The Women of Netflix’s Shadow and Bone Deserve All the Praise and Then Some
They deserve to be celebrated every day and twice on Sunday's.
*Spoilers ahead for season one of Shadow and Bone*
Netflix’s Shadow and Bone has done something that rarely happens in TV shows when it comes to women and their characters. They’ve made me fall in love with all of them in their own unique way by making them multi-faceted people that carry their own weight and that are integral to the story being told. It’s a tall order and one that I didn’t think this show could manage. So I enjoyed being pleasantly surprised that not only did I love Alina; I loved Inej, Nina, Zoya, Genya, and Baghra in their own way.
Since I can’t control myself when it comes to this show and I’ve got feelings for all these women, I’ve decided to talk about all of them. From the hero destined for greatness to the young woman seeking revenge and justice for what has been done to her and her people, each of these characters defy expectations and have made me a fan of every single one of these characters and their actresses. And if this is the push you need to watch Shadow and Bone, then so be it.
Alina Starkov, portrayed by Jessie Mei Li
Alina is more than the hero of this story. She’s a young woman who finds herself through the perilous journey that is thrust upon her. Yes, she stumbles in the beginning; trying to find where she fits in now that everything is all of a sudden new and different because of her powers and status. But what matters is that she gets up every single time and learns from her mistakes.
A huge part of her journey is woven in with that of Mal and General Kirigan. The former is her long-time best friend and confidant. And the latter is a tempting and mysterious man on a new leg of her life. But she isn’t defined by them or only focused on them and what they mean to her. She’s got bigger and crazier stuff to deal with and she will not drown in anyone as she’s finding herself.
Alina’s transformation from the beginning of Shadow and Bone to the end is one hard-fought and that shows how much this young woman has learned about herself and the world. She has the power inside of herself to take on the darkness around her. And it doesn’t matter what others think of her, because she knows her value and the lengths she’s willing to fight for herself and others.
Inej Ghafa, portrayed by Amita Suman
Inej is the treasure of my heart. (If you know, you know.) Seriously, I would follow her to the ends of the Earth and would have no problem with it. Why? Because Inej defies the expectations of those around her at every turn. And what we’re left with is a young woman who hasn’t lost who she despite the things that have happened to her. That right there is strength and I need more of it.
This woman is steeped in danger, intrigue, and did I mention danger? I did. Well, maybe it needs to be said twice when it comes to Inej. Because our girl does not back down. Even when things get hard, even when she needs to push herself to lengths she’s never experienced before, she keeps fighting her way through it all because she knows her worth and the value of her skills.
Her relationship with the other Crows, particularly Kaz and Jesper, also help shape who she is as a character on this show. Jesper is her brother, one she never asked for but that has her back no matter what. And Kaz, well, he’s the one person who believes in her everything. Together they form this family that is unexpected, but worthwhile, with Inej as the heart.
Nina Zenik, portrayed by Danielle Galligan
Nina is by far one of my favorite women characters from Shadow and Bone. She’s flirty, fun, and isn’t taking anything sitting down. And this is what I learned from her in the first couple of minutes of seeing her on this show and right as she was taking on Fjerdans like nothing. I’m telling you, she’s a woman after my heart and she stole it completely.
Even when she was captured, she would not back down and I loved it. Because from her point of view, aka the only one that matters to Nina at that moment, she wasn’t chained up. Matthias was, by a country that made him believe that Grisha were evil witches who needed to be put to trial and killed. For Nina this was just an inconvenience until she could set herself free.
The adventure that follows with Matthias sees Nina continuing to be the person she’s always known herself to be. She isn’t delicate, breakable, or a maiden needing of rescuing. Nina is her own hero, who will give those around her a chance to prove themselves to her. Because with Nina, you earn her respect, admiration, and loyalty. And honestly, I want that. Who wouldn’t?
Zoya, portrayed by Sujaya Dasgupta
I’m not going to lie, it took me a long time to warm up to Zoya. Like a really really long time. After all, she played the mean girl for the majority of the show and acted as the antagonist out to make Alina’s life a living hell. And that is legit my least favorite trope when it comes to women who are opposing sides or don’t get along.
The further along we got with her story, the more that I could tell that she was manipulated by the Darkling. She wasn’t the first and she’s definitely not going to be the last. And he played her like a fiddle to think that she was the most powerful and influential Grisha in the Little Palace. His throwing over of her for Alina made her feel abandoned and that’s why she lashed out at Alina.
Was it healthy? No. Do we understand? Yes.
Then there’s what she did in “No Mourners.” Here she was, faced with the reality that the man that she had decided to follow just callously killed an entire group of people, including her family. And instead of abiding it it, she defied the Darkling and helped our heroes—setting her on the beginning of a journey that will define who she is as a woman and as a Grisha.
Genya Safin, portrayed by Daisy Head
Genya is a complex character. She isn’t like Zoya, who was entitled and mean in the beginning but ended up doing what’s right when it came down to it. Genya started off as kind and considerate. She was there to help Alina acclimate to her life in the Little Palace and quickly became a friend to our Sun Summoner. Then reality came around.
Alina’s new friend was under the order of General Kirigan to befriend her as a means of keeping our heroine docile. And it worked because Alina had stopped fighting her new life as Grisha. Instead, Alina accepted it and bonded even more with Genya to the point where they were sharing truly heartbreaking stories of their past with each other.
That’s always an indicator that the bond forged is strong.
The revelation that this was all about revenge against the King and Queen left my head spinning. That means that we still haven’t seen who the real Genya is. And given a second season, I’d love to see who she is when she’s not playing the part as a perfect Grisha. Because this woman has drive. All she needs is a bit more freedom and she’ll find her direction.
Baghra, portrayed by Zoë Wanamaker
It isn’t easy being the mother of the Darkling, especially when he puts the entirety of their people on his shoulders and in danger as a means of getting what he wants from the world: power. This power changed the Darkling and emphasized what was already there. And watching that while knowing that you created this life, well, it’s got to be shocking.
Stepping up to her own son and helping Alina escape is Baghra’s way of atoning for the times that she sat back and did nothing while her son planned to destroy the world and expand the Fold. That doesn’t erase all the years that Baghra watched on in silence. But it does set her on a new path that is no longer defined by her son.
She’s her own woman. And now that the Darkling is presumably dead, she has an opportunity to rediscover herself and see where she fits into the world besides being the Darkling’s training lackey. Her journey is even more interesting because she’s the oldest of the group, something we don’t see often enough in fantasy but that we desperately need to see more of on our screens.
Shadow and Bone is now available on Netflix.
(image: David Appleby/Netflix)
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