Every fantasy novel must possess a coming-of-age arc for its protagonists, a love triangle, adventure, and lots of magic. In fact, it is the last ingredient that sets this genre apart from everything else out there. “Shadow and Bone” is one such universe, and though our nitpicky self could use some more details about the Grishaverse, it is still rich enough to be engrossing and, strangely, believable.
In the book trilogy and the rest of the Grishaverse, the magic used by Grisha is called “small science.” According to Grishas, magic is different from small science. They are keeping their powers in line with the rules of nature; hence, they call it small science. But magic is a different thing altogether. It is an abomination, the creation of something that did not exist before, which means that it is unnatural and a threat to the balance of the world. This magic is called Merzost. How many times have we heard that “matter can neither be created nor destroyed but only be transferred from one form to another”? This is the law of nature, but of course, there are always people who try to find a loophole, an exception, or a means to subvert the law. Ilya Morozova was one of them in the Grishaverse. In fact, he was the most successful of them all, so successful that he became a myth.
The power of the Grishas made them more powerful than humans, which meant that they were automatically a threat. This is ironic, considering that it was the humans who kept hunting Grishas. See what we mean about the lack of some details. Either way, there needed to be a check on Grisha power to keep them from becoming too powerful, which is why no Grisha could wear more than one amplifier. But that turns out to be wrong soon enough when Alina makes use of all her amplifiers. Throughout the Grishaverse’s history, there have been only three people known to have used the Merzost, and each one of them ended up changing the world with their actions.
Coming back to Morozova, he was obsessed with expanding Grisha power as much as he could. He created three of the most powerful amplifiers by making use of the bones from his finger, earning him the name “The Bonesmith.” Grisha considers magic to be what runs through the “heart of the world.” It is our own conjecture here, but we believe that it means that the power is for nature to use at her will. Morozova certainly did not let that theory stop him, and he fused his bones with three beings to create powerful amplifiers. We understand that he started with the intention of just turning the Stag and the Sea Whip, but circumstances made him extend his experiment to a third, his own daughter. Each time, he messed with something that was not to be touched, and he paid a price for it accordingly. He had used Merzost to satisfy his ambition, and the centuries that followed felt the effect of that.
The Darkling, aka General Alexander Kirigan
When his grandfather used Merzost centuries ago, it could still be argued that he did so with a scientific temperament and, later, to deal with the loss of a loved one. But Aleksander had no such excuse. He was ambitious, and he did not want to live a life where he had to constantly be on the run from being hunted by humans. Both are fair points, except that Alexander’s new world order came with a callous disregard for humans. In a way, he wanted to treat them exactly the way they treated him and his kind. But that does not make it okay or even less cruel. His first known use of the Merzost, and possibly the biggest application of it as well, was when he created the Fold. In Season 1 of “Shadow and Bone,” he creates it when he is at risk of death at the hands of the King’s soldiers. In the book, the Shadow Fold is a result of his experiments with power and the limits to which he can push it. Regardless, the price is paid by the people who were living on the land before it was covered by darkness. Each and every one of them turns into a Volcra.
His next use of the Merzost is when he creates the Nichevo’ya. But this time, he pays the price himself because the beings feed on his life force, as we see in Season 2 of “Shadow and Bone.” This is really the last time he uses it in the series, but in the books, specifically “Ruin and Rising,” he fills Nikolai’s lungs with the Merzost as revenge, and that starts turning him into one of his dreaded creatures. But on screen, at the end of season 2, when Nikolai observes the injury on his shoulder, given to him by a Nichevo’ya and likely filled with Merzost. Since the Nichevo’ya is the Darkling’s creation, it is highly likely that Nikolai will turn out to be one of the sources that General Kirigan uses to come back from the dead in Season 3 of “Shadow and Bone.”
Alina had been made very aware of the detriments of using Merzost time and again, and she is the only one of the three people to have used it who approached it with caution and respect. In the books, Alina uses the Merzost only once, which is at the end of the second book of the trilogy, “Siege and Storm.” She uses it in her attempt to kill the Darkling. She wants to drain the life essence out of him by joining their forces together and using it all up. Her mission doesn’t succeed, but her use of magic results in her hair turning completely white and a temporary loss of her powers. On-screen, Alina uses the Merzost to bring back a dead Mal to life in Season 2 of “Shadow and Bone.” The result of this is far more sinister. Mal loses his tracking abilities, and Alina seems to have absorbed some of the Merzost within herself. When she defends the people against the Heartrender in the final scene of the season, her power is not the pure light it used to be. It carries a shadow within it. This either means corruption of her power with the Merzost, or it means that General Kirigan still has his connection to her through some bond they share, which we might understand more of in Season 3 of “Shadow and Bone.”
Seeing the difference between small science and magic in the Grishaverse books and series reminds us of another story we read a long time ago: that of the Inheritance cycle. In the world of Eragon, any act of magic required as much energy as the actual physical force that would be spent doing the task. For example, if you wanted to move a chair from one point to another without moving from your place, the magic you use will require the actual energy you need to physically do that task. We don’t mean to compare, but we can’t help thinking about that since the magic of both fictional worlds is based on the impossibility of the creation or destruction of matter. The story of Alina Starkov is a rich one, and watching the creative liberties being taken by the writers, we think we can see the Grishaverse further expanded in the coming seasons of “Shadow and Bone.”