This story does not contain spoilers for Netflix’s Shadow and Bone.
The Fold—it’s one of the first features of Netflix’s Shadow and Bone universe (the “Grishaverse”) we encounter, and for good reason. Geography is fundamental to fantasy literature. The journey of our fictional heroes is a journey through space, through specific spaces—through Mount Doom, across the Iron Sea, into Arrakis, etc. The worlds are defined by their geographies, nations and mountain ranges and seas that are so dispersed and linguistically confusing that these books require actual maps to figure out. Because of the complexity, most fantasy literature might be called “encyclopedic literature.” In short: there’s a lot of crap to keep track of.
The physical world of the Grishaverse, spanning several nation states and at least one large body of water, is mostly defined through its yonic-shaped north-south gash in the state of Ravka—the story’s fictional amalgamation of Russia and 16thcentury Dutch Amsterdam. This cartographic gash, called “the Shadow Fold,” the “Fold,” and also the “Unsea,” motivates most of the geopolitical drama across the novels and the Netflix adaptation. We’ll get to this in a bit.
What is the Fold?
Most simply, The Fold is a shadowy region containing flying, flesh-eating monsters known as Volcra, which are inexplicably both attracted to and repelled by light. (The Volcra are rumored to be souls trapped in the fold during its creation centuries earlier.) The Fold is essentially unmapped, or at least not well known to most armies. In the Netflix series, there exists only a few routes through the Fold, which are used to smuggle migrants, transport diplomats, and carry cargo.
Why traverse it? The state lines of Ravka are hemmed by natural boundaries to the north and south—mountains and dense forests separate Ravka from long-time enemies, Fjerda and Shu Han. Unable to make contact with the adjacent Fold region through circumnavigation, Ravka is forced to travel through the Fold.
Why is the Fold important?
The Fold, however, also acts as something like a Berlin Wall, creating distinct eastern and western political, social, and economic identities. One of the main political tensions of Season 1 is the growing secession attempts in East Ravka, where military generals vie to break away from the West, which contains the country’s capital.
The Fold likewise impacts the identity of the story’s characters. Alina Starkov, the series protagonist, is told early into the first episode that her parents were killed crossing the Fold. In more symbolic terms, the Fold’s darkness foils Alina’s Grisha identity; she is light. The darkness of the Fold acts as a kind of animus for Alina, embodying her past and the literal dark side of her powers. As she says in the series opening, “When I was young, I was scared of the dark. When I grew older, I learned darkness was a place.”
Alina’s entire journey is organized around destroying the Fold. Like all heroes’ journeys, that path will be both external and internal. Alina’s ability to achieve this boon in future seasons depends as much on combatting herself, her past, her powers, as much as the dark forces of the Fold.
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