurable and potentially important to people, whilst also offering readers something completely new.’
Grateful: The novelist even joked that casting Ben Barnes (left pictured with Jessie Mei Li) as The Darkling, aka General Kirigan, was like getting ‘a unicorn’
Plot: Shadow and Bone follows Alina Starkov (Jessie, pictured), an unassuming mapmaker who discovers she has the power to summon light and is her country Ravka’s first Sun Summoner
The show does bear some differences to Leigh’s books as Alina and her best friend Malyen Oretsev (Archie Renaux) are half-Shu, Shu Han is the Asia-inspired land in her novels which is at war with Ravka, meaning Alina struggles with racism daily.
Sharing her thoughts on the changes made, Leigh reflected: ‘Eric [Heisserer, the show’s developer] and I sat down very early on and we agreed that the show could do better than I did, when it came to Shadow and Bone.
‘I am very proud of Shadow and Bone but I’m also aware of some of its shortcomings and I’m keenly aware of the fact in writing that story I was definitely echoing a lot of the fantasy I’d grown up on as opposed to writing the world around me.
‘I think as I became more comfortable and confidant as a writer I began to write more authentically to what the world really looks like, and we wanted to make sure that we told the story as truthfully and powerfully as we could.’
Thoughts: Of on the show, Leigh reflected: ‘I think they did an exceptional job of maintaining the things that make these stories pleasurable and potentially important to people’
She went on: ‘The potential of taking a heroine who really doesn’t feel that she belongs, has been told her whole life that she is expendable and who is, in fact, from a border town in the trilogy and saying “alright, what if this girl not only was disenfranchised as an orphan and as a victim of these border wars, but was also someone who looked like ‘the enemy’?
‘”And [what if she] was being asked to not only fight for her country, but to one that hadn’t been particularly kind to her?”
‘That to us was a very poignant story and I think has really added to the richness of the story and the world.’
Alina’s power makes her a rare class of Grisha, people who can manipulate matter like the elements or the human body, as it allows her to bend and summon light – the opposite to The Darkling’s ability as a Shadow Summoner.
Adapting: The show does bear some differences to Leigh’s books as Alina and her best friend Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux, right) are half-Shu, Shu Han is the Asia-inspired land in her novels
The charismatic yet menacing character, who is known as General Kirigan in the show, is portrayed by Ben, and he took on the role following an arduous search for the perfect actor to play him.
‘We knew that casting The Darkling was going to be one our biggest challenges going in,’ Leigh admits. ‘Because he has to be so many things, and he has to be convincing at all of them.
‘When Eric said “how do you feel about Ben Barnes?” I was like, “Um… Can we get him? Sure, how would you feel about having a unicorn?” It was a wonderful idea, but I didn’t know if he would be interested.
‘Then, to see what Ben brought to this character, in terms of his humanity, and his sense of authority I think was so important to the role.
Honest: Sharing her thoughts on the changes made, Leigh reflected: ‘We agreed that the show could do better than I did, when it came to Shadow and Bone’
‘I think this is a character who, in the wrong hands, could have really tipped into caricature and I don’t think Ben ever does that, I think he brings this tremendous sense of complexity and subtlety to the role, that I loved watching.’
She went on: ‘I think his chemistry with Jessie and with many of the actors is just off the charts, and I can’t tell you how much I loved watching him and Zoë [Wanamaker], who plays Baghra.
‘Their scenes are some of my favourite because it’s just these two exceptional actors who are constantly pushing each other.’
Fans of the books know the character mainly as The Darkling, and the name Kirigan was another addition to the show.
When asked about the decision to give the character a name, she explained: ‘That was really the choice of the writers and Eric, but it was one I absolutely understood.
Candid: Alina faces racism daily for being half-Shu in the show, and she said: ‘The potential of taking a heroine who really doesn’t feel that she belongs…that to us was a very poignant story’
‘I think there are things that you can get away with on the page that you can’t get away with on the show, and we needed people to address him, particularly military leaders and soldiers, and we also wanted people to be able to talk about him.
‘Also, it tips your hand a little bit more, like in terms of where the show is going. So, we managed to use Darkling as a term in the story, and just sort of understand it as both a slur and a title.
‘I don’t have any problem with the use of his name, though it has created some confusion because there is a Count Kirigin in the Grishaverse books and they’re radically different!’
Other characters who appear in the show include Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), Jesper Fahey (Kit Young), and Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), members of The Dregs, a criminal gang from Ketterdam, who hatch a plot to find Alina when a One Million Kruger bounty is put out on her.
Soldier, summoner, saint: Alina’s power makes her a rare class of Grisha who can bend and summon light – the opposite to The Darkling’s ability as a Shadow Summoner
Freddy, Kit and Amita do a remarkable job of bringing Leigh’s characters to life, and Leigh gushed the trio are ‘all extraordinary’ in the parts.
When MailOnline remarked on how perfect the three actors are in the roles, she admitted: ‘I don’t want to pretend that it wasn’t a challenge to find these actors, because it was, but we knew.
‘I knew, as soon as Amita started speaking, I knew that she was meant to be Inej, and, seeing Freddy read Kaz, and seeing Kit bring Jesper to life, it was all extraordinary to watch them on their tapes.
‘But then when we brought them together, to see how they worked together, that was when… it wasn’t a bolt of lightning, it was a full on thunder storm.’
Her equal: The Darkling, who is known as General Kirigan in the show, is portrayed by Ben, who Leigh gushed ‘brings this tremendous sense of complexity and subtlety to the role’
She went on: ‘There was something so exceptional seeing the look that passed between Kit and Amita as they strode towards the camera, and there was a moment where Kit put his hand on Freddy’s shoulder, and all it took was a look from Freddy and he’d gone full Kaz.
‘Freddy is such a gentle, kind, sweet human so to see him transform into this ruthless mastermind is just a delight every time!’
The characters, who appear in the Six Of Crows duology alongside Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan) and Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman), have a special saying ‘No Mourners, No Funerals’, which is a way for them to wish each other luck during dangerous missions.
Amusing: Of casting Ben, Leigh joked: ‘When Eric said “how do you feel about Ben Barnes?” I was like, “Um… Can we get him? Sure, how would you feel about having a unicorn?”‘
Reflecting on the iconic quote, and the moment it is said on the show, Leigh added: ‘I was there on set the day they said ‘No Mourners, No Funerals’.
‘We hadn’t planned it but I was there at the very end of shooting, and it was one of the last days of shooting too, and so it was pretty emotional.’
She continued: ‘It’s one of those things that for audiences who are not familiar with the books they’ll take it in stride, “oh cool line”, but I think for readers it’s one of those moments where we’re really reaching through the screen and saying we see you, and these stories still belong to you.’
Proud: Leigh (pictured in 2012) went on, ‘I think this is a character who, in the wrong hands, could have really tipped into caricature and I don’t think Ben ever does that’
Leigh, who also acts as an Executive Producer for the show, was very much involved in the adaptation process, meeting with writer’s ‘every week or every two weeks’ to discuss their ideas for the show.
‘I would ask questions, make suggestions,’ she reflects. ‘If there was something that concerned me or that I felt wasn’t true to a character or might break the world at some unexpected way down the road, some little bit of magic that unravels a whole bunch of other world-building, I would make noise about that.’
Heaping praise on the writers, she claimed: ‘Sometimes I was just gasping in delight and applauding, to be surprised by your own stories and characters is a wonderful experience.
No mourners, no funerals: Other characters appearing in the show include Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter, centre), Jesper Fahey (Kit Young, left), and Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman, second left)
‘When it comes to plot I felt very early on that we were meant to see prequel stories here, and these character are evolving into the characters we meet in Six of Crows.
‘So, if we do get the opportunity to move through those stories in subsequent seasons, I think it will all lock together and make sense in a very organic way.’
If the show does get renewed for a second season, it will see the introduction of two other fan favourites: Nikolai Lantsov, the youngest Ravkan Prince, and Wylan Van Eck, another member of The Dregs.
Delighted: Freddy, Kit and Amita do a remarkable job of bringing Leigh’s characters to life, and Leigh gushed the trio are ‘all extraordinary’ in the parts
Leigh said of her hopes for bringing the pair into the story: ‘My fingers are crossed, there are so many stories we want to tell.
‘After having seen this first season, and experiencing this, I’m quite greedy to see the other characters come to life and to find people to play them. So, I hope we get that chance.’
She added: ‘I have to admit I have someone in my head for Nikolai, but I don’t want to mention that person, because if we get season two and we don’t cast that person I would forever feel guilty for that actor who was like “Oh, I was the second choice.”‘
The Wraith: When MailOnline remarked on how perfect the three actors are in the roles, she admitted: ‘I knew, as soon as Amita started speaking, I knew that she was meant to be Inej’
Leigh has written seven books in the Grishaverse so far: Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising, Six Of Crows, Crooked Kingdom, King of Scars, and most recently Rule of Wolves.
The latter was released at the end of last month, and is the second of the King of Scars duology, which is a sequel to both the Shadow and Bone Trilogy and the Six of Crows duology.
Of one day adapting those books, and commenting on how Eric said his plan for the show includes six seasons and a movie, she said: ‘My dream is for us to get to see all of these stories play out.
Origins: Leigh (pictured in 2014) has written seven books in the Grishaverse so far, and she told MailOnline: ‘My dream is for us to get to see all of these stories play out’
‘Having just finished Rule of Wolves and brought it to shelves, it’s heartbreaking to me to think we might never get to see some of these things come to life. And, boy, will we need a big budget to make them come to life!
‘But my job has always been to write the books, and Eric was very much kidding about that plan, but we have sat down and talked through how subsequent seasons will work.’
She concluded: ‘Now it’s a question of seeing if this is a world that people want to continue to get lost in.’
Shadow and Bone will be released globally on Netflix on April 23, 2021.
One to watch: Shadow and Bone will be released globally on Netflix on April 23, 2021