We need to talk about Inej in “Shadow and Bone.”

Hello, lovelies!

It is I, your favorite nitpicky, never-satisfied, hyper-critical, especially-when-it-comes-to-female-characters blogger … and I have Things to Say about Inej Ghafa in Netflix’s Shadow and Bone adaptation.

Before we go any further, let me be clear: this is not a critique of Amita Suman’s performance. Amita Suman is an acting goddess. She showed a deep understanding of Inej’s character, and threw every ounce of her energy into making Inej come to life onscreen. From the moment she slipped through the open window, removed her headscarf, and softly said, “Hello, Kaz,” I was ready to sell my soul to her. She was brilliant. โค

My complaints lie not with the acting, but with the writing. Not all of the writing, either! Some of Inej’s dialogue, even the non-canon stuff, was pretty darn good. But one specific choice the showrunners made bothered me tremendously, and I cannot rest easy until I’ve inflicted my botherations on my devoted followers. ๐Ÿ˜›

So here we go …

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The Shadow and Bone miniseries is based on the YA fantasy novels of Leigh Bardugo. Shadow and Bone combines characters from two different sets of Bardugo’s books, the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology, for an epic crossover adventure. Inej Ghafa hails from Six of Crows. A former sex slave turned deadly assassin, Inej is one of my favorite YA heroines, hands down. So it’s not surprising that I have #thoughts and #opinions about her portrayal in the show.

Because the Shadow and Bone trilogy takes place several years before Six of Crows, the SoC gang’s inclusion in the show is advertised as a prequel of sorts. “We’ll show you what these characters were like before you met them in the books!” Thus, the writers feel at liberty to make some significant changes to Kaz, Inej, and the others.

This is all fine and dandy … as long as the characters’ choices are consistent with their future selves (their “canon” or book selves). But if their choices contradict the people they later become–the people we book fans know them to be–we’ve got a problem.

In the books, Inej Ghafa, a former prostitute, works as a spy and assassin for Kaz Brekker, Ketterdam’s most feared mob boss. Kaz bought her contract from the brothel, and Inej is working to pay him back. Her goal is to earn her freedom so she can go on a mission to hunt sex traffickers.

In the show, Inej is still a former prostitute, and she still works for Kaz as a spy, but she refuses to serve as an assassin. In fact, she refuses to use lethal force, period. Her character arc is about overcoming her resistance to violence and making her first kills.

Shadow and Bone books vs Netflix series | What did they change? - Radio  Times

Now, in theory, and especially if you haven’t read the books, these two arcs could fit together, couldn’t they? A religious teenage girl becomes a ruthless assassin. She must’ve had some resistance to the idea of murder, right? How did she reconcile her personal beliefs with her actions?

Here’s why saddling Inej with a reluctance to kill doesn’t work in practice, though.

First, it makes her look naive. You have to understand, Inej Ghafa is one of the most heavily armed female characters in YA. She wears about a dozen concealed knives at any given time. Why? Because she’s an assassin! Those are the tools of her trade! In the TV show, Inej is still wearing about a dozen knives. In fact, there’s a scene where she removes her knives one by one and places them in a tray, so we can see exactly how many there are. We can also see how sharp they are. ๐Ÿ˜› It’s very difficult to reconcile those lethal weapons with Inej’s stated “non-violent” principles. You can’t tell me this girl is walking around the most dangerous city in the world, working for one of the most dangerous guys in the city, completely strapped, armed to the teeth … and somehow believing she won’t need to kill anyone. It just makes her look naive.

Inej Ghafa was sold into sex slavery at fourteen. She’s anything but naive. She knows how dirty and brutal Ketterdam is, and she knows what it takes to survive there. If you’ve made her look naive, you’ve fundamentally mischaracterized her.

Second, it weakens her self-reliance. Shadow and Bone establishes Inej’s aversion to violence by making her ask Jesper (another member of the gang) to kill someone FOR HER, since she doesn’t want to do it herself. Needless to say, this makes Jesper uncomfortable. It made me extremely uncomfortable while watching, because the Inej I know and love would never ask a man to do her “dirty work” for her. Inej relies on herself. She takes responsibility for her own actions, no matter what. Again, Inej knows what it takes to survive and thrive in the harsh environment of Ketterdam. She knows she’ll sometimes be called upon to kill. She doesn’t agonize over it, but rather, accepts it as a fact of life.

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Third, it shifts the focus away from Inej’s autonomy, and places the emphasis instead on her feelings for Kaz. In the show, Inej swears she will never take a life. So when she finally kills someone, it’s a big character moment for her. And why does she do it? To protect Kaz! Kaz is losing a fight, his opponent is about to stab him … until Inej throws a knife and kills the guy. It’s a spur of the moment decision, and she doesn’t really have much choice. It’s either stand by and do nothing, or save her best friend (and crush ;)) from being turned into chopped liver.

In the books, when Inej becomes a killer, there’s nothing hasty about it. Inej makes a calculated choice to accept Kaz Brekker’s job offer as a spy and assassin, in exchange for her freedom from sex slavery. Kaz hires her because he recognizes her talents and knows she’ll be an asset to his team. It doesn’t make sense for TV-Kaz to respect Inej’s scruples to the extent that he never asks her to kill. Kaz is a shrewd businessman who only pays for what he needs … and he needs a spy and an assassin.

In the books, Inej’s new job as an assassin comes as a relief, not a moral burden. She feels secure for the first time in years. She’s proud of her lethal abilities. She’s proud of being useful to Kaz. She’s proud of earning her freedom from prostitution, rather than simply being given it. Inej doesn’t want to be Kaz Brekker’s charity case or his pet victim. She is his valued employee, his partner in crime. Yes, part of her job is killing people, and yes, killing is immoral. But in this case, it’s also a young girl’s first steps toward reclaiming the autonomy that was so brutally stolen from her.

“You may still die in the Dregs.”

Inej’s dark eyes had glinted.

“I may. But I’ll die on my feet with a knife in my hand.”

Finally, it over-simplifies Inej’s complex religious beliefs. I think the Shadow and Bone writers assumed that because Inej is devoutly religious, she must be consumed with guilt over the violence she inflicts. But in the books … she really isn’t? Six of Crows tells us Inej “believed her Saints saw and understood the things she did to survive.” Crooked Kingdom gives us the marvelously raw line, “Innocence was a luxury, and Inej did not believe her Saints demanded it.” Inej has evolved a personal relationship with her faith which nurtures and sustains her in the harsh environment she finds herself in, rather than paralyzing her with guilt. It’s one of the most intriguing aspects of her character. I just wish the show hadn’t diluted it.

~~~~

I’ve talked a lot on this blog about agency for female characters. Agency doesn’t just mean letting characters make their own choices. The best kind of agency involves characters who make interesting and UNIQUE choices. Choices which set them apart from other characters. Choices which cut to the heart of who they really are.

The choice which Shadow and Bone presents Inej isn’t all that unique. In the show, Inej must choose between sticking to her moral principles and covering her friend’s back in a fight. The thing is–most characters would make the same choice she does. Most characters, no matter how scrupulous or squeamish or tender-hearted, would be willing to kill to save a loved one from Imminent Danger of Being Sliced in Half by Some Rando. Throwing that knife and rescuing Kaz doesn’t set Inej apart.

But voluntarily becoming a hired killer to liberate herself from sex slavery? That’s unique. That’s meaty. That’s complicated. That’s messy and morally gray and, above all, interesting.

I think the television writers made the mistake of reading Inej through the lens of a traditional female protagonist. “I am the heroine. That means I am Good and Innocent and Idealistic, and I don’t want to kill anyone.” But Inej doesn’t see herself as the protagonist. She doesn’t claim to be anybody’s heroine. She’s just an ordinary girl, doing what she must to live another day and get paid at the end of the week. Inej Ghafa is confident, pragmatic, and ruthless when she has to be. Above all, she’s a survivor.

And I respect her for it.

casual writer โ€” inej ghafa in the shadow and bone trailer...

Have you read Six of Crows?

What did you think of Shadow and Bone?

Let me know in the comments!

10 thoughts on “We need to talk about Inej in “Shadow and Bone.”

Add yours

  1. Fantastic post, as always, Katie!
    I still haven’t seen Shadow and Bone (mostly because I want to read the books first, because I already started them, but I may end up caving and watching the show first), but, from what I’ve read so far of Six of Crows, Inej doesn’t have a reluctance to kill. And I, personally, think that’s interesting. It’s unique. It’s different from what’s in most YA (not that having someone feel guilty for killing is a bad thing).
    And, yeah, killing to keep a loved one from being murdered isn’t the same thing as voluntarily becoming an assassin. See, killing to keep a loved one from being killed (or killing to keep someone from killing you) is less morally grey, and more understandable (I’d most likely do the same thing in that position). Inej becoming an assassin of her own free will is much more interesting to me.
    So, basically, I agree with you completely.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, friend! So glad you liked the post!!

      Ahaha, I feel you there! I definitely wanted to read the books before I watched the show–although I can’t remember if I heard the announcement of the show before or after I started reading Six of Crows? But I’m glad I read the books first!

      RIGHT! Like, killing in self-defense or to defend a loved one in the heat of battle, is something most people would accept as morally permissible. It would be a lot weirder or more unusual if a character //refused// to save their friend from getting chopped to bits.

      And I don’t think that in itself, a character who struggles with guilt over killing even when killing is morally justified, is a bad thing! I’m pretty sure there have been interesting war movies and stuff made about guys who were drafted into a war and didn’t want to kill, but ended up killing to save their buddies, but still struggled with a “loss of innocence” because of it. I get that.

      But it just doesn’t seem to fit Inej Ghafa at all! Her sense of guilt seems incongruous with the situation she finds herself in. It makes her oddly out of harmony with the rest of the Crows, because Kaz and Jesper are all “let’s do CRIME for MONEY,” and meanwhile Inej is over here like “oh dear, I had to kill a man … in self defense … I feel so bad …” They’re all criminals! They’re all morally gray! They all do some Dark Deeds sometimes! Inej is no different than the others! Just let her be morally gray, y’all!

      I have strong feelings about Six of Crows xD

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I absolutely loved the Shadow and Bone show so I didn’t expect myself to be nodding to all the points you made here…but they’re so true! Inej is my favourite character from the books, but sometimes I did feel like the show was trying to shove ShE’s REliGiOuS down my throat. Still love the character, though. Her arc is awesome and let me tell you a secret I didn’t ship Kaz and Inej in Six of Crows shhhh – because I’m not one of Kaz’s biggest fans. I did come around in Crooked Kingdom because how can you not๐Ÿ˜… I’m curious to know your overall thoughts about the show – did you like it?
    PS. Those Inej GIFs are so awesome

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I noticed that too!! The show makes a big deal about Inej being devout and principled in order to make her seem “better” than the other Crows, and to cause conflict with Kaz. Like, “oh, she’s religious, so she’ll go behind Kaz’s back or ditch his plans at the last minute.” But in the books, it’s more like, “oh, Inej is religious, so she’ll tease Kaz about his lack of faith and stay annoying stuff like ‘Men mock the gods until they need them’ just to see him roll his eyes.” In the books, Inej needles Kaz, but she respects him and trusts him and would never undermine the plans they’ve agreed upon. They’re a team. (Nina is the one who sometimes goes off-book and makes her own decisions based on her own principles. Not Inej!)

      Ahh, yeah, I get that! What I love about Kaz and Inej’s romance is that it’s SUCH a slow burn, you don’t even need to be onboard with it in the first book! Leigh Bardugo really took her time and built up the trust and connection between them.

      My overall thoughts on the show–I thought Kaz, Inej, and Jesper were all amazingly cast (like, seriously, phenomenal). I didn’t love the casting for Nina and Matthias, and thought starting with their backstory was a weird choice bc it kinda puts Nina in a “damsel in distress” position right away. I wasn’t super invested in the Alina-Mal-Darkling storyline. But I did think the show as a whole was beautifully detailed and lush and vivid, and I think the writers took book-accuracy much more seriously than MOST adaptations do, even if it wasn’t all completely to my satisfaction! I definitely want to watch the next season!

      Haha, thank you! And thank Google ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, you did the post! *cue me nodding along aggressively to all your points* I think all the issues I had were with the writing to the actors were amazing. They did a similar thing with Kaz, and it bothered me. He has the best poker face in the barrel and it’s like they thought they had to really show his connection with Inej, but I didn’t like what that did to his character, he’s guarded and lethal. Your not supposed to always like him or think of him as a hero.
    It was a really dumb choice to have Inej the assassin be like, I don’t kill people!
    Let her be religious and stabby, we exist!
    Just yes to all of this. Their survivors!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did!! I did the post! ๐Ÿ˜€ So glad you enjoyed it!

      Oh, absolutely, the actors were amazing! And they definitely can’t be held responsible for the screenwriters making some questionable choices. They have to act the script they’re given. No matter what my feelings about the show overall, the way Freddy Carter delivered that line, “Crows don’t just remember the faces of those who have wronged them … they also remember the faces of those who are kind to them,” made it all worth it. Chills.

      But I would definitely say if I DID have a complaint about Freddy Carter’s performance, it’s that he was a little too open about his emotions. He wore his heart on his sleeve a little too much. Like, Inej has been with him, what, six months to a year at this point? And she’s already 100% aware of his feelings for her? In the books, they’ve been working together for like TWO years and she still has no idea. Because he’s an emotionally constipated little bastard. ๐Ÿ˜›

      Right!!! She showed up onscreen and was like “hi, I don’t kill people,” and I went ???? Kaz hired you as an assassin?? What is happening here?

      “Let her be religious and stabby, we exist” I’M SOBBING XD

      But for real though! Inej is really interesting to me precisely because, yes, she’s sincerely religious, but she’s //not// a Good Girl archetype in any way. She’s a criminal, like the rest of them. She’s an anti-hero, like the rest of them. She’s a survivor, first and foremost, like the rest of them. And she fascinates me.

      Like

  4. Wow! I did not think of these points about Inej in the series, but I totally agree with you. Having read the Six of Crows duology and then watching the series definitely made me think, but not to this extent ( I guess I missed the finer details)!

    I thought that the Crows were superbly cast, though some character flaws in Kaz and Inej are present like you mentioned. I also agree with your points in the above comments about Nina’s story and Alina’s, though I am yet to read the original Shadow and Bone trilogy.

    Overall, if we take the TV series as it is, not considering the books, I think that the makers did a wonderful job! However, book fans like us may have some difference in opinion which I think is normal considering that I remember breaking down the Harry Potter movies when I was younger and actually showing people what was wrong ๐Ÿ˜€

    Like

    1. Thanks!! I’m so glad you liked the post! I had some of these thoughts while I was watching, and they kind of “grew” afterwards, haha.

      The casting really was wonderful. โค Even with some of the writing flaws / unnecessary changes, I can fully picture Freddy and Amita as Kaz and Inej when I read the books going forward, because they did such a great job embodying their characters.

      SO TRUE. I'm almost always a book fan first and foremost, and I'm very rarely fully satisfied with a screen adaptation, lol! There have been a few adaptations I liked even better than their source material (the 2008 Sense and Sensibility miniseries), but that's rare.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think that the Lord of the Rings was one such series that was well done. I have read the books (only once), but they were definitely worth reading! ๐Ÿ™‚ I have not watched the Sense and Sensibility mini series, but I will definitely add it to my list!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh, yeah! I’m not really into Lord of the Rings, even though I respect Tolkien (it’s a long story haha), but I’ve heard those movies are really excellent quality.

        If you like Jane Austen movies or just costume dramas period, I do HIGHLY recommend the Sense and Sensibility miniseries. It’s so good! Plus, Dan Stevens and his pretty blue eyes โค

        Like

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