Book spoilers are ahead. There's plenty to love about Shadow and Bone, but one of the most engaging and entertaining things it has to offer is its reinvention of the classic YA love triangle. Not only does the show reinvent Mal (Archie Renaux) from cold-hearted hunk to pure love interest of the year, but it also adds layers of consent and consideration into Alina (Jessie Mei Li) and General Kirigan's (Ben Barnes) romantic entanglement. If you're wondering just who ends up with who in Leigh Bardugo's brilliant Grishaverse series — and don't want to dive into a seven book marathon to find out — then you've come to the right place. Not only will we answer that biggest of all questions, but we're also going to talk about the other man in Alina's life, the sexy royal scourge of the seas known as Nikolai Lantsov.
Just like in the show, the original setup of Mal and Alina's relationship is relatively simple: raised together in an orphanage, the pair end up serving in the Ravkan army together. But whereas in Netflix's epic adaptation they're best buds who realize they love each other, in the books Mal is far more like the rude older friend of your brother's that you had a crush on even though he was a total jerk to you. His biggest romantic crimes include regularly boasting about his conquests to Alina, ignoring his alleged best friend, and being incredibly cold to her after she left to go to the Little Palace. It got so bad that book fans took to calling him the Malfunction, which was not uncalled for. But Renaux and the writing team led by showrunner Eric Heisserer have gone to great lengths to make Mal into a hero you can root for. That's lucky for newly minted Shadow and Bone stans because it's Mal who Alina ends up with at the end of the Shadow and Bone books.
Before they get there, though, there are two other contenders for Alina's heart. The most obvious is General Kirigan, who in the books is known as the Darkling. His mentorship of Alina and promises of power immediately bond the two, although as you'll know if you've already watched the show, he has ulterior motives. In its original form, it was another pretty toxic love interest for Alina with the Darkling manipulating the young woman at his will and want. That's why many readers ended up turning to another man for their shipping needs and that would be the aforementioned Nikolai. We first meet him in the second Shadow and Bone book, Siege and Storm, under his alias as the Privateer Sturmhond. Kind, brave, and a man of the people, the pirate is actually the younger Prince of Ravka, and offers Alina his hand in marriage after they meet in the pursuit of another mythical Grisha amplifier.
Nikolai is one of the few good men in the original trilogy, and when held up against both book Mal and the Darkling, he seems too good to be true. He's honest, thoughtful, wealthy, and kind. He's also a good person outside of the way that he treats Alina. And thanks to how beloved he is, he'll certainly be part of the yet to be announced second season if it happens.
Ultimately, though, Mal and Alina are endgame. After three books of will they or won't they, Alina's dalliance with the Darkling, and near-engagement to Nikolai, the pair end up together running the old orphanage where they grew up in Keramzin. It's their version of a happy ending after a trilogy filled with war, darkness, and death, especially as the pair are both thought to be dead by most of Ravka. So they get to find a semblance of peace and privacy after saving the world and beating the Darkling together on the banks of the Fold.