Shadow and Bone prequel novel sheds light on the villainous Darkling's past

The Darkling, as you've never seen him before.

In Demon in the Wood (out today), Grishaverse fans will learn the villainous Darkling's origin story. Set during his childhood, the graphic novel follows Eryk and his mother, Lena, as they live on the run from those hunting them to either destroy them or exploit their gifts. The Darkling in Shadow and Bone is full of disdain for humanity, as he outlives most people around him. "When we meet him in Demon in the Wood, he hasn't had that experience yet, but he is hungry for friendship and someplace to set down roots," franchise author Leigh Bardugo says.

Demon in the Wood by Leigh Bardugo and Dani Pandergast
Demon in the Wood by Leigh Bardugo and Dani Pandergast

Christina Guerra; Roaring Brook Press

Bardugo wrote the prequel after she finished the Shadow and Bone trilogy in 2014. "I realized I made this character fairly awful. He does a lot of very terrible things, and I wanted to give a little insight into the forces that shaped him," she says.

As a child, he is vulnerable, a far cry from the powerful figure fans know. "[Eryk] is someone who has spent his entire life traveling from place to place, trying to keep his identity and unique powers secret. He is desperate for connection and belonging," Bardugo says. "The story is about showing the most understandable parts of him that are still deeply human, in this time before so many years of suffering and anger. And get a sense of what it means to have a noble goal, but to forget the people you're fighting for and the principles you're fighting for."

Accompanying Eryk on his journey is his mother, Lena, who Shadow and Bone fans know as Baghra. In this story, she's focused solely on her child's survival. "All she wants is for him to learn to move through the world, and she's teaching him what she thinks are good lessons about power and survival," Bardugo says.

In addition to the Darkling's younger years, Demon in the Wood will provide historical context for the Grishaverse. "You're not just getting a sense of this character, but of the way these nations came to be, [and] the prejudices they developed in the process of becoming the nations we meet in the trilogy," she says, "We get a real sense for the blur between science, magic, superstition, and the way people came to fear Grisha."

Demon in the Wood by Leigh Bardugo excerpt
Demon in the Wood by Leigh Bardugo excerpt

Roaring Brook Press

Bardugo credits artist Dani Pendergast with bringing the story to life in the graphic novel, a showcase for the characters in a new medium. "It's not just a question of accompanying illustrations," says Bardugo. "We needed an artist who could find these moments of emotion, and she really does." One method? Choosing to draw a close-up of a character's face to let the story breathe.

Don't be surprised if elements from the new novel make their way into the Shadow and Bone series on Netflix, where season 2 will premiere in 2023. "The writers of Shadow and Bone have done an interesting thing in considering everything in the canon when they're building the stories," she says.

And there'll definitely be more source material on Bardugo's end. "There's a few stories cooking —we have some big ideas for how we want to move forward," she says. "There are definitely more places to visit."

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