The latest instalment in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse released earlier this year with King of Scars, and boy, did it leave its mark. With a risky ending that divided readers, King of Scars left us with many unanswered questions. This article will discuss the impact King of Scars has had on the Grishaverse as we know it, with some elements to consider while we (im)patiently wait for the sequel.
But beware, spoilers ahead for all of Bardugo’s published works to date! If you haven’t read the Shadow and Bone trilogy, the Six of Crows duology, or King of Scars, you might want to come back to this article after you’ve done so.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: what we thought we knew about the magic system of the Grishaverse is now null and void. In order to establish what this means for future novels, we’ll begin with a brief summary of the Grisha magic system as seen in the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology.
Before King of Scars, the magic (known as the ‘small science’) utilised by the Grisha was divided up into three different categories, each with their own sub-orders.
Each Grisha is taught to master one of these. For example, when we first meet Nina Zenik in Six of Crows, she is a Heartrender of the Corporalki group—she has the ability to control a person’s internal organs, whether that be to stop their heart, to take the air from their lungs, or so forth. Alternatively, in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, Zoya Nazyalensky is introduced as a powerful Squaller from the Etherealki group. Squallers have the ability to control the wind and to shape it to their will.
Basically, Grisha could only affiliate with one area of the small science. They became specialists in this one area and were then utilised within the Second Army—made up entirely of Grisha soldiers.
As well as the three orders of the Grisha, we are also introduced to amplifiers and merzost. An amplifier is an object that helps boost a Grisha’s power, and is usually made out of the bone, teeth, or scales of an animal. Grisha are only allowed to have one amplifier (with the exception to this being Alina, the Sun Summoner).
Then there’s merzost, which in Ravkan means ‘abomination’ and also ‘magic’. Merzost drains vitality from a person when wielded, and is considered a dangerous, temperamental magic.
So, before King of Scars, Bardugo’s magic system was based upon strict guidelines pertaining to how the Grisha could operate and use their powers. The terrifying impact of King of Scars means those rules of Grisha power are now nullified.
The magic system of the Grishaverse as we know it has now been blown wide open. Forget all you thought you knew. This is what we now know:
1. The saints from the stories were based off real Grisha, and three of them have been existing in a version of the Shadow Fold for centuries.
Sankta Lizabeta—known as Elizaveta in King of Scars—admits to having known the Darkling in her youth, which hints at just how old she is. It’s revealed that herself, along with Sankt Grigori and Sankt Juris, were trapped in the Shadow Fold when the Darkling’s experiment with merzost failed all those years ago.
From within their version of the Fold, the saints are able to create physical manifestations of their powers—one example of this being the bone bridge—in places where they are still worshipped.
2. Amplifiers, once powerful items utilised to enhance Grisha ability, have now been revealed to be a corruption of how the magic used to work.
When Zoya’s amplifier breaks during her fight with Juris, she describes the loss of it as akin to the loss of a limb. She also finds it harder to call the wind to do her bidding, and realises how much she relied upon the amplifier.
However, Juris soon informs us of the corruptive nature of amplifiers. Instead, he explains how it used to be. When Juris slew the dragon—his deed that made him famous enough to become a saint—he explains how him and the beast became one, him taking the dragon’s form and the dragon taking his.
‘We did not just take an animal’s life, we gave up a part of ourselves in return. But somewhere along the way, Grisha began killing, claiming a piece of the power of creation without giving anything of ourselves. This is the pathetic tradition of your amplifiers’ (King of Scars, p. 308)
3. Grisha are capable of harnessing more than just one order of power.
This is where the orders of Grisha power has been changed irreversibly. Juris reveals to Zoya how he can manipulate not only the wind beneath his wings, but also fire and water. Later, Zoya is put to the test when she must escape Elizaveta, and calls upon other elements to free herself. She states how Juris ‘had shown her that the boundaries of Grisha power were more flexible than she’d ever have believed’ (King of Scars, p. 388).
Which leads us to our last point . . .
4. To escape the Shadow Fold, Zoya had to become one with Juris, making her part Grisha, part dragon.
Now we have the all-powerful Zoya, who can call the dragon in her when she needs. This is one of the biggest revelations of King of Scars, and has left readers a bit shell-shocked. It will definitely be interesting to see how Zoya handles her new found powers in book two!
So, there are just some examples of how the Grishaverse magic system as we know it has changed after the addition of King of Scars. In some parts, it was hard to suspend my disbelief when reading this book, mainly because the carefully structured Grisha system we’ve seen in the past books was so drastically blown apart. It’ll be interesting to see where the author takes the story next, though—Bardugo is a master storyteller, so fingers crossed for the sequel. Also, the Darkling is back (which is a whole other can of worms) and it sounds like Nikolai is set to use him to his advantage, in any way that he can. Book two is shaping up to be an action packed sequel!