This chapter introduces Alina Starkov and Malyen “Mal” Oretsev in their childhood. Both Alina and Mal have been orphaned by the Ravkan border war and live at Duke Karemsov’s estate, which has been converted into an orphanage. Alina is described as quite thin with a pale, sour complexion, while Mal is short, stocky, and happy. They’re about eight years old according to Ana Kuya, the housekeeper at the Duke’s estate. They’ve been dubbed “manenchki,” or “little ghosts,” by the house staff in part because they’re always sneaking around the estate. The children are quite close, though they’re described as having much different interests. The two spend most of their time avoiding the older children and daydreaming in the nearby meadow about the life they will live together when they leave the orphanage. They dream of running a dairy farm in their adulthood.  

The youngest among the orphans, they are to be tested by Grisha Examiners, who arrive at the estate during the summer. Three Examiners arrive on a troika, dressed in opulent clothing. The children watch them from a balcony while Ana Kuya greets them and explains the pair’s circumstances. One of the Grisha is able to detect that the children are spying on their conversation and calls them forward.  When prompted, Mal exclaims that the Examiners are “witches.” At this, one of the Grisha accuses Ana Kuya of teaching superstitions at the school. Ana Kuya is embarrassed by this accusation but does not refute it. One of the Examiners explains to Mal and Alina that they are not witches, but practitioners of what they call Small Science. They spend a few minutes discussing the difference of magic and nature, with one Examiner using the example of leaves turning different colors in autumn to explain that the Small Science is governed by nature to create change. Not all people can practice the Small Science, but those who can train to become Grisha. Grisha live luxurious lives and they’re dedicated to protecting the kingdom.  

When the Examiners prompt Ana Kuya to leave them alone with the children to perform the Grisha test, Mal interjects to ask what will happen to them if the Examiners find that they are Grisha. To this, the Grisha woman tells them that it’s very unlikely that both children are Grisha, but if one of them is found to be, that child will be taken away to a special school to learn to use their power. Alina and Mal understand this to mean that they will be separated from one another if either is discovered to be a Grisha. They clasp hands and the expression on their faces is explained as though Duke Karemsov is perceiving the moment. The narration asserts that, had the Duke seen the look that passed between them, he would understand the determination the children have not to be separated.  


The prologue of the story helps to situate the reader in the fantastical world of the novel and reveals the way the main characters relate to their surroundings. As they were both orphaned by the Ravkan border wars, Alina and Mal were forced together as children by circumstance, but their relationship blossoms into what will become the most important relationship in Alina’s life. The description of their youth is tragic for the estrangement the children experience from the world at large for being orphans, but it is also described as possessing a certain idyllic quality. The descriptions of their time in the meadow dreaming up imagined futures and the private games they play in the shadows of the house paint a romantic, golden light over even the negative aspects of their upbringing at the Duke’s estate. The chapter takes on a dreaminess that characterizes it as a memory. That Alina is the narrator later on suggests that this may be how she remembers her childhood with Mal. 

With the introduction of the Grisha Examiners, the prologue sets up the bifurcated nature of Ravkan society, in which the people who can use the Small Science are considered as something other than the people who cannot. Ana Kuya treats the Grisha with reverence but acts wary around them. Her wariness hints at bias, and when Mal says that the Grisha are “witches” Ana Kuya says nothing to excuse or contradict what he says. This exposes some of the superstitions held by the common people of Ravka and the way that Mal and Alina have been brought up to believe that the Grisha are different from them. Ana Kuya’s silence in the face of the Grisha’s question about such superstitions taught to the children is telling of how deeply held the belief that the Grisha are something other than the people who cannot use Grisha powers truly is. The people who cannot use the Small Science are considered “normal” and the Grisha are considered alien. This initial othering of the Grisha by Ana Kuya and Mal provides a first look into the complicated social structure that both reveres and oppresses the Grisha in Ravka.  

The appearance of the Grisha showcases the stratification of wealth and status in the world of the novel. Because Alina and Mal are orphans, they live modestly at Duke Karemsov’s estate. The Grisha, on the other hand, are lavishly adorned in colorful keftas and ride in on a fine three-horse carriage known as a troika. When they explain what will happen to the children if they are Grisha, they frame the discovery of Grisha powers as something that unlocks a new world filled with riches. In comparison to the lives the children are leading at the orphanage, the lives the Grisha lead seem almost impossibly wealthy. While the true difference between the wealth and status of the Grisha is explored in greater depth later in the novel, this short scene provides a foundation for the different lives the Grisha lead due to their wealth and status.