The Netflix original series Shadow and Bone, based on the trilogy by Leigh Bardugo and its spin-off Six of Crows, is a supernatural fantasy mixed with a touch of the heist genre. It’s also a romance imbued with longing and unspoken feelings that sweep the plot forward into the best friends to lovers trope due to Alina and Mal, otherwise known as Malina.
When season 1 of Shadow and Bone begins, the two best friends have been separated from each other because they’re a part of different companies in the Ravkan First army: Mal is a tracker and Alina is a mapmaker. However, they’re immediately reunited, and their connection fissures to life with their fond smiles and physicality.
Alina has feelings for Mal, and it’s clear that he returns the sentiment despite the both of them tip-toeing around the obvious. However, their timing is awful. Their inability to tell each other how they feel ends up being last on the list of their problems when Mal is selected to go into The Shadow Fold and Alina isn’t.
Her decision to tip the scales of fate in her own direction by getting herself and, unfortunately, her division assigned to the Fold so Mal won’t be going in without her, changes Alina’s life entirely.
Malina is Shadow and Bone’s core relationship
A Volcra attack unleashes Alina’s powers, flooding the Fold with light and crowning her as the Sun Summoner before the eyes of Grisha and non-Grisha alike. It’s an action that rips her and Mal from each other’s side and puts them on different paths.
Mal is left behind as Alina’s world becomes dependent on the Grisha at the Little Palace including the mysterious General Kirigan. The two yearn for one another, each writing letters trying to stay in touch and explain how they’re feeling.
Unbeknownst to them, their messages are being blocked. Forcing a rift that takes Mal on a dangerous mission to track Morozova’s Stag in the hopes of being reunited with Alina, and pushes Alina into the Darkling’s embrace.
The Shadow and Bone writers, along with the actors Jessie Mei Li and Archie Renaux, do an excellent job establishing the depth of Malina’s relationship. History bleeds into every word of dialogue. It’s in their faces, the comfortable way they touch, and the simmering desperation to get back to one another.
A big part of the series is dedicated not only to how these two feel about the other but also how that’s shaped them as people. Malina are both each other’s home and true north. The slow reveal of the lengths Alina went to keep her life on the same path as Mal’s is imbued with such a rush of love.
To see that be manipulated and strained by General Kirigan and, to a large extent, Genya was heart-wrenching, even though it led to Alina finally being able to access and control her powers. Mal, however, never gave up on her and winds up tracking Alina down once she’s fled the Little Palace after becoming privy to Kirigan’s dark past and his future plans for her.
Mal found the stag, but the Darkling doesn’t intend to use it to bring the Fold down. No, he wants to use its power as an amplifier and Alina to control the Fold. It’s a plan Malina are forced into with Kirigan making Alina choose between the stag’s life or Mal’s. The choice is obvious and, in making it, Kirigan binds Alina’s powers to his and puts her under his control.
The loss of autonomy at this moment along with her agency pushes what feelings Alina was developing for Kirigan out of the realm of possibility. Though she’s able to break free of Kirigan’s control–with the help of Mal, the Crows, and Zoya– it’s not before he has wreaked havoc using her to do it.
Shadow and Bone season 2 could see the rise of Malina now that the two are traveling by each other’s sides. Before Kirigan and his Grisha found them in the woods, Malina had the tentative beginnings of a romance brewing as their separation put into perspective just how deeply they feel for one another.
Though, we suspect, the two will also be dealing with the trauma surrounding the events that unfolded in season 1. Mal lost his two best friends, outside of Alina, in his mission to find the Stag.
Alina was used by Kirigan, a man she’d started building a relationship with that turned out to have a foundation of lies, and she’s expected to be the savior and saint of an entire nation primarily full of people who hate or dismiss her for being a Ravkan young woman with Shu heritage.
But, strengthened by their bond, Malina are prepared to go through what comes next together as they’ve always done.