Why I Dislike The Casting Of Ben Barnes In Shadow And Bone // Please Stop Aging YA Characters

Hey all! This post is going to be slightly disjoined and discombobulated and weird and a weird ramble, definitely not as put together as my normal posts, but the news for the Shadow and Bone casting just dropped and everybody was talking about it and… oh boy do I have a hot take.

Well since my blog seems the place to share my controversial opinions here it is: I dislike the casting of Ben Barnes as the Darkling. 

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So we all know that Hollywood loves to cast older people, in their twenties or something, as teenagers. In fact, it’s super rare that an actual teenager is cast as a teenager. In high school movies–well, it’s some weird alternate reality high school where a bunch of twenty somethings are hanging around high school.

I mean, yeah, we get it. Teenagers aren’t that good looking, most of them anyways. Yeah, we have acne and we look awkward like we haven’t quite grown into our bodies yet. Yeah, we don’t look like twenty something post puberty Hollywood models.

This, although I complain about, I’ve come to accept.

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For starters, let’s talk about To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. Everyone is Way. Too. Old.

Anna Cathart, who plays Kitty, is the same age book Lara Jean, and Lana Condor is 7 years older. Anna Cathart is 16, Lana Condor is 22, and Lara Jean is 16.

Did I blow anybody’s mind? Since we all think that Kitty looks so young? Well news flash: teenagers are fairly young. We’re kids. Some of us look young, and all of us look young in the eyes of the adults who are watching teen movies and reading YA.

Lana Condor and Noah Centineo absolutely do NOT look 16. Not even close. I’m telling you this as someone who was 17 when TATBILB the movie came out–someone who was older than Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky–and thought those two actors looked way too old for their characters. 

And Margot? Margot was 18, headed off to college, and she was played by a 30 year old actress. And as someone who is currently 18 and surrounded by other 18 year olds every day, living in a dorm full of other 18 year olds–well, most of us don’t look that old.

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But I didn’t write this post because of To All The Boys. I’ve kind of accepted that. I’m writing it in response to the Shadow and Bone casting. 

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And the fact that they all look way too old. 

Don’t get me wrong, I mostly really like the casting. Freddy Carter is PERFECT as Kaz and if you saw that picture posted where he’s basically doing the scheming face–perfect. Inej, Jesper, and Mal look great too, and I’m so happy to see an Asian Alina!

Well, they’re perfect except for one small thing: they’re too old.

I’d guess they’re all in their twenties. I can’t find all of their ages online, although I know that Freddy Carter (Kaz) is 26, and yeah, he definitely doesn’t look 17. None of them look like teenagers.

They can pull it off okay. They mostly look like typical Hollywood casted actors and actresses playing teenagers–a bit older than real life, but not terrible.

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No, my controversial opinion is the casting that everybody seems to love the most is the one I consider terrible: Ben Barnes and the Darkling.

Ben Barnes is 38 years old. He does not look like a teenager. 

Now, you’re saying, oh no, it’s because the Darkling is super old and he’s not supposed to be a teenager anyways, he was always supposed to be older!!!

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Okay, I know he’s not actually a teenager, but I was under the impression that he looked outwardly like a teenager. After all, he’s having a romantic relationship with Alina, who is very much a teenager. Alina, who is 17. (I’m not sure how old the actress playing Alina is, I would guess around 20, but her character is 17).

Alina is supposed to be 17 and Ben Barnes is 38.

Ben Barnes is 21 years older than Alina. Ben Barnes is more than twice her age. Ben Barnes is old enough to be her dad. 

That is a problem.

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Everyone is swooning over Ben Barnes, but I’m not. Because I’m 18 years old and he’s twenty years older than me, he’s old enough to be my dad. And the idea of fangirling and crushing over someone 20 years older than me is just disgusting. The idea of Ben Barnes and Alina Starkov–it feels rapey.

We’ve put up with people playing teenagers who are in their twenties, maybe ten years older, maybe even a little older than that. But someone more than twice the age? Someone who is almost 40 playing a teenager?

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Here’s the thing: The Grishaverse is YOUNG ADULT. 

Adults reading YA–go for it. I mean I’m 18 now so I’m basically at the barrier where I’m becoming an adult and outgrowing being the intended audience for YA. (I would say 12-17 or 18 is the intended audience–middle and high school), and I have no intention of stopping reading YA.

I know that adults read the Grishaverse. I know that adults read YA. That’s fine, as long as it’s first and foremost FOR TEENS. And this casting says that it’s not. 

So now let’s talk about aging characters up. I know that some people do it. I know that the characters in Six of Crows certainly don’t act like teenagers. You can age them up in your heads when you read if it’s just in your own head, whatever.

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But don’t project it outward. Teens don’t have very much. We have Young Adult. Don’t take it away from us.

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I saw on Twitter a popular YA author saying “BEN BARNES! As a thirty something I’m SO HAPPY to have an age appropriate crush in this cast!”

JUST NO.

This was what made me angriest, angry enough to write this post.

Adults having an “age appropriate crush” in a book written about teenagers means that teenagers don’t get to have an age appropriate crush in a book written about teenagers.

The Grishaverse is for teenagers. We are the intended audience, or at least that’s what publishing is telling us by marketing the book as YA. The books are YA, so their characters are teenagers, and they should be depicted as such.

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Imagine this: a teenager reads Shadow and Bone and enjoys it. She reads about characters her age, maybe a few years older, and can really imagine them, people like her and her classmates, going on these adventures. She heads over to Netflix to watch the adaptation.

And she sees Alina, the protagonist she was able to relate with, who she may view as a role model, becoming romantically involved with and making out with a man twice her age. And she’s told, from the way it’s expressed in the show, as well as all the people freaking out on Twitter over Ben Barnes, that this is romantic. 

What kind of message is this sending teenage girls? That it’s romantic to love someone more than twice your age? That if, as a high schooler, a 38 year old man old enough to be your father starts showing romantic interest in you, instead of being worried, instead of seeing this as statuary rape, it’s romantic?

This is how I feel. I’m more mature now than I was a few years ago, enough to realize this was a problem but still… going on Twitter and seeing everyone fangirl and freak out over an actor more than twice my age who is supposed to be a romantic interest to a character younger than me… it makes me very uncomfortable.

I’m a lot more confident in my blogging than I was when I started last year and more comfortable sharing my opinion for sure. I used to hide my true opinion when I knew it would be controversial.

I think that if this news had dropped when I started blogging and was 16, I would have said how I loved the casting of Ben Barnes just like everybody else so I would be liked. I would have seen that he was old and I didn’t like that and seen everybody else fangirling over him, and thought that maybe there was something wrong with me and I should like him, that I should think his relationship with Alina is romantic. And seeing popular authors I admire express their delight at the casting would have only reinforced it.

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A 38 year old dating a 17 year old? That is not normal.

In conclusion: age the YA characters you read. Whatever. If you’re an adult who wants to read YA, do it. But only in your head. Please, don’t project that outward and depict our teenage crush as 38 years old.

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Let’s Chat

What do you think of the Shadow and Bone casting? Of Ben Barnes as the Darkling? How excited are you for this adaptation? (I’m extremely excited!!!!) I’d love to chat in the comments below ❤

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20 thoughts on “Why I Dislike The Casting Of Ben Barnes In Shadow And Bone // Please Stop Aging YA Characters

  1. All of these points are valid. I’m watching the adaptation as an outside observer that appreciates the universe. I don’t care or don’t get the hype over how sexy the characters are. I just want to see good actors play amazing characters. And that’s so weird that a YA said that :/ I’ve personally never stanned The Darkling. His physical appearance was never really clear to me so his face was blurry when I read him, lol.

    As far as the casting goes, the Jesper actor doesn’t look like the Jesper I think most of us imagined. Idk what to say about the age gap between The Darkling and Alina. It seems like Edward and Bella all over again. At least Rob and Kristen were closer in age in real life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never stanned The Darkling either (one of the very small percent that’s Team Mal haha) but even though I don’t like him, I still care about his casting especially considering how many people do stan him and thus gush about him on Twitter and stuff…

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  2. This is a really interesting discussion! I love the casting of Kaz, and he was the one I was most nervous about, but I do agree that it’s a shame they couldn’t find teenagers to play these teenage characters. For me personally, I think it’s a shame that they haven’t cast any Russian/Scandinavian actors so far, but that’s a whole other discussion for another time.

    In terms of the Darkling, I actually think it works having someone older than Alina. Alina’s relationship with the Darkling isn’t supposed to be healthy. He’s the villain, and Leigh Bardugo makes it very clear to us that he’s the villain. I mean, the guy is literally a murder and his being older than her – whether he’s obviously visibly older looking in the books or not; personally I never pictured him also looking 17 – is another part of what gives him power over her. Also, whether he looks Alina’s age or not, he’s still very much NOT her age, so their relationship has never been appropriate from an age standpoint.

    How fans perceive this is up to them personally – I’ve never really been a fan of the Darkling, so I don’t really get the hype but people love him and, hey, you do you boo – but I think making him older in the show could actually be a really good way to get people talking about how their relationship is unhealthy. Especially people who’ve read the books and maybe wanted Alina to end up with the Darkling.

    We also mustn’t underestimate the ability fans have to enjoy something without condoning it. I don’t think teenage girls are going to seek out boyfriends old enough to be their dad just because Ben Barnes has been cast as the Darkling. I love Jude and Cardan’s chemistry in The Folk of the Air books, but I also acknowledge that it is NOT a healthy relationship and it’s not a relationship I would want.

    I do think this is an interesting discussion, though, and I’m looking forward to seeing how everything’s handled in the show. 🙂

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    1. Yess the casting of Kaz looks perfect ❤ I agree that it works to have someone older because of the messed up power dynamic and unhealthiness of their relationship, but I really don't like the fact that he's literally twice her age? For me as a teenager reading a YA series that's just too much… I feel like if he was a little older, like twenties (to her 17), that would be better. Maybe teen girls aren't going to look for older boyfriends, but it's still sending the image, and it's still taking away our teen representation in an adaptation of a teen book series… and I really think that teens should be able to see themselves on screen in an adaptation of a book series literally written for teens? What's really annoying me is seeing fully grown adults fangirling over the casting… at least if everyone was talking like ew that's a messed up power dynamic glad they're showcasing that it wouldn't be as bad, but the fact that these 30 year old women are talking about how hot he is and how great the casting is while sidelining teens is really bothering me… sorry for rambling lol I just have a lot of opinions thanks for commenting!

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  3. Great post. I totally agree about the casting of older actors in general. I understand why they do it (it’s generally sooo much easier and safer for a studio to have a 22 y/o lead than a 17 y/o lead) but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. It takes so much away from YA.

    I remember discussions happening when the Hunger Games cast was announced about how much more affecting it would be if the actors truly looked 16. Hasn’t changed!

    When I read Shadow and Bone, I actually pictured the Darking looking like a young-ish adult (maybe mid-late twenties?) so it was surprising to me that most readers seemed to picture him as a teen. I don’t actually remember if the book is ever specific about that. Personally, I don’t mind Ben Barnes’ age for that reason. The romantic aspects of their relationship are supposed to be creepy and predatory, so to me, that casting works well.

    I’m actually more disappointed that the rest of the cast looks so old. The actors for Kaz and Inej, for example, seem so perfect, except for the fact that they 100% look like they’re fresh out of college.

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    1. So glad someone agrees about casting older actors in general haha. I feel like his appearance was ambiguous, and like I would be fine with him being cast as mid to late twenties since he’s supposed to be older anyways, but the fact that he’s almost 40… well, that’s definitely not young adult lmao. Also if people were talking about how creepy their relationship was, it might be fine, but I don’t like grown adult women fangirling about this old guy as their crush while teens are kind of pushed to the side…
      I’m annoyed the rest of them look old as well, but at this point I’ve kind of accepted that movie people always cast up… every now and then I look around my high school/college and see people who are older than the on screen characters but look younger bc they’re younger than the actors lmao…
      sorry for rambling I just have a lot of opinions on this and thanks so much for commenting!

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  4. Preach it, Kay! Honestly, I totally agree with what you’re trying to say. I have only read the Six Of Crows duology however, from those books, we come to know some of the Shadow and Bone characters. I think that Inej is perfect and Kaz is just 😍😍.
    I hope you enjoy the Netflix adaptation despite the Ben Barnes issue!
    Have a good day,
    Erin x

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great points here! As a 28 year old, I did age the characters up in my head a bit, but I always imagined The Darkling as an adult (maybe 35) and Alina as a lot younger adult. (maybe 20) I do know some people irl with a 15 year age gap and they are an amazing couple with two beautiful daughters and its not weird at all. But in the book I never liked Alina and The Darkling’s relationship because I always read him as creepily too old for her (I am about halfway through Ruin and Rising so please no spoilers!) So for me the casting makes sense because I found the age gap creepy in the book as well.

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  6. I love the cast, I feel like they really went above and beyond looking for actors that could really impersonate the characters. On the subject of age, I would have to disagree. This is mainly because my grandparents who had an amazing and loving marriage had an age gap of 17 years. I know there were different times, and trust me the first time I found out about this age difference I was shocked. But seeing them together, there was no doubt that they adored each other and for them, age didn´t matter.
    Though I admit that a 17 yo girl dating a 30+ man does raise some alarms, one has to also think why are we so prejudiced against it. Is it just because she is a teenager or would this also apply for when they are 30 and 50?
    My grandma married at 27 and never regretted or found odd the age difference because she was in love and cared deeply about the man she was choosing to live her whole life with. I believe, though it mid seem odd, that there is nothing wrong with huge age gap relationships as long as everything is consensual (18 years or more) and there is love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s wonderful that your grandparents had such a great relationship! I think there’s a huge difference between 17 and 37 versus 30 and 50. Honestly, 14 and 17 (freshman and senior in high school) is usually low-key messed up, but once you’re grown up, a 4 year gap is really normal; the age gaps definitely matter more when you’re young because there’s so much more maturing to do. Anyways, that’s not really the point, I wasn’t really arguing about x number of years makes for an okay relationship, it was more just me complaining that Hollywood always casts old people as teens lmao. I wrote this post two years ago and after watching the show definitely think the actors were wonderful! thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

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  7. I really liked the discussion and your points that you have put forward. Two days ago, I read the first book of the Shadow and Bone trilogy and then I jumped to S&B on Netflix. For the Darkling, I had imagined a younger Ben Barnes, like the casting wouldn’t have had any age-appropriate casting concerns if Ben Barnes was a little younger.
    But, in the book, the character of the Darkling itself is a manipulative one. The Darkling is eternal, he’s practically an immortal fella. Now, I do not know how immortality works but as centuries go by, people might age one or two years older, to the max.
    So, yes, Ben Barnes might have been a lil’ bit too old to play the Darkling. But, his acting cannot go unnoticed. He went from playing a knight in shining armour, Prince Caspian, in the Narnia movies (which was supposed to be successful but it wasn’t) to a very cunning, mysterious and manipulative general in Shadow and Bone (very uncertain success, but nevertheless, it became a MAJOR show). He even himself could not appreciate the Darkling’s manipulative ways because overall, he is a very kind and respectful human being.
    Even though the casting seems very unbalanced primarily because of the age, their acting, their commitment and their talent are spectacular. Jasper’s skills and confidence, Inej’s loyalty and passion, Kaz’s cynical attitude, Alina and Mal’s portrayal (I honestly hadn’t imagined what Alina and Mal would have looked like, lol) and overall, the Darkling’s manipulation.
    And plus, a manipulative person is also hella creepy (the iris scene, god), so yeah.
    Really loved your blog post! Hope you enjoy the Netflix Adaptation, though 💛
    (btw, what’s the theme that you have used? I’m in love😭)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never seen Prince Caspian haha so Shadow and Bone is the only thing I’ve seen Ben Barnes in and I can definitely say now that he’s a wonderful actor haha. Having seen the show now, (I wrote this post two years ago long before the show was out haha), I definitely agree that he was phenomenal as the Darkling, although I still wish someone younger had been cast. that’s not just this show though, it’s more of in general I wish Hollywood would actually cast teens.
      thanks for commenting ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  8. You’re comparing the actual age of the actor with the actual age of the character. No where in the show was stated that this Darkling is 38 years old and Alina 17. She definitely doesn’t look 17 to me and the Darkling doesn’t look 38 either.
    I prefer mature actors for the villain’s roles. and Ben Barnes did a good job. The only problem I have is the looks. He was supposed to have black hair and grey eyes but the actor has brown hair and black eyes!

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