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Everything You Need To Know About Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Universe

Leigh Bardugo creates a universe where the magical and the non-magical exist together. Here we have Grishas practicing different kinds of powers, the Volcras, who are winged monsters, or the Shadow Fold, which is a region blanketed with darkness. However, unlike most young adult fantasy fiction, which tends to take their readers away from the land of reality, Bardugo’s “Shadow and Bone” successfully creates a “believable” fictional world.

Spoilers Ahead

The Background Of The Grisha Verse Is Ravka And Its Politics

Leigh Bardugo’s “Shadow and Bone” trilogy is primarily set against the backdrop of a kingdom named Ravka. This fantasy world created by Bardugo is infested with problems, both magical as well as political. The geography of Ravka is such that it has the Fjerdans as its northern neighbors and the Shu Hans as its southern neighbors, both of which share a conflicting relationship with Ravka. However, the most curious hallmark in the Ravkan geography is the Shadow Fold, also known as the Unsea. The Fold is a stretch of land covered in darkness and overrun by monstrous creatures referred to as Volcras, keeping most of Ravka away from the True Sea, West Ravka, and its resources. The Shadow Fold acts as the fulcrum in the first book of the trilogy (Shadow and Bone), around which revolves the majority of the plot. The narrative begins with the Ravkans attempting to cross the Fold, and it ends along the same line, almost coming full circle.

Os Alta, the capital city of Ravka, is the other site where a majority of the action takes place in the story. After the first failed attempt at crossing the Shadow Fold and the apparent discovery of the Sun Summoner, the Darkling decides to take Alina (the Sun Summoner) to the capital. Under the Darkling’s supervision and General Kirigan’s guidance, Alina undergoes vigorous combat training. As Alina struggles to embrace her new life and role as the Sun Summoner, she also gets acquainted with the world of Grisha politics in the Grand Palace. Within Os Alta, there are the Grand Palace, the residence of the King and the Queen, and the Little Palace, where most of the Grishas live and train. The Ravkan army has two divisions. They are categorized as the First Army- which includes all non-Grisha soldiers, like Alina’s childhood friend Mal who is a tracker; the other is the Second Army- which consists of the various sects of Grishas. 

To understand the political dynamics, which act as an important driving force for the dramatic action of the narrative, it is important to consider the relationship Ravka shares with its neighboring regions. In the first book, we get to know that Fjerda and Shu Han are essentially Ravkan enemies who are constantly at war with Ravka. The primary reason behind the enmity is their disapproval of the Grishas. They consider the Grishas, the ones possessing supernatural powers, as evil and are bent on killing them. It is only in Ravka that the Grishas have found not only a home for themselves but also an elite status.

Finally, to comment on the technicalities of Leigh Bardugo’s creation of this magical world of Ravka, we can find it to be highly inspired by Tsarist Russia in the 1800s. Compared to the usually predominant use of European or English settings in fantasy fiction, Bardugo’s use of Russian and Slavic culture adds an element of freshness.

The Order Of The Grishas: Who Are The Grishas? What Are Their Powers?

Even before one opens Leigh Bardugo’s “Shadow and Bone,” we find a mention of “Grisha Verse” preceding the book title. Therefore, it is incumbent that the readers understand the nature of the Grishas, the sects separating them, and their powers.

The Grishas are individuals who can use supernatural powers. In the Grisha language, this is referred to as the practice of “Small Sciencenguage, this is referred to as the practice of “Small Science,” wherein they manipulate the basic elements. The Grisha almost always require a medium and cannot just perform magic out of nothing. Based on their nature of power, they are categorized into- the Corporalki, also known as the ‘Order of the Living and the Dead,’ the Etherealki, or ‘the Order of Summoners,’ the Materialki, who belong to the ‘Order of the Fabrikators’, and finally the most powerful Grisha, the Darkling who is a Shadow Summoner and the newly discovered Sun Summoner, Alina Starkov. The division does not end here; the categorization complicates as the Orders further branch out. As their Order suggests, the Corporalkis include heartbreakers who are capable of breaking the body and healers who can cure the body. The Etherealkis have the Squallers, who can manipulate air or storms; the Inferni, who are capable of influencing gases and conjuring fire; and the Tidemakers, who can maneuver water while controlling the pressure and temperature. Finally, the Materialkis consist of the Durasts, who work with solid materials, and the Alkemis, who deal with fluids. To uncomplicate this detailed distribution of the Grisha division, Bardugo applies a color scheme to it. The Corporalkis wear red, the Etherealkis wear blue, and the Materealkis dress up in purple. Black is considered to be Darkling’s color, and we also see him offer the same to Alina. Although initially Alina refuses the Darkling’s charms and goes with the Corporalki Blue, she eventually succumbs to his charms and accepts the Black kefta before the fete in the court. 

The tailor is another category in the Grisha division. Although technically a Corporalki, their categorization under the three orders becomes tricky because of the unconventional nature of their power. We only come across one tailor, Genya Safin, in the first book, “Shadow and Bone.” Genya’s power lies in beautifying the physical features, and hence she is appointed as the Queen’s personal servant. In the course of the narrative, we eventually understand that tailors are not well respected amongst the Grishas either. Often looked down upon, Genya does not even get to share the Red Corporalki color and instead is given the color White. We first meet Genya when Alina arrives at the Little Palace. Essentially a gray character, Genya is the only Grisha who seems to genuinely befriend Alina, and she also secretly “fixes” her looks. We also get to know that Genya tested as a Grisha when she was eleven years old, and since then, she has been serving the Queen. However, there is also a looming possibility of her possessing some ulterior motive—a pact she shares with the Darkling.

One of the most powerful Grishas in Ravka is Baghra. We are first introduced to Baghra when the Darkling commands Alina to take lessons from her, lessons to control her powers of summoning the light. She is a strict master to Alina, almost cruel at times. However, her role is not restricted to that of a teacher; Baghra acts as a source of revelation for Alina. It is from her that Alina learns the Darkling’s dark truth. She reveals to Alina that the Darkling is the Black Heretic himself, and his sole motive is to use the powers of the Sun Summoner to expand the Shadow Fold instead of destroying it. We also get to know that Baghra is the mother of the Darkling and shares his powers of summoning the Shadow. 

Light Vs. Shadow

The Sun Summoner- Alina was raised in the orphanage of Duke Keramsov, along with her childhood best friend, Mal Orestev. Although she was customarily tested for Grisha’s abilities at a young age, Alina failed to display any such qualities. Her life changes when, at seventeen, while working as an apprentice cartographer, she crosses the Shadow Fold. It is here that her Sun Summoner powers are discovered, and she ends up being controlled by the Darkling. Since Alina has been suppressing her powers for a long time since her childhood, she faces difficulty in manifesting her complete potential. To overcome this hurdle, the Darkling appoints Baghra as her teacher and also decides to hunt down the Morozova stag and use its antlers as an amplifier for Alina. “Amplifiers” in the Grisha world are the parts of any animal that help in amplifying the powers of a Grisha. There could also be a living amplifier, like the Darkling himself. Another clause attached to the mechanics of the amplifier is that it could only be affiliated with the person who kills the animal. Therefore, towards the end of “Shadow and Bone,” we see how the Darkling craftily kills the Morozova stag and fuses the antler necklace into Alina’s collar.

Throughout the narrative, we only see how Alina struggles to gain access to her powers or attain their full potential; it is only at the end of the book that we get a glimpse of her true Sun Summoner powers. When the Darkling reveals his true intentions in front of the ambassadors of the neighboring regions and everyone on board the skiff, Alina finally discerns what the stag had been trying to tell her in her dreams. She realizes that the Morozova stag has offered its powers to her, and she ultimately breaks free from the shackles of the Darkling. Much to the shock and amazement of the Darkling, Alina practices “The Cut,” a move that can only be performed by the most powerful of Grishas. Alina becomes the Sun Summoner and literally dissects the sandskiff, destroying everything and everyone in it.

The Darkling: Undoubtedly, the Darkling is the most intriguing and charismatic character in the entire book. From the very beginning, we find him obsessing over the Sun Summoner, and when Alina questions him regarding his life and Grisha’s powers, he answers in an alluring and manipulative manner. The Darkling tells Alina that his purpose is to save the Grishas from their uprising enemies, Fjerda and Kerch. He blatantly lies to Alina by saying that his sole motive is to unite all of Ravka and completely destroy the Shadow Fold, which was created by his ancestor, the Black Heretic, in the first place.

All throughout the narrative, the Darkling manages to keep a mysterious and enigmatic aura around himself. His scheming and calculative moves even manage to catch Alina off guard, as she almost begins to believe in the Drakling’s cause. However, the shroud of darkness that generally tends to surround the Darkling finally makes sense when we learn about his reality from Baghra, his mother. Through Baghra, we get to know how the Darkling and the Black Heretic are one and the same; it was he who had created the Shadow Fold. The Darkling was ancient, hundreds of years old, having seen the rise and fall of several kings and even faking his own death numerous times. In the case of Grishas, they feed on their own powers; the more they use their powers, the more powerful they become, thereby making the Darkling one of the most powerful. While creating the Fold, the Darkling had not anticipated the Volcras, who were originally men and women. He needed the help of the Sun Summoner to destroy these Volcras, who could only be killed by light. The power-hungry Darkling is well aware of his fate if the Shadow Fold ceases to exist: Ravka would no longer require the help of the Grishas, and the Darkling would end up merely serving the King. To avoid such a circumstance, Drakling’s plan is to extend the Fold instead and establish his power and supremacy all throughout Ravka and its neighboring nations.

The first book in the trilogy, “Shadow and Bone,” ends with Alina destroying the skiff. What happens to the Darkling is left unknown. Yet something tells us the Darkling will return. However, now that the façade of pretense is gone, what remains is to witness how the two most powerful Grisha’s face each other.

See more: ‘Shadow And Bone’ Plot Summary, Explained: What Does Leigh Bardugo’s Adult Fantasy Novel Hold For You?

Farhana Tasnim
Farhana Tasnim
Farhana Tasnim is a Ph.D. scholar pursuing her degree in English literature. She has previously worked as a content writer. Farhana has always been an avid reader. Reading books across genres, analyzing them, and learning from them is how she likes to spend her time mostly.


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