So you started Shadows and bones and they keep saying “Grischa”.
While author Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy saga is full of world-forming terminology and political backstories, one big question arises after episode 1 of Netflix’s TV adaptation: what the hell is a Grisha?
For those unfamiliar with Bardugo’s books (which have a nice little breakdown before the first chapter – or at least my copy) and the lore they contain, here’s why the grisha is important in the larger context of the story is that Difference between a squaller and a tailor and any other question you didn’t want to ask.
The first episode of Shadow and Bone has about 8 million uses of the word “grisha”, but what is a grisha?
The Grisha are the magical users of this world – unless they don’t call it magic. The magic that the Grisha wields is called “little science”, as it is based on the manipulation of matter in its basic form and has to adhere to physical laws. Grisha cannot (usually) create from nothing.
Are the Grisha like the benders in Avatar? Are there different types? I saw a fireball shoot.
Grisha falls into three main orders: the corporalki, who deal with the living and the dead; to use the etheralki, which deal with natural elements (… basically the benders of the earth Avatar: The last airbender Slang); and the materials, which manipulate materials like glass, metal, textiles and chemicals. Fortunately, at least in the Ravkan Army, they are all color coded!
There are even more special features within these categories.
Corporalki are divided into heart trenders, healers, and tailors. Heartbreakers break the body; Healers fix it. Tailors are a strange combination of corporalki and materialki and can manipulate their appearance and that of others. They’re pretty rare and there is only one tailor in the entire book series. They wear red.
Etheralki are divided into Squaller (manipulating air and storms), Inferni (summoning combustible gases to create fire), and Tidemaker (using temperature and pressure to summon and control water). They are also known as summoners and wear blue.
Materialki are also called factory owners. They are a bit out of date as technology quickly catches up with little science. Materialki is divided into Durasts, which deal with solids (steel, textiles, etc.) and Alkemi, which deal with liquids and powders (and make things boom). They wear purple.
At the end of Episode 1, Alina shoots light out of her hands and everyone calls her the Sun Summoner. So are you telling me that there is another type of grisha that you didn’t mention?
The legendary sun conjurer is an etheralki that has the power to conjure up warmth and light from the sun. There was no recorded sun conjurer before Alina manifested her powers, although there were legends about someone with the power.
How about Ben Barnes? What kind of grisha is General Kirigan? He has easy powers.
While Alina conjures sun and light, Kirigan is a shadow conjurer, which means he can manipulate the darkness. He is also an Etheralki and also the only known living of his kind.
A shadow conjurer created the shadow fold, the streak of tangible darkness that cuts Ravka in half, and no one could get rid of it. Since summoners are only about manipulating existing matter, Kirigan can move shadows, but he cannot banish them. Therefore, all of Ravka has hope for the sun conjurer, who can possibly blow away the darkness with the light.
Do people like the Grisha? There seem to be mixed feelings about the grisha.
With the exception of Ravka and Novyi Zem, most of the world isn’t particularly keen on the grisha. In Fjerda, Grisha are persecuted as witches and brought to justice. They are being experimented with in Shu Han. On the Wandering Isle, her blood is used as a healing solution. In Kerch, they are usually identified servants.
Grisha in Ravka has to serve in the Second Army and is taken away from their families as soon as they show strength. They are allowed to live in a fancy palace even though they are basically forced to serve the king. The First Army, i.e. the regular People’s Army, is a bit jealous of the Grisha, and as technology has advanced and weapons can do the work of magic, the non-magical people think that Grisha is old-fashioned and out of date.
However, many Grisha find refuge in Novyi Zem and can basically do whatever they want.
So the Grischa plays a pretty big role in the long-term history of the Grischa, I suppose?
Yeah, pretty much. The first trilogy – from which Shadow and Bone adapted the first book by – mainly revolves around Grischa and her inner life. Alina, Kirigan, Zoya, Genya, and David are all great players, and much of the drama comes from the Grisha’s position of power in Ravka. The subsequent spin-off duo and sequel series are also heavily intertwined with the fallout of the main series. Expect a lot of Grisha.
All episodes of Shadows and bones stream on Netflix.