Boys AND girls in the military? Scarce in the real world and even in many literature. But now, six books spanning three separate series, New York Times bestseller Leigh Bardugo, created the Grishaverse: a fantasy world with complex geopolitical and social systems. One of these include the nation of Ravka and its intricate military system where young girls are recruited as well.
A Country On The Brink of Extinction
The country of Ravka, heavily inspired by 1800s tsarist Russia, has been at war for centuries, both externally and internally. Bordered to the north and south by two hostile nations, Fjerda and Shu Han, countless border wars have taken a toll on the country, leaving many orphans in its wake. But that’s not the only problem.
Ravka has been split in two by the Shadow Fold for centuries, dividing the interior East from the port cities of West Ravka, leaving the majority of its territory – including the capital – completely landlocked and cut off from the sea. The Fold, also known as the Unsea, is a swath of unnatural darkness roaming with flesh-eating monsters. People that make an attempt of crossing the Fold, often do not survive and it has economically and geopolitically hindered the country for hundreds of years.
These two main factors have driven Ravka to the edge of oblivion. Therefore, able-bodied boys and girls are drafted all over the country for the First Army at age 16 already, most of them orphans. In addition, everyone with Grisha powers – people with elemental abilities – is recruited as well (even younger), also called the Second Army. Continuously low on forces, the common Ravkans had to start young, recruit women and put aside their distrust towards Grisha and take advantage of their powers for the war-effort.
Both genders are formally viewed as equal.
Men and women train together side-by-side in both the First and Second Armies and so both genders are formally viewed as equal in the eyes of the Ravkan monarchy. Would it have developed like this if the country wasn’t in its current state? Probably not. To survive and to have the upper-hand, choices like these seem to be the determining factor and very necessary. Not only gender, but also Grisha and non-Grisha. Meaning, people of all backgrounds, no matter the current social stigma.
Spotlight: Nina, Soldier and Spy
Nina Zenik was only 13 when she was shipped off to the luxurious Little Palace in the capital after a Grisha examiner tested all the children at her orphanage. She was only 15 and still a student when the Ravkan civil war broke out in the first series, and she was evacuated. After the Grisha army was almost decimated at the end of the war, Nina had to accelerate her training and was put in advanced classes for only six months before she was sent into the field at age 16.
Thousands of miles away across the sea on the Wandering Isle, her talent for languages made her the most suitable for her first mission as an undercover spy to recruit new Grisha that Ravka desperately needed to be able to rebuild. Nina had saved dozens of Grisha, but after wandering off she walked right into a Drüskelle camp – a band of Fjerdan witch hunters who take Grisha captive all over the world. She was put in cages on a ship bound for Fjerda to face execution, but a storm hit and they got shipwrecked. She managed to survive the icy waters with her powers increasing her own body temperature and she escaped to Ketterdam, with everyone believing she died.
A True Female Patriot
After a full year abroad, Nina returned home for a few months only to be send out again north to the Grisha-hating, patriarchal nation of Fjerda. With the help of the Corporalki order of the Grisha – those who manipulate the body, she was able to alter her appearance. Her curly brown hair changed into slick white-blonde, her green eyes shifted into blue, and her skin turned paler to look like a native Fjerdan. Her mission wasn’t only to locate Grisha in hiding and bring them to Ravka, but her personal mission became permanently ending the persecution of Grisha – especially the women – in Fjerda.
Infiltrating the highest ranks of the Fjerdan government, 17 year-old Nina became a true patriot, seeking to end the war against her nation and build a new world where her people – Grisha and all women – can live freely. Had her home-country not recruited her because of her gender or because of her special abilities, gifted people like Nina and thousands of other girls would have never become crucial assets to the survival of Ravka.
It’s time to normalize more comradery with girls in male-dominated areas in society.
So in the real world, why do we teach only boys to be patriots, when girls can be just as patriotic and just as willing to fight for their country? It’s time to normalize more interaction and comradery with girls in male-dominated areas in society. If we want to end the patriarchy, it’s time to include women in our battles too, because boys cloistered away from girls in any space will only lead to more sexism and the enforcing of gender roles. Who knows what other Nina’s are hiding out there in the real world right now!
Cover: Kevin Wada