If you weren’t already familiar with Leigh Bardugo’s sprawling Grishaverse, there’s a good chance that new Netflix series Shadow and Bone might have left you seeking a few further explanations.
The series combines both the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows books into one epic series, and introduces all manner of complex elements in the process.
Inspired by the Russian Empire of the early 1800s, Bardugo’s fantasy world includes a range of magical people known as Grisha, a mysterious barrier called the Shadow Fold, and several other concepts that those who haven’t read the books might initially find hard to get their heads round.
In the novels, the Grisha are people born with the ability to manipulate matter in its most basic form, practicing a study called the Small Science – that is crucially not the same as magic. Those who are not born with Grisha power are sometimes known as Otkazat’sya, which translates to “the abandoned” in Ravkan and is another word for “orphan” in the Russian-inspired language.
In Ravka at least, Grisha and Otkazat’sya don’t mingle all that much. They even have separate armies; the First Army is for those without powers, while the Second Army – led by Ben Barnes’ General Kirigan – is made up exclusively of Grisha. In countries like Fjerda they are hunted and executed, while Shu-Han experiments on them.
That’s the basics, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Luckily, we’ve put together a cheat sheet with all the Grisha orders and their powers, as well as a guide to amplifiers, to help you learn your Durasts from your Healers.
Grisha orders and powers explained
The Grisha are divided into three separate orders, and each order has its own sub-categories. You can tell what order a Grisha belongs to by the colour of their kefta – a fancy coat worn by all Second Army soldiers – and which sub-category they’re part of by the colour of their kefta’s embroidery.
Some Grisha, like Genya Safin at the beginning of Shadow and Bone and General Kirigan/The Darkling don’t quite fit into the established orders and wear colours unique to them. More on that below.
Corporalki, the Order of the Living and the Dead
The Corporalki are made up of Heartrenders, Healers and, eventually, Tailors. They can be recognised by their blood-red keftas.
Healers wear grey embroidery, and their abilities are pretty self-explanatory. Heartrenders wear black embroidery, and are the opposite of healers – they use their powers mostly to cause harm, which makes them the most feared Grisha. Flirty spy and waffle-lover Nina Zenik, played by Danielle Galligan in the Shadow and Bone cast, belongs to this order, as do soldiers Ivan and Fedyor (pictured).
Tailors, who change and enhance others’ physical appearance, are a later addition to the Corporalki order and wear blue embroidery over their red kefta. Before being given official Corporalki status, Tailors like Alina’s friend Genya Safin wore servant white and gold.
Etherealki, the Order of Summoners
Most Grisha Summoners wear blue keftas. Tidemakers, who have the ability to manipulate water, are marked by their pale blue embroidery, whereas Inferni, who have power over fire, are easy to identify thanks to the flame-like red detail on their collars.
Squallers can raise or lower air pressure and summon storms. Their wind manipulating abilities are especially valuable when crossing the Shadow Fold, as they are responsible for carrying the skiffs across the deadly sands. They can and, if they are Zoya Nazyalenski, will knock the air out of you too. Squaller’s keftas are embroidered with silver.
Shadow Summoners like General Kirigan and Sun Summoners like Alina Starkov also technically belong to the Etherealki order, though they are so rare, valuable and powerful, they get to wear their own colours. In General Kirigan’s case, that’s head-to-toe black. He even goes as far as to forbid any other Grisha from wearing black at all, save for Alina.
Despite the offer, Alina decides to stick to classic Summoner blue threaded with gold instead.
Materialki, the Order of Fabrikators
Fabrikators are generally looked down upon by other Grisha – yes, Grisha politics are just as tricky as Grisha science. They wear purple keftas and, despite being targets of Grisha snobbery, they’re actually responsible for some of Ravka’s greatest innovations such as Grisha steel and the bulletproof fabric known as corecloth.
Durasts are recognisable by their grey embroidery, and specialise in metals like steel, textiles and glass. David Kostyk (Luke Pasqualino) is perhaps the most prominent Durast, not just because of his genius inventions, but also because he manages to catch the eye of Genya Saffin.
Alkemi, on the other hand, have an affinity for poisons and blasting powders, which means they have a tendency to blow things up. Their purple keftas are embroidered with red.
How amplifiers work
Grisha can enhance their natural abilities with amplifiers. Amplifiers are usually body parts of mighty animals worn by Grisha to increase their powers. Only the Grisha that kills the amplifier can claim its power. Examples include Zoya’s bracelet made with tiger teeth, Ivan’s bear claws and Alina’s Morozova stag antlers.
Other Grisha can also be amplifiers themselves. General Kirigan, for example, is an amplifier, which is why Alina’s ability becomes apparent when he touches her. Human amplifiers usually test Ravkan children to determine whether they have Grisha abilities.
What is Merzost?
The Small Science the Grisha practice is all about manipulating existing matter, not creating it. That’s why Grisha are usually nourished by using their power.
Powerful Grisha have been known to attempt to use their power to create matter. The word merzost means “abomination” in Ravkan, so it comes as no surprise that this is a big no no amongst most Grisha. As well as being pretty tricky to pull off, it requires a sacrifice, which is why it’s so draining for Grisha.
The most famous Grisha to have dabbled in merzost is the Saint Ilya Morozova. He created three amplifiers with it, including the mythical stag whose power Alina is expected to harness. General Kirigan also used merzost to inadvertently create the Shadow Fold.
Want more show content? Find out where Shadow and Bone was filmed, or if you’ve finished series one, read our Shadow and Bone ending breakdown, our Shadow and Bone review, and our theories on whether or not there will be a Shadow and Bone series two.
Shadow and Bone season 1 is currently available to stream on Netflix. Check out our lists of the best series on Netflix and best movies on Netflix, or visit our TV Guide for something else to watch. For all things fantasy, visit our dedicated Fantasy hub.