You only need a few minutes with Grisha trilogy author Leigh Bardugo (“Shadow and Bone,” “Siege and Storm,” “Ruin and Rising”) to know that she is a certified hardcore geek. Leigh was brought here by National Book Store for book signing events and to meet her fans.
We’re unabashed fans of her, too. “Shadow and Bone” introduces us to the world of Grisha, humans born with the ability to wield different elements of nature. The trilogy is filled with lush imagery, compelling characters, and a story that will keep you wanting more. Leigh has created a world that you want to inhabit, a testament to her world-building skill. “For me, the sign of a good fantasy is when I close the last page and I want to go back into the world because I can’t get enough of it,” she says. That’s exactly how we felt when we entered Ravka, and we’re glad that her next series, an “Ocean’s Eleven” meets “Game of Thrones” heist adventure with fantasy elements, is still set in the world of Grisha.
Inquirer Super chats with Leigh about her nod to Buffy, shutting down Twitter haters, Six Of Crows, Nikolai, The Darkling, why the recent “Game of Thrones” season makes her want to be involved in the film adaptation of her books (picked up by “Harry Potter” producer David Heyman), and the “unfinished” parts of the Grisha trilogy (warning: spoilers ahead, make sure you’ve read all three books before proceeding).
Was that final scene with Alina and the amplifiers inspired by Buffy’s series finale?
There’s a lot of Buffy influence in that moment and few people pick up on that, but yes. Obviously this is a huge spoiler, but I wanted to have that moment. It was more of a loss for Alina because Buffy didn’t lose her ability to be a slayer, so it’s a bigger sacrifice, but I wanted the relationship between Grisha power and the people without Grisha power to fundamentally change because of Alina.
Was it difficult for you to do that to Alina?
Yes, very much so. I think that’s something readers have struggled with, but throughout the books, I talk about, “What is infinite? The universe and the greed of men.” Baghra warns Alina repeatedly— there’s a price for what you’re doing and when you mess with this particular kind of magic, the results are never what you would expect them to be. I think it’s important that you don’t get to sidestep the rules just because you happen to be the hero of the story or your heart seems true, because guess what? Most villains start out as good guys, too. It was a painful thing to write, but I also felt it was very much right for the story. And also, I wanted Ravka to have a future that wasn’t stable. There’re more stories to tell and if we had entered a world where all was well then that would shut down.
That really doesn’t bother me. Occasionally I would get a tweet from somebody who’s like, “How come Alina and The Darkling didn’t end up together?” I’m all for people who want to write fanfic, but there’s absolutely no way I would ever make a relationship that was, quite frankly abusive. People like to forget the fact that he tried to enslave her, tried to steal her power, and even if you put all those things aside, the idea that Alina would forge that kind of alliance with somebody who mutilated one of her friends…Alina has this team of people who had sacrificed so much to defeat this man, the idea that all of a sudden she was going to be, “Never mind, he’s hot, let’s have fun.” It was just unacceptable to me. All ships are welcome in the harbor, I have no problem with that.
If I wanted people to hate The Darkling there would’ve been many ways to do that, I could have him kill a kitten or something. It almost became this challenge where I was going to keep him as compelling, charismatic and attractive as possible because I don’t believe the people that are most dangerous to us are devoid of those qualities; they’re the people who enter our lives who are broken and beautiful, but are still bad news.
Speaking of kittens, we’re so glad you didn’t kill Oncat.
My friend would’ve killed me if I killed Oncat. I love the idea of animal companions. I don’t regret killing The Darkling, but I regret killing Harshaw (Oncat’s owner).I actually miss writing him.
Was Genya inspired by your previous job as a makeup artist?
Genya was very much inspired by my time in makeup and effects, and I think moreso she was inspired by the fact that I grew up and worked in Hollywood. I saw firsthand what beauty can and can’t do for you, I think to treat beauty as anything other than a commodity is pretty dishonest. There are times when we want to pretend that it doesn’t have an effect on us, but it does and at the same time there are limits to that power, and Genya experiences that very explicitly.
Do you miss being a makeup artist?
Not even a little bit. You’re on your feet 10 to 12 hours, people talk down to you. Makeup was always supposed to be a trade, it wasn’t supposed to be my career. It was the way I was going to pay my way through grad school and it didn’t really work out that way. I still love doing makeup, but I don’t miss the grind. It’s a very hard career.
If you had asked me that a couple of years ago I would’ve said no because I really do feel it’s a different medium. That said, I would hate to be completely removed from it. You really never know how much say you have when it comes to a film, but I think it would be very hard to see somebody adapt my work in a way that I didn’t like. I think I feel differently about it because I’m very into Game of Thrones—that’s my fandom—and there have been things that happened this season that I thought, “If somebody took my work and did some of the things that the television writers have chosen to do, I think it would be incredibly difficult for me.” I would feel like somebody was putting me in a weird outfit and making me walk around in it.
We loved your Ravkan folk tales; are there plans to compile these into a book?
I would love that so much. I think I have to write a few more, but one of my dream projects is to have a whole book of not just Ravkan folk tales, but also other countries in the Grisha world. I’d love to write some Fjerdan folk tales and stories from Novyi Zem—I would love to see a beautiful illustrated version of that.They take a lot of time to write, I put a lot of care into them.
As the Grisha world got bigger, how did you keep track of everything? Was there a big wall or journal?
I would like to pretend that I had some grand system for this, but I don’t. Every time I start a new book, I have a new three-ring notebook that I start and I have a stack of them now. I have lists of countries, lists of characters, lists of names, but there is no grand organizational system. I’m so tightly bound by deadlines and promoting that there’s never been a moment to sit down and organize all of it. In terms of the mythology and the power, that’s not too hard to keep track of, but I do have a bad tendency to recycle names.
Tell us about the research that goes into writing fantasy.
For each book there’s a different research process. For “Shadow and Bone,” I did a lot of reading of cultural history—folk tales, food, trade routes— I tried to make the worlds tangible, real and familiar enough to my readers that it would feel less like something that I invented and more like a travelogue from an alternate universe. That’s the dream, to create a place that people actually feel like they could visit.
There was nautical research for “Siege and Storm,” molecular chemistry for the small science, and for “Six Of Crows” I had one guy who was in the CIA who helped me with the way that they protect places, like nuclear power plants and the White House, because I wanted the defenses of the Ice Court to be based in reality.
Were you the one who drew the map?
I created a map while I was writing “Shadow and Bone,” because I couldn’t keep track of where things were. There were just too many towns and I needed to figure out distances that people were traveling and how long it would take them to travel. I created that just for my own personal reference and it’s not sophisticated at all. It’s like, a zigzag line for mountains.
So you’re no Alina, huh?
(laughs) She wasn’t a good cartographer either! But yeah, I would not have made it into the Army Corps of mapmakers. I have very limited logistic skills, but they took my map and gave it to Keith Thompson, who is an incredible artist. He is the one who created the map of the Grisha world and then expanded it. For the new book you’ll see a map that is slightly updated since a lot of things have changed in the world, and we’ll also have the schematic for the Ice Court, which is the Fjerdan stronghold that my team in “Six Of Crows” has to break into.
Tell us more about “Six Of Crows.”
It’s basically my ragtag-band-of-misfits-pulls-off-impossible-heist story. It’s Ocean’s Eleven, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Dirty Dozen, Inglourious Basterds, my favorite kind of story to tell. It takes place in Kerch which is mentioned throughout the trilogy; it’s where Nikolai (Lantsov) went to university briefly and it’s where everybody goes for loans. It’s this prosperous cosmopolitan hub of international trade and just as it’s the hub of all legal trade, it’s also the hub of illegal trade. There’s a thriving criminal underworld in Ketterdam, which is the capital. All of my heroes are connected in one way or another and I do use the term heroes lightly. Anti-heroes might be the better term for them. They’re called to pull off a heist that is essentially a suicide mission.
Your books are marketed for the young adult market. Had the trilogy been released under a different publisher, would it have been more violent?
There were publishing houses that were not young adult that bid on the books. I don’t honestly know what the editorial process would’ve been like,but I can say that I’ve had to pull very few punches when it comes to the series. There are books that are considerably more violent than mine and more sexually explicit, but I’ve never felt censored. Frankly, I like blood and guts and darkness and all of those things, but part of the reason I write fantasy is because I love the escapism of it. I like talking about beautiful parties, great food, fantastic clothes. I like glamour, the feeling of going to a place where anything is possible. I want it grounded in something realistic, but I don’t want everything to be unrelentingly bleak, it’s not something I wanna read and it’s not the kind of thing that’s fun for me to write.
A lot of readers were upset about how the third book ended.
I always knew that the third book would be controversial.There is no book that is going to make everybody happy, and to try to aspire to that I think would make for really boring writing. I don’t mind that some people loved it and some hated it, my favorite are the people who come up and say “You tore my heart; let’s do it again.” You don’t know what the response is going to be, all you can do is write the best book that you can. Love it, hate it, talk about it, write reviews, slam me on Amazon, but don’t tag me on Twitter because I will come back at you. I’ve had enough of turning the other cheek (laughs).
It’s good that you don’t feel obliged to be nice all the time.
I feel like we hold YA heroines and YA authors to very different standards. If a YA heroine constantly lets people kick the crap out of her and was always humble, grateful, sweet and kind, you’d say, “Who is this annoying girl?” I feel like if we want our female characters to be strong, honest and forthright with their feelings, then it’s OK to let women authors do the same thing. I think it’s false to live the other way. I’m not going out of my way to hurt them, but what I do want to do is if someone comes up to me and says, “I’m gonna kill you, I’m gonna murder you,” which has happened, what I say is, 1) don’t talk to anybody like that online, and 2) calm down! And usually, people are like, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know you were there, I didn’t know you were going to read this.” I think they forget that there’s a human being on the other side of it. I think there’s a way to be honest and talk about your work honestly without it turning into a war.
Are we going to hear more about Nikolai’s story?
There’s a very good chance I’ll write a book about NIkolai, I’ve always known what his story is going to be and who I want him to end up with, I don’t know when I will write that book. I need to do non-Grisha things for a while. After I finish the second “Six Of Crows” book I’m going to do some other things and then maybe I’ll come back to the Grisha world after that–if people still remember him and want his story.
Do you think Mal and Alina’s children would be Grisha?
There’s a very good chance they would be, it’s in both of their genes—you’re talking about the Sun Summoner and the direct descendant of Morozova. Chances are good.
Are we never going to find out about Alina’s past?
You might. I don’t want to close all the doors, there are uncertainties at the end of “Ruin and Rising,” even in certain deaths that aren’t necessarily forever. I left a lot of things open to interpretation, there’s been a lot of speculation about them and for me that’s the way I wanted to leave the trilogy at that time. What I’ll choose to do, who knows?
Leigh Bardugo’s book signing event will be on June 20 at the Event Center, Lower G/F, SM City Cebu and on June 21 at National Book Store, Glorietta 1. Visit https://nationalbookstore.com.ph for more details and follow them on Instagram/Twitter @nbsalert.
Watch Leigh’s video pronunciation guide of Ravkan terms and her message for her Filipino readers.