Morozova’s stag, and the collar made from its antlers, symbolize power—specifically, the power of mercy. Like many Ravkan children, Alina grows up believing that the stag, the ancient leader of Morozova’s herd, is just a fairy tale. However, the Darkling reveals that not only is the herd real, but that the stag’s antlers could create one of the most powerful amplifiers in the world—and make Alina capable of wielding her power and helping the Darkling destroy the Shadow Fold. Though Alina isn’t entirely aware of it at this point, the stag thus symbolizes easy, thoughtless power grabs. She never considers the cost of killing such an important, ancient creature just for her gain; all she sees is the power it will give her. This also mirrors how the Darkling sees Alina herself. Unbeknownst to her, he plans to enslave her using the amplifier made from the stag’s antlers. Just as Alina sees the stag as a tool, the Darkling sees Alina in the same way—which deprives her of her agency and her humanity.
When Alina finally has the opportunity to kill the stag, she refuses to do so. But almost immediately after, this act of mercy begins to look like a death sentence as the Darkling swoops in, kills the stag himself, and creates Morozova’s collar, which makes it so that he alone controls Alina’s power. Alina characterizes her unwillingness to kill the stag as weakness. However, when the Darkling takes Alina to the Shadow Fold and uses her power to extend the Fold, Alina makes an important realization. Choosing to show the stag mercy was a difficult choice—but a powerful one. Recognizing the power in mercy and compassion allows Alina to retake control of her power and use Morozova’s collar for herself; the Darkling is no longer able to abuse and manipulate her power. Besting the Darkling in this way symbolizes one of the novel’s main points: that mercy is far more powerful than greed and cruelty.
Morozova’s Stag/Morozova’s Collar Quotes in Shadow and Bone
“The horse has speed. The bear has strength. The bird has wings. No creature has all of these gifts, and so the world is held in balance. Amplifiers are part of this balance, not a means of subverting it, and each Grisha would do well to remember this or risk the consequences.”
Another philosopher wrote, “Why can a Grisha possess but one amplifier? I will answer this question instead: What is infinite? The universe and the greed of men.”
If the Darkling came to my room tonight, what would it mean? The idea of being his sent a little jolt through me. I didn’t think he was in love with me and I had no idea what I felt for him, but he wanted me, and maybe that was enough.
I shook my head, trying to make sense of everything. The Darkling’s men had found the stag. I should be thinking about that, […] but all I could think about was his hands on my hips, his lips on my neck, the lean, hard feel of him in the dark.
“The Fold was no mistake.” Baghra dropped her hands and the swirling darkness around her melted away. “The only mistake was the volcra. He did not anticipate them, did not think to wonder what power of that magnitude might do to mere men.”
My stomach turned. “The volcra were men?”
“Oh yes. Generations ago. Farmers and their wives, their children. I warned him that there would be a price, but he didn’t listen. He was blinded by his hunger for power. Just as he is blinded now.”
“But he can’t use an amplifier,” I protested weakly.
“He can use you,” Baghra said softly. “Morozova’s stag is no ordinary amplifier. He will hunt it. He will kill it. He will take its antlers, and once he places them around your neck, you will belong to him completely. You will be the most powerful Grisha who has ever lived, and all that newfound power will be his to command. You will be bound to him forever, and you will be powerless to resist.”
I’d wanted so badly to belong somewhere, anywhere. I’d been so eager to please him, so proud to keep his secrets. But I’d never bothered to question what he might really want, what his true motives might be. I’d been too busy imagining myself by his side, the savior of Ravka, most treasured, most desired, like some kind of queen. I’d made it so easy for him.
This is the truth of him, I thought as I squinted in the dazzling light. Like calls to like. This was his soul made flesh, the truth of him laid bare in the blazing sun, shorn of mystery and shadow. This was the truth behind the handsome face and the miraculous powers, the truth that was the dead and empty space between the stars, a wasteland peopled by frightened monsters.
They’re hungry for this, I realized. Even after they’ve seen what he can do, even after watching their own people die. The Darkling wasn’t just offering them an end to war, but an end to weakness. After all these long years of terror and suffering, he would give them something that had seemed permanently beyond their grasp: victory. And despite their fear, they loved him for it.
I’d thought the stag was haunting me, a reminder of my failure and the price my weakness would exact. But I was wrong.
The stag had been showing me my strength—not just the price of mercy but the power it bestowed. And mercy was something the Darkling would never understand.
I had spared the stag’s life. The power of that life belonged to me as surely as it belonged to the man who had taken it.