Standards and Growth

2021 Apr 21, 2021

Here there be Shadow and Bone trilogy spoilers...

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that the Shadow and Bone show drops on Netflix this Friday. And while there's plenty of excitement, one thing many fans of the books are dreading is ship discourse. But what if the show fixed everything wrong with a certain character?

A disclaimer before I begin. Yes, I have read the books. My views on a certain villain aside, I don't ship Alina with anyone. Team Alina alone; those men did not deserve her. This post will get into why, but that's not the main point, so please bear with me. I'm not trying to take down anyone's ship.

The certain character in question is one Malyen Oretsev, aka Mal. In my opinion, he's not a great guy. Yes, he's a teenage dude, and he's allowed to make mistakes. But there are specific mistakes when it came to Alina that really turned me off from shipping them (malina, as it's known).

A few details that really put me off:


-He can't stand the thought of Alina happy unless it's with him
-Makes decisions for her
-Gets mad that she stiffened when he went to kiss her. It wasn't even because of him but he wouldn't hear out her explanation
-Kisses Zoya basically as payback for that
-Wants her without her power, rather than loving/accepting her for who she is
-In essence, she's had feelings for him this whole time, but he does nothing about it until he sees her powerful and with another man. But also, he wants her the way she was before all that happened

Now let's step back for a moment. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo was originally published in the summer of 2012. Nearly a decade ago! A lot has changed since then regarding what we deem acceptable as a society. Especially when it comes to diversity for BIPOC, disability, LGBT, mental health, etc. rep. But one of the lesser championed changes in standards is toxic masculinity and relationship expectations.

The reasons I don't like Mal are the perfect example of this. If you take the behavior out of a fantasy setting, it's inexcusable. Why would you want to be with someone that feels inferior and makes it your problem, gets upset when you're uncomfortable, and think they know what's best for you when they couldn't be more wrong? Sure, a domineering and assertive partner can be attractive in certain situations, but it gets toxic fast when it pervades the entire relationship.

Mal seems like a great option when you consider that her other possible love interests are 1. a literal villain with no redemption or 2. someone that's flirty but doesn't actually love her. When put against those guys, it's easy to gloss over his behavior and say he's the best choice for Alina.

But in today's lens, his faults are more egregious. Alina can do better! Which is why I hope that the show does, in fact, make Mal better. I think if this book were written in 2021, Mal wouldn't be quite so controlling and toxic. And while it would be nice for the show to keep him true to character, it adds nothing for him to behave that way, especially since there's not really any growth for him in that regard. He quite literally gets exactly what he wanted all along.

Alina didn't want to give up her power and, in the end, she still had to. And of course, Mal got the girl. He didn't really have a lot to learn in that regard. The show could really take advantage of this by giving him some growth and reflection, even if they decide to take a different direction with the ending of the series.

Take this excerpt from Siege and Storm:

“I can’t go back!” I screamed, not caring who heard me. “Even if you take away this collar and the sea whip’s scales, you can’t carve this power out of me.”
“And what if I could? Would you let it go? Would you give it up?”
“Never.”

What does he gain from carving the power out of her? Why does he want her to give up something in order to be with him? Mal has this problem where he doesn't want to accept the person Alina has become, which ignores her growth. The TV show has the unique opportunity to turn these issues into growth of his own or remove them completely if they don't add value to the plot or character.

Of course, not all adaptations stay true to the books even regarding ships. Take TV adaptations like The 100 or Pretty Little Liars, which went as far as to create new characters instead of following cannon. This means we're not guaranteed the same malina endgame, but regardless of that, Mal plays a big part in the show, being her only family. His growth and attitude towards Alina and her powers will be pivotal to the plot. It will be interesting to see what direction and life Eric Heisserer (showrunner) and Archie Renaux (portraying Mal) bring to the character.

This is all hopes and speculation. We'll know more when season one becomes available to stream on Netflix, but there's only so much that can happen in eight episodes. We can only hope they adapt the entire series, both Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows, and that they do them justice. But sometimes, doing justice means improving upon their flaws, and that's exactly what I hope to see in the TV series.

Shadow and Bone is a Netflix Original Series based on the books by Leigh Bardugo. Season one available April 23rd. Synopsis: Sinister forces plot against a young soldier after she reveals a magical power that may unite her world. All promotional images property of Netflix.

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