Since debuting on Netflix in April, fantasy series Shadow and Bone has already taken the world by storm – in no small part due to the extremely likeable cast charged with bringing Leigh Bardugo’s characters to life.
The series stars a number of relative newcomers, including Jessie Mei Li as main character Alina Starkov, alongside some more established actors, such as Westworld’s Ben Barnes and My Family’s Zoë Wanamaker.
Given that these characters – all of whom originate from Bardugo’s popular Grishaverse novels – were already extremely popular, there was a lot of pressure on the cast. But the reaction from fans has been very positive so far.
Read on for everything you need to know about the characters and the actors playing them.
Jessie Mei Li plays Alina Starkov
Who is Alina Starkov? At the start of the series, Alina is a shy young orphan who works as a mapmaker in the Ravkan army. But, when she is sent on a mission to cross the Shadow Fold, she unleashes an unbeknownst power that changes everything – and reveals her to be the one of the most powerful Grisha who has ever lived. She is then sent to the capital Os Alta, where she will be trained under the guidance of General Kirigan. In the series, Alina is half-Shu – a change that was made from the books.
What else has Jessie Mei Li been in? This is Mei Li’s biggest screen role to date – although she did appear in the 2019 West End production of All About Eve alongside Gillian Anderson and Lily James. She will also star in the upcoming Edgar Wright film Last Night in Soho.
Ben Barnes plays General Kirigan/The Darkling
Who is General Kirigan? General Kirigan, also known as the Darkling, is the head of the Grisha Army and is a mysterious, powerful figure. He is the only person capable of summoning darkness and has become a deeply isolated figure – until he meets Alina, who he takes under his wing.
What else has Ben Barnes been in? Barnes is no stranger to big-budget fantasy, having first shot to prominence as Prince Caspian in The Chronicles of Narnia film series. He’s also starred as Logan Delos on Westworld and Billy Russo/Jigsaw in The Punisher, while he played the role of Benjamin Greene on the 2019 BBC One drama Gold Digger.
Freddy Carter plays Kaz Brekker
Who is Kaz? Kaz is a member of the Dregs, otherwise known as the Crows – a street gang in Ketterdam. He is the leader of the group, and something of a criminal mastermind, which has made the Crows one of the biggest and most ambitious gangs around. He is sometimes known as Dirtyhands thanks to his willingness to take on any job or mission regardless of how dangerous it might be.
What else has Freddy Carter been in? This will be Carter’s biggest role to date – although he did star as Peter “Pin” Hawthorne on the Netflix drama Free Rein and its two spin-off films. He’s also appeared in three episodes of Pennyworth and had a very minor role in Wonder Woman.
Amita Suman plays Inej Ghafa
Who is Inej? Inej is another member of the Crows, and serves as Kaz’s right-hand woman. She is a trained acrobat of Suli background and is a master spy, with incredible reflexes and knife skills – earning her the nickname The Wraith. Despite her daring nature, she has a strong moral compass, and if ever there is a task that she feels crosses the line, she is unwilling to take it on.
What else has Amita Suman been in? Amita Suman‘s most prominent role so far is playing Naya in the CW fantasy series The Outpost, while she also had a major role in the Doctor Who series 11 episode Demons of the Punjab as Umbreen.
Kit Young plays Jesper Fahey
Who is Jesper? Sharpshooter Jesper is the Dregs’ resident maverick – always up for a joke and prone to the odd gambling binge. When he needs to be relied on, however, he often delivers: he’s famed for his near-perfect aim no matter what the circumstance. He is also secretly a Durast (a form of Grisha), but a childhood trauma stops him from using his powers.
What else has Kit Young been in? This will be by some distance Young’s most high-profile screen credit to date. He previously appeared in one episode of Endeavour in 2019, and also has several major stage credits to his name including playing Lysander in a West End production of Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Archie Renaux plays Malyen “Mal” Oretsev
Who is Mal? Mal grew up in the same orphanage as Alina and has been her long-term best friend, but is separated from her after she is sent away to Os Olta. He is a gifted soldier and is determined to keep his friendship with Alina alive even after they have gone down separate paths.
What else has Archie Renaux been in? Like his Shadow and Bone co-star Ben Barnes, Archie starred in BBC One drama Gold Digger in 2019, playing Leo Day. He’s also appeared in one episode of Hanna and has been cast in the upcoming films Voyagers and Morbius.
Danielle Galligan plays Nina Zenik
Who is Nina? A Ravkan Heartrender who now lives in Ketterdam and has been known to work with the Dregs, Nina is a loyal and compassionate person – but can also be ruthless when required. She was previously captured by Matthias Helvar while carrying out a mission.
What else has Danielle Galligan been in? Galligan appeared in one episode of the final season of Game of Thrones in 2019, while she’s also appeared in two episodes each of Krypton and Cold Courage. She also has a wealth of stage credits to her name, primarily in Dublin.
Daisy Head plays Genya Safin
Who is Genya? Genya is one of the Palace Grisha and is placed in charge of shaping appearances. She quickly becomes one of Alina’s best friends and allies in the palace, and is staunchly loyal to the Grisha cause.
What else has Daisy Head been in? Head made her small-screen debut at the age of 15, appearing alongside her father Anthony in an episode of the ITV series Rose and Maloney. She’s since had main roles in a string of series including US drama Guilt, ITV drama Girlfriends and the third series of both The Syndicate and Harlots.
Sujaya Dasgupta plays Zoya Nazyalensky
Who is Zoya? Zoya is a powerful Grisha Squaller who has the ability to create storms and does not get on well with Alina – in part because she is jealous of the attention she has been receiving from the Darkling.
What else has Sujaya Dasgupta been in? Dasgupta previously starred alongside Shadow and Bone co-star Daisy Head in seven episodes of Guilt, while she had a recurring role in Casualty in 2018, was part of the cast for BBC One drama Press the same year, and was in one episode of I May Destroy You last year.
Calahan Skogman plays Matthias Helvar
Who is Matthias? A Fjerdan Drüskelle soldier and Grisha-hunter, Matthias captured Nina because his people are suspicious of witchcraft and believe that all Grisha should be destroyed, however, he now resides in a Ketterdam prison. On the surface, he is uptight and not the friendliest, but there’s a softer side to him as well.
What else has Calahan Skogman been in? Shadow and Bone will be Skogman’s first major role – he’s previously only appeared in a handful of shorts and the 2019 film Blood Puppet! Christmas ’94.
Zoë Wanamaker plays Baghra
Who is Baghra? Aside from General Kirigan, Baghra is the only other Dark Grisha left in the world, while she also serves as Alina’s teacher when she arrives at the palace.
What else has Zoë Wannamaker been in? One of the more recognisable faces in the cast, Wanamaker is best known for her roles as Susan Harper in My Family and Madam Hooch in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Other film roles have included Wilde, My Week with Marilyn while on the small screen she’s starred in Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Mr Selfridge, and Girlfriends in addition to BAFTA-nominated turns in Prime Suspect and Love Hurts. She’s also starred extensively on stage, garnering numerous nominations at both the Olivier Awards and the Tonys.
Luke Pasqualino plays David Kostyk
Who is David? David is a Durast who has the ability to manipulate metal, and specialises in research and development. He is the brains behind the second army.
What else has Luke Pasqualino been in? Pasqualino may still be familiar to viewers for his breakout role as Freddie McClair on Skins, while he has since starred as D’Artagnan in The Musketeers and as Elvis Harte in Our Girl. He’s also been a guest star on both Inside No.9 and Death in Paradise and had a supporting role in Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 film Snowpiercer.
Howard Charles plays The Conductor
Who is The Conductor? This character doesn’t actually appear in Bardugo’s novels, but was introduced solely for the series. His real name is Arken Visser and he is a smuggler, who has previously come to the aid of many Grisha – helping them escape military service by crossing the fold in a special train. He also sometimes goes rogue, most clearly when he attempts to assassinate Alina after agreeing to help the Crows capture her.
What else has Howard Charles been in? Charles’ most prominent credit to date is the role of Porthos in BBC One’s The Musketeers, in which he starred opposite Luke Pasqualino (making Shadow and Bone a mini-Musketeers reunion!). Last year Charles starred in three episodes of Alex Rider on Amazon Prime Video.
The cast also includes Kevin Eldon (Brass Eye) as The Apparat, Julian Kostov (A Discovery of Witches) as Fedyor Kaminsky, Simon Sears (Ride Upon the Storm) as Ivan, Gabrielle Brooks as Nadia Zhabin, Jasmine Blackborow as Marie, Angus Castle-Doughty as Mikhael, Caroline Boulton as Petya and Jimmy Clark as Tofin.
Want more show content? Here’s all of the major changes between the show and the Shadow and Bone books, our guide to where Shadow and Bone was filmed, or, if you’ve already completed series one, read our Shadow and Bone ending breakdown and whether there will be a Shadow and Bone season two.
Shadow and Bone is available to watch on Netflix. Check out our lists of the best series on Netflix and best movies on Netflix, or visit our TV Guide for something else to watch. For all things fantasy, visit our dedicated Fantasy hub.