Netflix missed a golden opportunity today. They could have announced the casting for the character of Wylan Van Eck in their adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow And Bone while Wylan’s name was one of the top five trends on Twitter; but they didn’t, which is really a shame. However, I intend to use this moment to my advantage, to churn out a breakdown of the character’s backstory for everyone who saw the name trending earlier and was left perplexed about who Wylan is, and why fans of Bardugo’s fantasy novels are so obsessed with him. I’m gonna try to do this without spoiling anything too major about Wylan for the general audience, because I don’t imagine many fans who have read the Six Of Crows duology will need a refresher on a character who ranks among other Grishaverse fan-favorites like Nikolai Lantsov and Genya Safin.
Wylan Van Eck is introduced in Six Of Crows, Bardugo’s fourth fantasy novel set in the fictional world of the Grishaverse, and the book which kicks off her widely-loved and critically-acclaimed Six Of Crows duology. But while Netflix’s Shadow And Bone pulls inspiration, elements, and characters, from the duology in its adaptation of Bardugo’s earlier Grisha trilogy, Wylan was conspicuously absent from the show’s first season. Luckily, he is “a hundred percent” going to appear in season two, according to Shadow And Bone‘s showrunner, and fans are eager to find out who will be playing him in live-action, completing the line-up of “crows” currently comprised of Freddy Carter, Amita Suman, Kit Young, Danielle Galligan, and Calahan Skogman.
Wylan is the only one of the book’s six protagonists who was presumably both born and raised in the city of Ketterdam, although his experiences with the city were pleasant enough at first: he was not hardened from an early age by the rough-and-tumble environment of Ketterdam’s notoriously seedy Barrel district, but was instead brought up amongst the stately mansions of the city’s Financial District, where he lived with his father and young stepmother, attending lavish parties in foreign lands and receiving a classical education until an…unfortunate incident, which takes place several months before the events of the book and leaves Wylan homeless and on the run in the midst of the Barrel, surrounded by people who want him dead.
To survive, Wylan assumes a false name and puts his skill with chemistry to good use, creating explosive devices for Ketterdam’s rival street gangs. He declares himself a “demolitions expert” because of this, although Kaz remarks that he is only “passable” at demo. He becomes involved in the plot of Six Of Crows unintentionally, when Kaz takes a dangerous but highly profitable job from Wylan’s father, the wealthy merchant Jan Van Eck, and decides to use Wylan as leverage over Van Eck to make sure he gets his money when all is said and done. Kaz, of course, was not long deterred by Wylan’s little business with the false name, and had come to the conclusion before any of his fellow gang-members that the young boy was none other than Van Eck’s son – and the heir to the old man’s vast trading empire.
Wylan initially comes across as a bit of a pampered character, no thanks to his angelic, even cherub-like appearance, and holier-than-thou indignation at the other Crows’ violent deeds. He shares very few details about his past, or about what drove him to seek a life of crime in the Barrel even though he comes from a background of such privilege and prestige, even though his father continues to send letters to the boarding house where Wylan went missing, asking him to come home. But he earns his keep on the crew, thanks to his resourceful attitude and first-hand knowledge of the Fjerdan Ice Court – the heavily-fortified palace and prison which the Crows must infiltrate to free a Shu scientist by the name of Bo Yul-Bayur, whose skills are coveted by Ketterdam’s Merchant Council.
Along the way, the shy and introspective baby gay cinnamon-roll-who-could-actually-kill-you Wylan becomes close with the charismatic bisexual sharpshooter Jesper Fahey – and as their relationship grows more intimate with each trial they face, they open up to each other more. The dynamic between them is truly heartwarming, because of how Wylan’s desire to be accepted by the other Crows pushes him to become more violent, and how Jesper instinctively reacts by trying to protect Wylan from his darkest impulses. Jesper is capable of doing some pretty terrible things on his own, but he’s a good person at heart, and he genuinely wants to help Wylan become a better person than he believes he could ever be. I’m not crying, you’re crying. Just kidding, I am definitely crying. Their ship name is “Wesper”, and I can’t wait to see how Netflix builds this relationship from the ground up.
There’s been some doubt as to whether Shadow And Bone season two will adapt the events of Six Of Crows, since the first season left off roughly around the same point where the book begins, but this is one area where you can see the potential upside of holding off on that for another season or two: giving Wylan and Jesper a little more time to get to know each other, to start off as rivals but slowly begin to begrudgingly admire each other’s talents. The obvious drawback is that the mysteries regarding Wylan’s backstory might be much harder to maintain, even for general audiences. But seeing that backstory played out in real-time could be more compelling than trying to preserve surprises in the books which can easily be spoiled for anyone at this point, thanks to Google.
As for how Wylan will change from book to screen, I think there’s no doubt he’ll be aged up significantly – and for hardcore Wylan fans, that will probably be the biggest shock. In the books, he’s sixteen when we first meet him, but pretty much everyone else in the Grishaverse takes one look at him and mistakes him for a twelve-year old: like, to the point where I thought he was a twelve-year old the first time I read Six Of Crows. He’s memorably described by Kaz as resembling “a silk-eared puppy”, something that sticks with the reader. But in the show, he’ll likely be around the same age as the other Crows – i.e. in his early to mid-twenties – which might have interesting ramifications for his character arc. Book readers will know what I’m talking about, the rest of you will hopefully be sufficiently tantalized by the hints I’m dropping that you’ll go check out the books.
In Shadow And Bone‘s second season, the thing I’m most excited to see from Wylan are the nuances of his character that I can’t begin to explain here without entering major spoiler territory. There’s so much more going on beneath the surface than you realize at first, and he grows on you with each reread. I can’t wait for new fans to meet this amazing character and fall in love with him just as deeply as longtime Grishaverse geeks have, and I hope this post gets you a little more hyped for his inclusion in Shadow And Bone season two.
But what are your feelings on the character, and who’s your fan-cast? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!