Chapter 1 opens with Alina Starkov walking with her regiment toward the town of Kribirsk, located at the edge of the Shadow Fold. Sometimes called the Unsea, Alina reflects on the Shadow Fold’s dangers as she anticipates her regiment’s crossing, which is slated for the following day. The Fold is a large, black presence that overtakes the horizon and divides the country of Ravka in two. The Ravkan people are terrified of the monsters that live within it. Alina is nearly run over by a carriage that she identifies as the Darkling’s coach for its black-lacquered exterior. She tells Mal about the encounter, who is quickly distracted by a beautiful stranger that smiles at him from another Grisha carriage that moves past.  

Once they arrive at Kribirsk, Alina goes to the Documents Tent, where she speaks with another junior cartographer, Alexei. Alexei trades her one of his drawings in exchange for her story about the Darkling’s cart. Another cartographer’s assistant, Eva, claims that the Darkling is evil and reminds the two that it was a Darkling who originally created the Shadow Fold.  

At dinner, Alexei comments on Alina’s friendship with Mal. He’s surprised that the two of them are so close given how different they are. This conversation prompts Alina to continue thinking about her romantic feelings for Mal as she goes to bed that night. Unable to sleep, she hears the sound of stones hitting the side of the barracks. Knowing that it’s Mal, Alina goes outside. Mal attempts to assuage Alina’s fears about the Shadow Fold.  

The following day, Alina’s regiment is joined by a number of Grisha on a sandskiff headed across the Shadow Fold to West Ravka. Alina makes note of the weapons that the other people on skiff have to protect the skiff from the volcra, the flying, carnivorous monsters that live in the Fold. Alina contemplates how her own small knife is nothing compared to the weaponry that the other soldiers of the First Army have or the magic of the Grisha in the Second Army.  

The skiff goes quietly into the Fold using wind summoned by Grisha Squallers. The passengers are quiet for fear of the volcra, but the silence is disrupted by the sound of volcra wings beating in the darkness. The Grisha Inferni shoot flames into the darkness and reveal hundreds of volcra surrounding the skiff. The next moment dissolves into brutal chaos for the passengers as the volcra attack. Alexei is ripped away from Alina’s side and another volcra swoops to attack her. Mal comes to her aid, fending it off with a rifle shot. While reloading, however, Mal is wounded in the chest by the volcra. Alina stabs it in the back and distracts it long enough for Mal to kill it with a second shot before collapsing. 

In a desperate effort to protect him from the volcra, Alina throws herself over Mal to shield him with her own body. Now faced with the certainty of both her own and Mal’s deaths, something inside of Alina changes. Just as a volcra sinks its claws in her shoulder, the world around her glows with a white light. The volcra suddenly retreat and Alina passes out on the deck. 


The way that the Shadow Fold is characterized in Chapters 1 and 2 establishes it as not only something that physically divides the country of Ravka, but as something that stands for the metaphorical rift that exists in the country between Grisha and people without powers. The Fold looms large over the town of Kribirsk where the First and Second Armies coexist in an uneasy tension with one another. This connection between the Fold and the division of Grisha and non-Grisha continues to develop throughout the book, but Chapters 1 and 2 build the groundwork by having Alina reflect on the nature of the Grisha in the shadow of its expanse. From the way that she considers the preternatural beauty of the Grisha woman who rides by to the physical differences between the Grisha tents and the First Army barracks, Alina’s narration enforces an “us versus them” standpoint that only heightens when they enter the Fold. There, Alina finds herself ill-equipped to defend herself from the volcra and she contemplates the difference between her own capabilities and those of the power-wielding Grisha.  

The monstrosity of the volcra is one of the defining elements of Alina’s experience in the Fold. As with many monsters in literature, the volcra occupy a narrow and seemingly contradictory space where they are characterized both as driven by the most basic natural urge, hunger, while also being inherently supernatural. It is the presence of volcra that truly makes the Shadow Fold dangerous, but before she ventures into the Fold, the volcra themselves are horror stories to Alina. The terror they impose is especially potent when Alina thinks back to the first time she saw a picture of one of the volcra in a book in Duke Karemsov’s library. Alina and Mal were so scared at just the image of a volcra holding a human foot in its filthy claws that they ran away screaming. When she actually makes it into the Fold and then faces down the oncoming volcra, Alina is immediately struck by just how much worse the reality of the volcra is than the images she had in her head.  

The volcra attack provides an important framework for understanding Alina’s motivations as they relate to Mal. Her relationship with Mal is both intimate and fraught—they are deeply familiar with one another because of their shared history but have grown up to be quite different people. Mal is a boisterous First Army tracker, at home roughhousing with his friends Mikhael and Dubrov, while Alina is standoffish. They are far from the children that the reader was introduced to in the prologue and it has created both a distance and a tension between them. Added to this tension are Alina’s feelings for Mal. She is interested in him romantically, but it’s clear that nothing has come of these feelings. She watches from the sidelines as he flirts with other girls and shares meaningful stares with a beautiful Grisha woman. Yet, when faced with the immediate threat of the volcra, both Mal and Alina act on their instincts to protect one another. While Alina is first immobilized with terror, she doesn’t hesitate to throw herself into harm’s way to stop Mal from being hurt. This action stands as a reminder that this relationship is of utmost importance to both characters despite how different they have become. 

Even though the Darkling isn’t seen at all in these chapters, his presence exerts a force on the world around him. The Darkling has what can be read as an “absent presence” whereby evidence of him is seen everywhere, but he himself does not appear. The Darkling’s absent presence functions in a couple of ways in this section. Firstly, it underscores the way that he’s sewn into the fabric of Ravka, for his power is practically omnipresent for the people of his country. From the black carriage that draws everyone’s attention, to the elaborate and monumental tent near the city of Kribirsk, symbolic manifestations of the Darkling are everywhere the eye can see. This shows the way he has been influencing the world long before Alina finds herself in his tent. Secondly, this hints at the influence he will have on Alina in the months to come. In the opening of the first chapter, Alina is nearly run over by the Darkling’s carriage, knocking her off the path. This foreshadows the role that the Darkling will have in the greater arc of Alina’s life.