Contains Spoilers for Shadow and Bone
A young orphan woman with the power to summon the sun; her childhood best friend, a brave and tireless soldier willing to die for her; the all powerful ‘Darkling’ general who wants her to rule by his side – this is the love triangle at the centre of Netflix’s Shadow and Bone and it’s a suitably fizzy one.
But while the central plot, the political machinations, magic and the introduction of ‘The Fold’ are all key parts of what makes this show – an adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s books – a compelling watch, by the end it’s a pointy-faced gangster with a limp who steals the show.
Kaz Brekker, played by Freddy Carter, is entirely lawless, motivated by money (but doesn’t have very much of it) and has no special powers. Even his gang – Inej (Amita Suman) the knife-expert, acrobat and master of stealth, and Jesper (Kit Young) the highly skilled sharpshooter – have more going for them than him.
Kaz is reminiscent of Tommy Shelby from Peaky Blinders, a sharply dressed outlaw loyal to his own who won’t be pushed around, despite not necessarily being physically stronger or more powerful than his enemies. He’s a self-made man, without the advantages of being Grisha, or of inherited wealth or status.
For fans of the show who haven’t read the books, Kaz is a mystery. We don’t know where he came from or what has driven him to be the way he is, though the show does an excellent job of creating a compelling character without filling in details that may well be explored in further series.
What we do know about Kaz is that he’s resourceful and intelligent. When presented with the opportunity to nab a job worth 1 million Kruge from fellow criminal Dreesen (Sean Gilder) he uses his wits to outsmart his rival Pekka Rollins (Dean Lennox Kelly) to win the job. Even though he doesn’t immediately know how he will cross The Fold and get to the Little Palace to kidnap Alina (Jessie Mei Li), he takes the job anyway, trusting in his own ability to come up with a solution.
Kaz is brave and extremely quick witted. He’s almost always one step ahead of everyone including his team – note the moment he realises Alina has a double, and guesses that Arken (Howard Charles), the Conductor, had his own separate agenda, using both bits of info to set up Arken and gain an advantage over Alina. This results in the death of Marie (Jasmine Blackborow), though not by Kaz’s hand and he’s not about to dwell on it.
Kaz thinks nothing of patrolling the Little Palace dressed as a guard despite having to relinquish his cane. He is also planning to drive the Conductors train through The Fold himself despite how dangerous it is. Though he rarely cracks a smile, we suspect Kaz might be a little bit of a thrill seeker at heart.
Kaz may be amoral but he isn’t judgmental. Jesper might have taken his money, gambled it away and then stolen an insufficient amount of alabaster coal to guarantee safe passage on their journey through The Fold, but Kaz isn’t about to kick up a stink. It is what it is. And ultimately Jesper redeems himself with his marksmanship.
Author Leigh Bardugo has said that Kaz’s bad leg was inspired by a condition she herself suffers from – osteonecrosis. It’s notable then that Kaz doesn’t let his condition hold him back, using his iconic cane as a weapon, and using the fact that opponents underestimate him to his own advantage.
Though Kaz thinks little more of Alina than a mark, and only of the money when it comes to the plan to kidnap her, by the series close he has changed his mind, with the Crows setting their minds to defeating the General (Ben Barnes).
And as cold as Kaz claims to be, it’s a front. He genuinely cares for Jesper and has deeper feelings still for Inej which could absolutely be explored in further seasons of the show.
Inej is a former slave forced to work in a brothel before Kaz bargained for her release. His debt is not fully paid so he leaves The Crow Club as collateral so Inej can accompany him on his mission. Yes, he needs her for the job but it’s clear he cares for her. When she explains that she can never return to the brothel, The Menagerie, Kaz replies that she “will not”, with a gravitas that tells her he means it.
Kaz too has a tragic backstory, not yet explored in the series (involving having to use his dead brother’s body as a float after they were both dumped at sea, left for dead). There’s a reason he wears those gloves… But even without the detail it’s clear Kaz has experienced deep pain.
The word ‘Kaz’, in Slovak and Czech means a flaw, an imperfection or a defect. Kaz is flawed and he accepts this. He embraces his defects, and uses them to his advantage. Kaz would never be a man who could conjure sunlight, he’ll never find himself living in the luxury of the palace or heading up an army. He is who he is and will play to his strengths.
While our heroes Alina and Mal may find themselves falling in love and saving the world, and the sinister but sexy Darkling rages appealingly in the background, a tentative romance between a damaged career criminal and his traumatised right-hand woman might be the heart that beats the strongest of all.
Shadow and Bone is available to stream on Netflix now.