‘Shadow And Bone’ Ben Barnes Is The Perfect Fantasy Villain Boyfriend

No thoughts, just Ben Barnes as the darkling.


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A few Friday nights ago, I did what many people around the world did and binged Netflix’s latest fantasy series, Shadow and Bone, and my crush on Ben Barnes returned with a vengeance.

The story of Shadow and Bone is pretty a familiar YA fantasy fare. It follows a young woman by the name of Alina (Jessie Mei Li) discovering her light summoning powers as she attempts to navigate a corruptly ruled war-torn kingdom.

That’s the basics of it, anyway. Based on the Grishaverse books by Leigh Bardugo,  there’s also a trio of heist-obsessed criminals for hire trying to kidnap Alina, a childhood best friend turned conscripted soldier trying to track her and, finally, a power-hungry shadow-bending tyrant trying to harness Alina’s power for himself.

Before I start gushing on main about Ben Barnes, it’s important to acknowledge that Shadow and Bone is a pretty fun watch. Not to mention has been praised for its original lore building, dedication to the series of books on which it’s based, and its choice to uplift Asian and LGBT representation in the fantasy genre with several Asian leads.

However, it is the aforementioned power-hungry shadow-bending tyrant who will be receiving my unadulterated heart eyes for the rest of this piece. The series’ pretty — I mean, primary antagonist, General Kirigan.

Like any decent fantasy villain, Kirigan has at least 2 other names that he goes by. But none of that is as relevant to his identity on screen as the fact that he is played by the chronically underrated, unfathomably handsome, Ben Barnes.

Many of us who grew up in the ’00s will remember Mr Ben Barnes from his formative role as the titular Prince Caspian in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. I say formative because it was very formative for me to leave the cinema after seeing the film in 2008 knowing that, actually, I was attracted to men. Especially, when that man was Ben Barnes.

For those of you who perhaps didn’t spend the last 13 years pining over Ben Barnes’ screen roles, Barnes found his complexly-sexy-villain-adjacent niche long ago when he played Dorian Gray in the 2009 film, Dorian Gray. It’s a niche that, as a fan, I describe lovingly as the VPPM (Very Pretty Promiscuous Menace).

His VPPM niche accounts for an impressive spectrum of roles; encompassing characters like the spoilt, maliciously violent, Logan Delos in HBO’s Westworld, and the disturbed, vengeful mercenary, Billy Russo in Netflix’s The Punisher. Even outside the realms of sci-fi, Mr Barnes gained some critical acclaim for his role as secretive sexy boy toy, Benjamin Greene in the BBC romance thriller, Gold Digger.

But in Shadow and Bone, Ben Barnes makes a long-awaited prodigal return to the YA fantasy genre, and fans both old and new can’t get enough. He’s still a prince of sorts, but now one of literal darkness. The repressed, righteous determined villain, General Kirigan, aka the Darkling. It’s also a role that sees him parade as a romantic lead, culminating in a flaming hot make-out session with the series heroine, Alina (Jessie Mei Li).

As if this scene wasn’t sexy enough, fans collectively lost their minds when Barnes revealed that half of the kiss scene was improvised. According to Barnes in an interview for US Magazine, the script only called for the characters to kiss once before being interrupted. However, Barnes improvised the moment when his character returns to resume the kiss after the interruption. He also added the moment his character asks for Alina’s consent.

Truly, a fantasy boyfriend on so many levels, and if you watch Shadow and Bone you’ll understand just how much of a fantasy this “romantic” scene really is. As a qualified teacher, I can professionally say with no bias whatsoever Mr Barnes exceeded the expectations of the assignment.

If you’re thinking Barnes suitability for the role is a pre-destined level of uncanny, you’re correct. The Darkling as a role practically weaponises Barnes’ iconography of the pretty Prince of everyone’s Narnian childhoods as a facade for the complex menacing antagonists he’s revelled and excelled in since — with a dash of thrilling romance for good measure. It’s therefore not a secret, nor even a mystery, why he was author Leigh Bardugo’s first and only choice for the role as far back as 2012.

It’s true what they say. You either die the cute swashbuckling fantasy prince hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the hot power-hungry war-mongering fantasy villain. Either way, Ben Barnes will continue to excel at being the complex, critically acclaimed, tortured fantasy prince of my dreams.

Shadow and Bone is streaming on Netflix. Mr Barnes, if you read this, I am free anytime.

Merryana Salem (she/they) is a proud Wonnarua and Lebanese–Australian writer, critic, teacher and podcaster on most social media as @akajustmerry. If you want, check out their podcast, GayV Club where they gush about LGBT rep in media. Either way, she hopes you ate something nice today.