Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Pride Month Spotlight: Wylan From Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse

Welcome to the latest installment of our 2022 Pride Month Series! Each day in the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQIA+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQIA+ community and in mainstream media. Today’s spotlight is on a character that hails from author Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, Wylan.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Grishaverse novels up through ‘Rule of Wolves’.

When Kaz Brekker is presented with the deal of a lifetime from merchant Jan Van Eck in the novel Six of Crows, the leader of the Dregs can hardly turn down the offer. If he can manage to rescue the scientist Bo Yul-Bayur from Fjerda, he’ll be 30 million kruge richer. In order to pull off a statistically impossible heist at one of the most impenetrable places in the world, he’ll need a carefully selected team. The team in question ends up consisting of thief of secrets Inej Ghafa, sharpshooter Jesper Fahey, Grisha Nina Zenik, Fjerdan Matthias Helvar, and, much to the surprise of the others — Wylan Hendriks.

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While they’ll no doubt need a demolitions expert on their journey, the young boy with ruddy gold hair wasn’t exactly who the rest of the team was expecting. Kaz is quick to defend his choice, because there’s always a method to Brekker’s madness. He eventually reveals to the others that while the boy may not be on Raske’s demo level, his real name is Wylan Van Eck. Utilizing the estranged son of Jan Van Eck is Kaz’s seemingly foolproof insurance plan to ensure that the payment portion of their mission doesn’t go sideways (although that sentiment … does not age well). Wylan had also been to the Ice Court for an embassy dinner with his father, which meant he could help Matthias create blueprints.

The story behind how Wylan went from his comfortable life as the child of a rich merchant to someone fighting to survive life in the Barrel remained a mystery to the others at first. Inej received conflicting intel about his past, sharing with Jesper that he had perhaps been caught in a sweaty romp with one of his tutors. She also noted that his father wrote to him every week, though Wylan never opened the letters. When Wylan popped up in the slums of Ketterdam, despite going by his mother’s maiden name to disguise his identity, he made his way onto Kaz’s all-seeing radar. Knowing that having a merchant’s son in his back pocket would come in handy, Kaz sent Jesper to the tannery where Wylan was working at to recruit him for the Dregs.

As the Crows began their mission, there was a stark contrast between the hardened survival skills of the others versus Wylan’s soft nature; his hands were born to make art and play music, not to fight.

“They hadn’t even left Ketterdamn, and Wylan already seemed completely out of his depth. He wasn’t much younger than Kaz, but somehow he looked like a child — smooth-skinned, wide-eyed, like a silk-eared puppy in a room full of fighting dogs.”

‘Six of Crows’

Slowly but surely, even with the odds stacked against him, Wylan managed to hold his own and earned his place among the six. Even as early as the ambush on the docks, Jesper was impressed with his quick thinking when Wylan used a flash bomb to save them.

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Jesper takes to calling Wylan “merchling,” and despite the exasperated, teasing way that he communicates with him — “Jesper had been stuck somewhere between the desire to taunt the little merchling into another blush and the urge to flirt him into a quiet corner just to see what might happen” — a slow burn steadily blossoms between the two throughout Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. Although they spent plenty of time beating around the bush (what with their lives on the line and such), the attraction between the two was instantly a mutual affair from the moment that they met, with Jesper wanting to kiss him right then and there in the tannery, and Wylan observing the other boy’s “most perfectly shaped lips.”

During the aforementioned incident at the docks, Jesper didn’t think twice about flirting with him in the heat of battle as he called out, “You can’t kiss me from down there, Wylan.” Their ill-timed flirtations continued on throughout the heist, with Jesper often reducing Wylan to a blushing mess with forward comments like, “Stop being dense. You’re cuter when you’re smart.” When they were attempting the nearly impossible tasking of breaking through the chain links for the gate, Jesper suggested, “If only you could talk to girls in equations,” and Wylan’s casual response was, “Just girls?” Jesper internally lamented what a shame it was that they may not make it out of the heist alive as he said, “No. Not just girls” — a casual confirmation of the compatibility of their individual sexualities. This would be brought up again later when Jesper jokingly threatened to tell Matthias that Wylan kissed Nina … and then corrected himself by saying he’d tell Nina that Wylan tried to kiss Matthias.

The true tragedy of Wylan’s character would later be revealed — he hadn’t been kicked out of his house after an illicit affair with his tutor. Rather, Jan Van Eck absolutely despised his son because, despite his intelligence, he was unable to read. One day, he told Wylan that he was sending him away to a music school (for “as long as it takes people to forget I had a son”), but in reality, his father had tricked him; he tried to have him killed on the way there to completely erase him from his life and prevent him from inheriting the Van Eck empire. Wylan narrowly escaped the attempted murder, scraping out a life for himself in the Barrel in the aftermath, and the letters that Van Eck sent him were not sentimental but rather a way of cruelly taunting him.

Jesper and Wylan’s relationship continued to grow stronger throughout Crooked Kingdom. Wylan notably accompanied Jesper to meet with his father, and Jesper then joined Wylan on his shocking visit to his mother’s grave (in which he found out that she was still alive and locked in an asylum, courtesy of Jan Van Eck). Unable to resist his feelings any longer, Jesper finally propositioned Wylan when his emotions were running high after a fight with his father.

Unfortunately, thanks to the fact that Wylan was stuck wearing Kuwei Yul-Bo’s face after Nina’s jurda parem-induced tailoring, Jesper discovered that he had accidentally kissed Kuwei. Wylan was hurt and offended when he found the two of them, but soon after, Genya tailored Wylan to look like himself again, and the two boys finally acted upon their undeniable feelings for one another.

“Jesper’s mind emptied. He wasn’t thinking of what had happened before or what might happen next. There was only the reality of Wylan’s mouth, the press of his lips, then the fine bones of his neck, the silky feels of his curls as Jesper cupped his nape and drew him nearer. This was the kiss he’d been waiting for. It was a gunshot. It was a prairie fire. It was the spin of Makker’s Wheel. Jesper felt the pounding of his heart — or was it Wylan’s? — like a stampede in his chest, and the only thought in his head was a happy, startled, Oh.”

‘Crooked Kingdom’

Although the journey to get there was unforgiving, and not everyone made it out alive, Wylan and Jesper found their happy ending at the end of Crooked Kingdom. Much to the dismay of Jan Van Eck, Wylan inherited everything from his father after all. Jesper told the furious merchant that he would be the one to read to Wylan (to help him in his handling of the estate). When Wylan then asked him if he meant it, if he would really stay with him, Jesper happily obliged. Later, in the second book in the King of Scars duology, Rule of Wolves, Wylan and Jesper are found living a (mostly) peaceful life of domesticity (besides being recruited for yet another mission by Kaz) in the elegant mansion, accompanied by Wylan’s now-free mother as well.

Over the course of the Six of Crows duology, Bardugo takes cares to give each of her characters ample character development inside and out, and Wylan Van Eck is no exception. His story is a gripping, triumphant tale of a boy that survives a painful, unloving upbringing and eventually discovers the found family that he deserves. He finds romantic happiness along the way with Jesper, a person that embraces his “unexpected courage” and “wide-eyed, generous way of looking at the world.” Even when everything else is falling apart around them, the two continuously support one another unconditionally without judgment. And most importantly of all, Wylan grows tremendously as a person as he works alongside the Crows, learning that he’s capable of so much more than Jan Van Eck could ever fathom.

The Grishaverse has been adapted into a Netflix series, Shadow and Bone. The story takes place during Bardugo’s first trilogy, but the timeline was modified to insert the Crows into the mix as well (albeit with a different story). Five of them appeared in season 1, and the upcoming second season will see the long-awaited introduction of Wylan, who will be portrayed by Jack Wolfe. Jesper may have had a brief tumble with a stable hand in the first season (read our show-centric Jesper Pride article from 2021 here), but it’s safe to assume that his thoughts will soon be occupied by someone else entirely when Wylan comes into the picture.

Stay tuned for more from the 2022 edition of our annual Pride Month Spotlight!

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