Leigh Bardugo: The Grisha Honour Guard

Published on: 13 June 2013 Author: Leigh Bardugo

To celebrate the publication of the second installment of the Grisha series, Leigh Bardugo pays us a flying visit to give us an insight into the world of the Grisha, and to share an extract from Shadow and Bone. 

Leigh Bardugo

The first book in Leigh Bardugo's young adult fantasy Grisha trilogy, Shadow and Bone (first published in the UK as The Gathering Dark) introduced us to the once-great nation of Ravka, which is slowly being engulfed by the mysterious Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness.

Orphan Alina lives a quiet life working as a trainee cartographer, until a dangerous journey through the Fold exposes her unique and remarkable powers. Parted from her beloved childhood friend Mal, and thrust into the lavish, elegant and confusing world of the kingdom's magical elite, the Grisha, who are led by the powerful and charismatic Darkling, Alina struggles to understand and control her new abilities.Gradually, she realises that those around her believe that she may be the key to banishing the Shadow Fold for good, and setting Ravka free. But how can she unlock the full power of her gift - and what does the Darkling have planned for her?

With the publication of the second volume in the trilogy, Siege and Storm, Leigh Bardugo invited us to join the Grisha Honour Guard and joins us to share some insights into the world of the Grisha as well as one of her most important characters – the Darkling himself.

Bardguo writes:

'The Grisha are the magical elite of Ravka, also known as the soldiers of the Second Army. They practice the Small Science: they manipulate matter at its most fundamental levels. I like to think of it as a magical version of molecular chemistry. Status is everything to the Grisha, and the three main orders are: Corporalki (The Order of the Living and the Dead: Heartrenders and Healers), Etherealki (The Order of Summoners: Squallers, Inferni and Tidemakers) and Materialki (The Order of Fabrikators: Durasts and Alkemi).

The idea for the Grisha Trilogy really began with the Shadow Fold and the question, 'What if darkness was a place?' The Darkling's power, Alina's power, the structure of the First and Second Armies, the internal and external pressures acting on Ravka—all of it grew out of that question.'

Here's an extract from Shadow and Bone which gives some more insight into the character of the mysterious Darkling himself.

"How old are you?"

He looked at me, bemused. "I don't know exactly."

"How can you not know?"

The Darkling shrugged. "How old are you exactly?"

I flashed him a sour look. I didn't know the date of my birth. All the orphans at Keramzin were given the Duke's birthday in honour of our benefactor. "Well, then, roughly how old are you?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"Because I've heard stories about you since I was a child, but you don't look much older than I am," I said honestly.

"What kind of stories?"

"The usual kind," I said with some annoyance. "If you don't want to answer me, just say so."

"I don't want to answer you."


Then he sighed and said, "One hundred and twenty. Give or take."

"What?" I squeaked. The soldiers sitting across from me glanced over. "That's impossible," I said more quietly.

He looked into the flames. "When a fire burns, it uses up the wood. It devours it, leaving only ash. Grisha power doesn't work that way."

"How does it work?"

"Using our power makes us stronger. It feeds us instead of consuming us. Most Grisha live long lives."

"But not one hundred and twenty years."

"No," he admitted. "The length of a Grisha's life isproportional to his or her power. The greater the power, the longer the life. And when that power is amplified . . ." He trailed off with a shrug.

"And you're a living amplifier. Like Ivan's bear."

The hint of a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "Like Ivan's bear."

An unpleasant thought occurred to me. "But that means—"

"That my bones or a few of my teeth would make another Grisha very powerful."

"Well, that's completely creepy. Doesn't it worry you a little bit?"

"No," he said simply. "Now you answer my question. What kind of stories were you told about me?"

I shifted uncomfortably. "Well . . . our teachers told us that you strengthened the Second Army by gathering Grisha from outside of Ravka."

"I didn't have to gather them. They came to me. Other countries don't treat their Grisha so well as Ravka," he said grimly. "The Fjerdans burn us as witches, and the Kerch sell us as slaves. The Shu Han carve us up seeking the source of our power. What else?"

"They said you were the strongest Darkling in generations."

"I didn't ask you for flattery."

I fingered a loose thread on the cuff of my kefta. He watched me, waiting.

"Well," I said, "there was an old serf who worked on the estate . . ."

"Go on," he said. "Tell me."

"He . . . he said that Darklings are born without souls. That only something truly evil could have created the Shadow Fold." I glanced at his cold face and added hastily, "But Ana Kuya sent him packing and told us it was all peasant superstition."

The Darkling sighed. "I doubt that serf is the only one who believes it."

I said nothing. Not everyone thought like Eva or the old serf, but I'd been in the First Army long enough to know that most ordinary soldiers didn't trust Grisha and felt no allegiance to the Darkling.

After a moment, the Darkling said, "My great-great-great-grandfather was the Black Heretic, the Darkling who created the Shadow Fold. It was a mistake, an experiment born of his greed, maybe his evil. I don't know. But every Darkling since then has tried to undo the damage he did to our country, and I'm no different."

He turned to me then, his expression serious, the firelight playing over the perfect planes of his features. "I've spent my life searching for a way to make things right. You're the first glimmer of hope I've had for a long time."


"The world is changing, Alina. Muskets and rifles are just the beginning. I've seen the weapons they're developing in Kerch and Fjerda. The age of Grisha power is coming to an end."

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