A person who wears many hats is often hard to figure out. We are not talking about Jesper but, in fact, Nikolai Lantsov from “Shadow and Bone” Season 2. We could never tell if we finally understood him or if he was just painting an image of himself all along to deceive and get something out of the characters and the audience. To be honest, we loved him a lot more in the books than in the series, simply because we got to know him better in the former.
Nikolai Lantsov is initially introduced to us as the “Sturmhond,” a privateer on the seas whose loyalties leaned towards the heavier purse. This is in stark contrast to his real identity, that of Prince Nikolai Lantsov, a person whose every move is calculated with his long-term goals in mind. Nikolai is brave and dashing, someone who thinks on his feet and can make a joke out of literally anything. But we have to admit that his jokes are not that good and are so obviously a deflection mechanism. But there is something about people who do that: they use their jokes to buy time to think of an appropriate response. It is possible that this was an acquired skill rather than one Nikolai was born with. After all, he did not have the easiest childhood.
Rumors have been rife at court that Nikolia is an illegitimate son of the throne. He was born when his mother had an affair with someone, which means that he is not a Lantsov. We don’t doubt that the King and the Queen both knew about this, but since theirs was a political alliance more than anything else, maybe they refrained from talking about it to keep the peace. Additionally, we got the feeling that, for all her love, the queen did not take many measures to protect her child from the cruel tongues at court. Nikolai did not have a choice but to develop a glib and flippant personality, if for nothing else than as a survival mechanism. It must have been a very lonely childhood. Nevertheless, Nikolai was a bright mind and there is no doubt that he must have found things to do. As he tells Alina in the books, he drove away quite a few nannies and troubled all of his teachers with his mischievousness. Nevertheless, amidst all the fun, he was also serious about his studies. Nikolai could have easily led a cushy life of fun and frolic by doing the bare minimum, but he was a man of learning as much as he was of ambition. Nikolai always knew what he was capable of. He knew that he might be an illegitimate child, but his abilities made him more deserving of the throne than anyone else. Yet, he did not actively seek it for the longest time.
Nikolai joined the army and fought alongside the soldiers, unlike his older brother, who chose to serve out his military training from the comfort of the officers’ tents. Nikolai had built a rapport with the first army as if he were one of them. But the reason he did that was not just political. It was because he had a genuine thirst for life and craved the challenge of earning his place in it instead of the complacency of having things handed to him. It is also possible that he was trying to find where he fit in best. We learn of this because he admits to Alina that he has never felt like he belonged in any place. It was a very interesting combination of factors that always kept him on his feet.
Nikolai’s interest in the affairs of the world extended beyond gathering fodder for polite conversation. He was a master engineer who designed a flying ship and many weapons for use by the army. He understands Grisha’s small science, and when Alina orders the first and second armies to work together, he is helpful in giving them direction and getting the right material on hand. But that is not even the most interesting thing about him. It is his ability to keep hope in the direst of situations. The first and foremost instance of this is how he doesn’t believe that his not being a Lantsov is a deterrent. In fact, he considers it a benefit. It is not that he functions with blind optimism. Nikolai has a way of simplifying problems and looking at them with clear logic. He boils it all down to which problems can be solved and which cannot, which ones can be ignored, which ones demand attention, and finally, is the problem just fanciful, or does it carry actual weight to his plans?
As Nikolai says, “understatement is overrated,” and we have never found ourselves nodding so furiously in agreement. Nikolai’s armor is his clarity and perspective of things, and it is hard to bring down a man like that. But despite it all, he also has startling moments of honesty, like when he confesses his sense of loneliness to Alina or even hints at his feelings for her. There is a scene in the book “Siege and Storm” when Alina asks him whether he would kill her if the need arose. She asks him that in a lighthearted vein, expecting a joke in return, but Nikolai tells her that he never wants to be in that position. He is a man who cares deeply about the people he loves and, despite his cavalier attitude, is more responsible than his entire family, which is what makes him the ideal heir to the throne, and he knows it well.
How Is Nikolai Connected To The Nichevo’ya And The Darkling?
In Season 2 of “Shadow and Bone,” we realised that the Nichevo’ya are not completely under General Kirigan’s control. That is why, upon his death, they still lived. Now, the Nichevo’ya are considered abominations since they were created with forbidden magic, the Merzost. To put it simply, small science is the use of elements and energy that already exist around us, whereas magic is when something is created out of nothing, which is what the Nichevo’ya were. That is why they affected Kirigan so much—because they were drawn from him. Right before dying, Kirigan told Alina to make sure that no part of him was left back in the world. We are assuming that means he will find any and every way to come back if it was.
In “Shadow and Bone,” Season 2, when Kirigan died, Nikolai had been in the middle of a fight with a Nichevo’ya, with the creature getting the best of him. In the book “Ruin and Rising,” Kirigan deliberately infected Nikolai with the Merzost. Either way, a part of the dark magic is in Nikolai. Now, he is a human being and not a Grisha. He wouldn’t be able to channel it or fight it the way Kirigan and even Alina did. We saw in the final few moments of the last episode of Season 2 of “Shadow and Bone” that Nikolai saw the Nichevo’ya in the mirror when he turned to look at himself. His shoulder, where the injury was, is slowly expanding as well. These two things hint that Nikolai’s body is getting affected just as much as his mind. He is a man of courage and swagger, but this is a problem that he cannot hide behind a smile. In Season 3, we are definitely going to see this problem take over him more and more.
A lot is at stake for Nikolai. There is the future of Ravka, which has just started rebuilding itself, and then there is Alina, whom he has come to love and wants by his side. The Darkling wanted the destruction of Ravka, but even he wants Alina for himself. This is going to be an interesting clash of desires and wills, all happening within Nikolai’s consciousness. There might also be some physical changes, with him turning more monster than human. Alina would be able to cure him, but even her power has been corrupted by the Merzost after she brought Mal back to life. In that case, would she really be able to heal Nikolai, or would she just make it worse? All this remains to be seen in “Shadow and Bone” Season 3.