Like any YA fantasy series worth its salt, Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy (the inspiration for Netflix’s Shadow and Bone TV show) features a compelling love triangle that divides the fandom. Alina Starkov, our Grisha heroine, is charged not only with saving her country, but also choosing between two very handsome men. Standing to one side is her fellow First Army soldier and best friend since childhood, Malyen “Mal” Oretsev, whom she’s had a monster crush on for awhile. On her other side is the charismatic leader of the Grisha Army, the Darkling, whose immense power calls to Alina’s like a siren song. Both suitors have their appeal, but which one has her heart? You have to read Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising to find out.
Or DO you?! Maybe not. Because I get it—sometimes you need to know how the love triangle is going to end BEFORE starting a series, whether it’s the books or TV show. That’s the only surefire way to guard yourself against investing too heavily in a doomed relationship. With that in mind, allow me to answer this one burning question…
Do Alina and Mal end up together in Shadow and Bone?
The shorter, less spoiler-y answer: They do, and good for them!
Even before the Darkling comes into their lives like a wrecking ball, Alina and Mal have had a rough go of it. Raised as orphans dependent on the goodwill of a benevolent duke, they grow up with only each other for comfort and companionship. Adulthood doesn’t bring any relief, either, because they immediately get drafted into the First Army. So when Alina taps into her Grisha power for the first time to save Mal, drawing the attention of the Darkling, it’s just one more stroke of bad luck. Suddenly their lives go from bad to worse, and it’s up to them to save the world. (Well, okay, Alina has to try to save the world; Mal is just trying to save her.) Only after that is done can they finally achieve their dream to “meet in the meadow” and live out a quiet life together. But you know what? They make it happen! And when they do, you can’t help but be absolutely thrilled (and relieved) for them.
The longer, more spoiler-filled answer: Yep, they do. Aside from a short-lived infatuation with the Darkling, Alina makes it pretty clear that she wants Mal and only Mal throughout the book series, and the show seems to be on the same track. Alina and Mal are literally destined to be together, and as it turns out, not even the Darkling can keep them apart. Hooray!
Raised side-by-side as fellow orphans on their benefactor’s estate, Alina Starkov and Malen Ortsev could only count on each other for most of their lives. Then the Darkling comes along and messes with their heads, whisking the newly discovered Sun Summoner off to the Little Palace and preventing her letters from ever reaching Mal, which in turn makes Mal think she has forgotten all about him. It’s cruel, yet that’s only the start of the trials they must face in order to reunite and finally admit their less-than-platonic feelings for each other. Saving the world has to come first, I think we can all agree.
When the pair are back together, though, it’s like no time has passed. And while it may at first seem like their relationship lacks the (dark) magic of Darklina, a major twist in the story reveals that Malina are in fact an even more powerful pairing. It turns out Mal is descendant from the Darkling’s family line, and he has his own essential part to play in the battle of good vs. evil they’re waging. His abilities, as a human amplifier of others’ magical abilities, is not as flashy as the Darkling’s, but it’s hugely important. Mal can boost Alina’s sun summoner powers to the point where she, and only she, can defeat the Darkling. Which is exactly what they do, working together as they were always meant to do.
In the aftermath of the brutal battle, Alina and Mal make a new life for themselves, and readers can catch glimpses of it in later Grisha books, including King of Scars and Rule of Wolves. I, for one, dearly hope the Shadow and Bone TV series gives them an equally peaceful send-off before they get sucked back into the fight. We shall see!
If you ship Mal/Alina, I bet you’ll also love the unforgettable couples in these 3 YA fantasy book series.