Editor’s Note: The following contains full spoilers from Shadow and Bone Season 2.There are lots of intricacies to the magic system in the world of Shadow and Bone. They refer to their magic as the “Small Science” and can use it to perform a whole host of major and minor miracles. The Grisha are sorted into orders based on their affinities but some Grisha throughout history have sought to push the boundaries of their field. One such Grisha was Morozova, the Grisha who unleashed the most powerful amplifiers into the world and dedicated his life to testing the rules of Small Science. One of his most powerful and most controversial discoveries was merzost, and it was the thing that led him to be, supposedly, chained in iron and drowned in a river.
What Is Merzost?
Merzost isn’t actually a thing per se, it’s more like an energy. Merzost is a twist on Grisha power, a sort of alternative to the Small Science. This is a power of creation that allows the wielder to overpower the rules of life and death. It’s considered a perversion of Grisha power. It requires great sacrifice to the user to wield it and uses their lifeforce as a source of energy anytime they use merzost. Essentially, using merzost means tapping into your own life force to perform tasks that go against nature. It’s a power capable of bringing people back from the dead as in the case of Morozova’s daughter and Mal (Archie Renaux) or for creating tools of immense power like Kirigan’s shadow monsters or Morozova’s three amplifiers.
What Has Merzost Been Used For?
As far as we know, in both the show and the books there have only ever been three people to wield merzost. First was its creator, Morosova, who used merzost to make his three fabled amplifiers: Morozova’s collar (the white stag’s antlers), sea whip fetter (scales of a sea monster), and the firebird (whose powers are passed down through a bloodline). Each amplifier would be able to give a Grisha untold power and combined they’re strong enough to bring down the Fold.
The second being we know of to use merzost was the Darkling (Ben Barnes), General Kirigan. He’s used merzost on a much larger scale. The Darkling utilized dark power when he created the Fold, the giant nigh-impenetrable land of shadow and smoke that cuts the country of Ravka in half. And the volcra, giant winged beasts that will tear anyone they see apart, were also a result of the merzost used to create the Fold in the first place. He used it again to create the shadow monsters, the nichevo’ya, that protect him. As he exerts that power more we see how it weakens him and makes him sick. In the show, it gives him symptoms like a harsh cough and splitting headaches. Still, he uses the nichevo’ya constantly and even infects Nikolai Lantsov (Patrick Gibson) with merzost when he turns the nichevo’ya on Alina’s (Jessie Mei Li) allies.
The only other person we know of thus far in the Grishaverse to have used merzost is Alina Starkov.
Alina’s Tryst With Merzost
When Alina used Merzost to revive Mal she became the third known person to ever use the taboo power. How she utilizes it in the show is quite different from how she uses it in the source material, however. In the show, as Nina (Danielle Galligan) tries and fails to revive Mal, Alina steps in and channels her power into him, using merzost to bring him back. We see the fear this invokes in Nina who’s aware her attempts were unsuccessful, but any long term changes or effects of this choice remain to be seen. In the book, however, Alina uses merzost through her still-active connection to the Darkling in order to create her own nichevo’ya (shadow monsters like the Darkling uses) to fight back against him at the end of the second novel. As a result of her using the power that one time her hair turns permanently white.
The show takes merzost in a different direction. Morozova used merzost directly to revive his daughter, turning her into the third amplifier that would be passed down through generations. And this direct use of it for revival is mirrored by Alina when she uses the power to revive Mal. In the books, it’s only ever really shown as a tool of terrible creation with the nichevo’ya being the most prominent result of using merzost in the story except for, of course, The Fold that cuts Ravka in half.
The After Effects
After using merzost, much like using the drug Jurda parem, the user is forever changed. In the book, Alina lost the color of her hair and her powers weakened. For the Darkling, we see it takes a massive toll on his health and that even with all his power his nichevo’ya sometimes act without his control. Even as the creator of the Fold and as the product of his own merzost, the volcra were still hostile to Kirigan. Nikolai’s infection with merzost is an unintended consequence of the Darkling using it on him and one that will take him months or even years to truly understand. The things created by merzost are unwieldy and what it touches is forever changed. The bloodline of Morozova’s daughter forever carried the power of amplification, Nikolai will carry the scars of his infection forever, and the land touched by the Fold will forever be scarred and barren by its influence. Though the magic of merzost can sometimes be undone, its effects cannot be so easily erased.
Can Merzost Be Used For Good?
So far merzost has been used for two revivals and one massive, country-splitting abomination, so the track record isn’t great. But merzost isn’t gone. We’ve seen the power of the Darkling and his nichevo’ya lives on like an infection in Nikolai. And Alina, unlike her book counterpart, still has her powers and is very much still a Saint in the public eye. With these two working together, we might get to see them both learning more about merzost and how it might not always have to be a danger. Should the series carry on long enough to show us how Nikolai deals with and possibly even learn to channel his shadow monster powers, we can come to understand what exactly merzost actually is.
For most of time in the Grishaverse, merzost has been the stuff of heretics. A terrible tool with a terrible cost. And perhaps it will continue to be so. But now that two of our main characters have wielded it firsthand perhaps we’ll come to understand it in more than philosophical terms. Hopefully, we’ll come to understand how it affects its wielders in the same way we’ll come to understand the drug Jurda parem’s effects. What else merzost can do? And how Alina and Nikolai will deal with its impacts on them? With the two of them leading Ravka into the future, we’ll have to wait and see if we get a Season 3.