It is easy to say that Malyen Oretsev was a far more likeable character in “Shadow and Bone” Season 2 than he ever was in the books. We recognize Malyen Oretsev because we all know someone like him. The jack of all trades and someone who can be a part of any group with a smile to die for. People love him, but there is always that one person who loves him more than others, and usually, it is from a distance. Alina was that person. She had been in love with Mal her entire life, but Mal had woken up to his feelings only after losing her not once but twice. The first time is when Alina’s powers are discovered, and she is taken away to the “Little Palace”, and the second time, in the books, is when they break up briefly, whereas in Season 2 of “Shadow and Bone”, it must be when he takes on the identity of Sturmhond and goes on the sea.
While we prefer the Mal we saw on screen, we cannot ignore that in the books, he had a more thorough and human journey. Love doesn’t mean that one doesn’t mind the sacrifices they did not know they would have to make. The books did a better job of depicting this, and maybe that is why we know and understand him more there, while seeing how much he cares for Alina and vice versa.
Mal has always been an easygoing person, and it would be fair to compare him to the most popular kid in the school. Alina, on the other hand, was the recluse. Years of subduing her power meant that her health was always weak and her appearance pale. She had loved Mal right from their childhood, and while he had been a good friend, he was too involved in his own world. In the books, Mal is quite popular with the ladies, whereas in the series, he pays Alina a lot more attention. One of the key differences between book Mal and season 1 Mal was that in the book, it was Mal who wanted to look for Morozova’s stag because he realized that they could not run from the Darkling forever and needed to be strong enough to face him. In the series, it was Alina who wanted it.
However, in Season 2 of “Shadow and Bone” they changed, or rather, edited, Mal’s character significantly. Once Mal knew that he loved Alina and would do anything to protect her, he found his own life taking a backseat. Due to his natural inclination as a tracker, Mal had always wanted to rise in the ranks of the army and build a life accordingly. Mal was an ambitious man, and before the development of the storyline, he had no reason to believe that he would not be as successful as he wanted to be. But after he deserted his post to help Alina escape from the Little Palace, there was no looking back for him.
Alina and Mal want to build a life together, and that is what they set out to do, but in the series, their first priority is finding the other amplifiers. But these are all still minor deviations because “Siege and Storm”, on which the first half of Season 2 of “Shadow and Bone” is based, showed us how Alina and Mal’s relationship really changed. When Mal found himself without the career of his dreams, he struggled to find a purpose for a while. He could not digest that he did not have something that wasn’t his own, and he was also not the top priority of the person he loved the most in the world.
The thing is, Alina has always been in that situation. Before she was discovered as the Sun Summoner, Alina had resigned herself to a mediocre life as a mapmaker since there wasn’t much else that she was good at. She had also gotten used to her one-sided love for Mal, never knowing if it would be reciprocated. But Mal had never been in such a situation before. Anything else he might do other than tracking, he wasn’t going to be the best at it. And as far as Alina was concerned, he never had to fight for her attention from people who were far more accomplished than he was. But the biggest thorn in his side was that he was looking at an Alina who relished her power instead of the Alina he knew before, who never had any. Nikolai makes pointed observations in the books, asking Mal to let go of his insecurities considering the circumstances.
By the way, Mal is a lot more possessive of Alina in the books, and even the Darkling has some fun with that. In fact, Mal and Alina briefly break up as well, as he is convinced that she has outgrown her love for him. But needless to say, he comes to his senses soon enough and realizes that his doubts and insecurities are not greater than his love for her, and he even comes back to being everything she wants and needs.
In Season 2 of “Shadow and Bone”, Mal was never a headache to Alina and was always by her side. But the question did arise as to what he would be without Alina. He leaves as the new Sturmhond to find the answer to this very question. We believe that in Season 3 of “Shadow and Bone”, we are going to see what we read about in “Siege and Storm”. It is Mal recalibrating his feelings for Alina to understand how he fits into his new roles since his tracking abilities have gone. We also expect to see some jealousy now that Alina and Nikolai are actually engaged to each other. Mal’s new relationship dynamic with Alina means that they don’t owe each other anything and can look at different pastures. It is going to be a journey for them as they discover whether they can come back to each other. Finally, Mal might also have something to do with the threat of the Darkling. Mal is Kirigan’s cousin, which means that he shares the Darkling’s blood. If Kirigan is to be resurrected, he might need some of that for himself. This could also mean combat with Nikolai, whose Nichevo’ya will try to protect Kirigan. This could either lead to very disastrous results or solve Nikolai’s problem altogether. Only the third season of “Shadow and Bone” will tell.