Check out the recently released German cover for RUIN AND RISING featuring Alina and the Firebird!
No news on any other cover reveals yet, but we love the blend of colors here!
Leigh Bardugo got together with authors M.L. Brennan (AMERICAN VAMPIRE), Django Wexler (THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS), and Teresa Frohock (MISERERE) to chat about all things books, writing, and connecting with fans!
PART ONE: UNICORNS, HIGHLANDERS, AND THE CHARACTERS WE KILL
Q: What are your feelings about seriously harming or even killing main characters?
Leigh Bardugo: I’m glad that you mentioned doing serious harm, because for me, that’s sometimes the more interesting choice. I like to take away the thing that the character believes defines him or her and then see what happens.
As for killing off characters, agreed on all fronts, particularly Teresa’s points re manipulating or cheating the reader. A death is like a declaration of love or any dramatic moment really—it has to feel earned. Even if the death is deliberately arbitrary (Whedon does this a lot—shrapnel! stray bullet! danger is everywhere!), I think the fallout has to be deeply felt. Otherwise, you’re just upping the body count and there’s a good chance the reader will begin to feel brutalized or simply stop caring. I don’t know. It’s easy to talk about these things in the abstract, but I just locked the third book in my trilogy and I worried quite a bit about striking a balance between the reality of war and narrative satisfaction. I still don’t know if I walked the line successfully.
Q: Is there an element you put in your books not because it was necessary to the plot or characters, but just because it was awesome?
Leigh Bardugo: I like imagining Teresa setting fire to the world. In Siege and Storm, Alina discovers that Mal has been spending his nights brawling in what started out as an ordinary fight club scene because, well, I wanted to write about a fight club. But my friend Sarah called me out on it. She basically said, “What is this Far and Away shiz?” And I knew she was right, but I also knew there was a reason beyond bare-knuckle shenans for why I felt so attached to the scene. It was only on the rewrite that I realized the change I needed to make to give the moment significance: Mal is an ordinary soldier and he needed to be challenging Grisha, the members of the magical elite. He’s doing it to prove he isn’t helpless, to get a bit of his own back—and it ended up having an impact not only on his character, but on the rest of the trilogy.
I desperately, desperately wanted Sturmhond to have a sky fortress in Siege and Storm. I had this whole vision of how it would plummet to the earth in this big battle. But with the rules I’d created for the magical system, it was impossible. In theory, a group of Squallers could have kept a floating fortress aloft and stable, but in the context of my world it would have been an absurd expenditure of resources, completely pointless. So that was the end of the sky fortress. But I still think of it fondly.
Tell us about one novel that you wish you had written.
Leigh: Lawd, I never know what to make of this question, but I’m going with Glen David Gold’s Carter Beats the Devil. It’s one of the most perfectly plotted books I’ve read, and it also strikes this tone of possibility that I haven’t encountered many other places. It’s an intimate story, but it has grand scale. It’s historical fiction, but there’s an element of magical realism. It’s whimsical and improbable, but grounded in something sinister, and heartbreaking, and absurdist. After I read it, I started trying to write a literary novel set in early 1900s Los Angeles. I never got past chapter two. At the same time, I’d hate to have written Carter because then I’d be deprived of the pleasure of simply reading it.
Q: Is there a book you pretend you’ve read, but haven’t? Answers after the break!
Leigh Bardugo: I always nod or smirk as appropriate when Jonathan Franzen’s books are mentioned, but I’ve never read them. The problem is that, at this point, I’ve read enough of his commentary that I’m incapable of giving him a fair read. Am I missing out? Tell me fellow panelists. Unless you haven’t read him, in which case, nod or smirk as appropriate.
Last week at YALL Fest, our correspondent Ellie got a chance to chat with Leigh Bardugo about the Grisha trilogy: The characters! The challenges! The fandom! THE DARKLING.
There are no RUIN AND RISING spoilers in this interview, but if you haven’t read up through SIEGE AND STORM, there may be some major spoilers. Also, if you haven’t read SIEGE AND STORM, what are you waiting for?!
First off, how is RUIN AND RISING coming along?
Leigh Bardugo: Well, the first draft was finished back in February and we’ve done a couple rounds of revisions since then. Now we’re basically just going into copy edits, so it’s done!
Any warnings or clues for your readers?
LB: Not everyone is going to make it out of the series. Those that do survive will be much changed. And many, many secrets will be revealed.
Which book is the Grisha series was the most difficult to write?
LB: Easily book three. Writing book two was incredibly intense. It was the first time I’ve written on a deadline and I was making the world much more complex. There were more characters and the political dynamics of the world came much more into play. But book three… books one and two are really about opening doors and book three was really about closing doors. It was really hard to say goodbye to the characters and also to make everything so final, despite the fact that I had plotted out the book literally years before. To bring those things into to being was a much more difficult process than I had anticipated.
As you were writing, did you leave your characters possible for alternate outcomes or were you set in their journey from the very beginning?
LB: I always knew where they would end up, but there were certain characters– There was a character in book two– I talk about this a lot and people always get frustrated because I won’t reveal who it is. There was a character in book two that I intended to kill off, but I just couldn’t. That was because that character still had a big journey to go on. That was really the only surprise of the series. But for the most part, even despite that, the ending has never budged and I think I always knew where they needed to end up, why they needed to be there. Alina’s story is– I’ve always known where the heart of her story is. If she had gone someplace different, it would have betrayed all of the things I’d set up to begin with…. That was very vague. (laughs)
When I first got into the books, I knew very little except that people were in love with The Darkling. When I found out the truth about The Darkling, I was shocked. Did you expect people to fall in love with him? How do you feel about that?
LB: Any time people connect with your characters, it’s kind of this wonderful surprise. I was not very active in the YA world in terms of readers and fantoms. I had no idea what that would be like or even to hope for it. In that way it was really gratifying but… (laughs) Honestly, if I didn’t want The Darkling to be appealing, I would have just pulled a Vader or a Voldemort. It would be like “Oh! My evil is making me gross and disintegrating my nose!” I want him to be appealing because I feel like that’s what charismatic leaders and dictators are like, otherwise nobody would follow them.
What is the most unique fan art, costume, gift, etc that you have seen or received?
LB: It actually happened on this last tour at our first stop. Two people cosplayed Alin and the stag, but they based the costly on fan art by Irene Koh. I was like “Now, if somebody writes fanfic of this, we’ll basically open up a wormhole.” That was incredibly fun, especially because I love seeing readers interact with each other. It’s fun for me to chat with them, but it’s cool for me when people get each other to read the books or plan things together. I’m part of the fan community. I’m a member of the Game of Thrones fandom, The Brotherhood Without Banners, and those people are a really big part of my life. So it’s really cool for me to see other people being brought together by the books. Again, something I never really anticipated, but it’s really fun to witness.
Is there anything you would have done differently if you were to redo your writing process for the series?
LB: I wish I could go back and eliminate some of the self-doubt I experienced. That’s something that kind of perches on my shoulder throughout the books. I’m getting better about that, but there are still days when I feel like I’m not capable of finishing a book or I have no idea how to do it; I don’t know how I managed it before and I’ll never manage it again. There are some magic and alchemy that I can’t recreate. There was so much of that early on and I wish I could go back and reassure that past Leigh that I could do it. That’s why whenever I talk to aspiring writers, I tell them to let go of that voice inside that says you can’t and tell them that they can.
Are you set on the fantasy genre or do you plan on writing other genres as well?
LB: Whatever I write will have some element of fantasy or the supernatural in it, but there’s a good chance I will deviate from secondary world fantasy and write some horror. Who knows what else.
If you had to enter the Shadow Fold, what would be your survival strategy?
LB: (laughs) I would curl up in the fetal position and I would sing softly to myself. Start singing “Soft Kitty.”
Would you want to be a Grisha and if so, what class would you be?
LB: I would love to be a Heartrender, but I think deep down, I’m really a Fabrikator. I’m kind of crafty but also I’m most happy when I’m sitting in my workshop all by myself. I don’t think I would be on the front lines.
What’s next for you?
LB: I can’t really talk in too much detail about what I’m working on right now. I’m hoping to be able to make an announcement soon. I can tell you that it is fantasy. I was just at a writing retreat and I spent the first week of that retreat drafting this new book. I’m very excited.
Do you have any last messages for your fans?
LB: A very heartfelt thank you. I feel very, very grateful. I have basically my dream job and you’re the reason for it, so thank you.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
You just never know how the story is going to go. Of course, when you read the first book of a series, you naturally expect the second book to be about the same. However, you can’t always rely on that, because sometimes that’s not always the case.
I can’t say that this book generally follows the same pace as the first book, because for me, it doesn’t. That isn’t to say I didn’t like it, because as you can see by my rating, I did. But it is different, and to be honest, some people may not find the pacing to their liking.
There is still a good bit of action involved, however, there’s also a lot of internal turmoil with Alina and having to deal with the ramifications of the events of the first book, even when it comes to Mal, or especially when it comes to Mal. You find her to be very untrusting of anyone, including herself, as may be expected, and you may find it frustrating. I know I did.
Mal’s position in all this is also much different than when it was in the first book, and you learn more about it. I definitely felt for him, but I found him just as much in turmoil emotionally as Alina, even after reuniting with her at the end of Shadow and Bone.
There are some supporting characters that make a return in a way you didn’t expect and there are a few new characters that are quite likeable. Keep a watch out for Sturmhond. He is by far the most exciting new character in the book.
As with some second books, they tend to be more of a set-up for the third and final book of the series. This one serves its purpose as that, I believe, and in saying so, again it feels realistic in the pacing of the procession of events. That’s not to say it’s boring, because I was actually surprised at how fast I was able to read through the book.
The book is quite descriptive, but I don’t think that you could understand anything about the action-y parts of the book without the descriptive parts of the book, so I appreciated the pacing of it.
The hard part was wanting things to be good for these people and not seeing it fully realized. This book had my heart pumping and aching and tightening, and every so often, laughing with humor… but not as often as I would like. Yes, I am not ashamed to say tears were shed, even for people that I didn’t think I would shed tears for.
The hard part about having to complete it so fast is that I have to wait that much longer for Ruin and Rising to be released. *sigh* Waiting can be so torturous in itself.
Realistically, I’d give this book a 3.5 stars, so slightly less than Shadow and Bone, but still very good.
You can read my review of Shadow and Bone here.
On Leigh Bardugo‘s fifthteenth stop in her Siege and Storm blog tour, we get to know more about Sturmhond, Alina Starkov, and Botkin Yul-Erdene. Sturmhond is a character that is introduced in book two, so he would be unfamiliar to you if you haven’t read the first five chapters, but he’s already attracted more than a handful of fans. Let’s read more, shall we?
Most Frequently found Wearing: A teal frock coat, leather breeches, and a brace of pistols
Line of Work: Privateer
Skills: Smuggling, arms trading, breaking blockades, making mayhem
Likes: Money, good wine, enthusiastic women
Dislikes: A fair fight
Inspired by: Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond, Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, and someone too spoilery to mention.
Frequent Fancasts: He’s new to the scene, but Lee Pace, Colin O’Donoghue, Caleb Landry Jones
“My mother was an oyster and I’m the pearl.”
Leigh’s Comment: Sturmhond practically writes himself. Whereas most of my characters struggle with their motives and themselves, Sturmhond is pure confidence. He knows exactly who he is and exactly what he wants. It’s a pleasure to write that kind of clarity of intent.
Name: Alina Starkov
Most frequently found wearing: Blue and gold
Occupation: Former cartographer’s assistant in the First Army, Sun Summoner
Skills: Summoning and manipulating light, the Cut
Likes: Sweet rolls, time spent in the meadow
Inspired by: … hard to say. But I like to think there’s a little Emma Stone in there.
Frequent fancasts: Crystal Reed, Taissa Farmiga, Sarah Bolger
“I’m not the world changing type.”
Leigh’s Comment: People often ask if I’m like Alina. I’ve always felt like an outsider and we definitely share a similar sense of humor, but beyond that, we’re quite different. Alina is braver and more forthright than I could ever hope to be, and she’s simply had a much rougher time of it. It’s not always easy to see her fail or make a bad choice, or to watch her struggle with her own fear and doubts, but I like heroes who don’t always get it right, and I hope all the hell I put her through makes for a more interesting story.
Name: Botkin Yul-Erdene
Most Frequently found wearing: roughspun and something lethal
Line of Work: Combat instructor at the Little Palace
Skills: A trained mercenary, Botkin is deadly no matter which weapon he wields
Likes: Seeing progress in his students even if they have to suffer for it
Inspired by: One of my grade school teachers who was also a former marine
Frequent Fancasts: Jason Momoa, Sifu Kisu, Clive Russell
“Steel is earned.”
Leigh’s Comment: Botkin is a Shu mercenary tasked with training Grisha in hand-to-hand combat. He’s tough on his students because they tend to rely too much on their powers, and drives them mercilessly in drills and sparring bouts. Though Botkin is gruff, he’s never cruel. He really is quite a bit like Mr. Lee, my fifth grade humanities teacher. He was a little terrifying and definitely hard to impress, but that made his praise all the more valued.
On Leigh Bardugo‘s seventh stop in her blog tour, Leigh gives us more insight on Alina, the 2 previously known male characters and 1 new male character in Siege and Storm, as well as some information on Ravkan wedding traditions (what?!):
Jen: I love that the books explore the issue of women and power. In Shadow and Bone, Alina remembers suppressing her Grisha abilities as a child. Using her powers brings Alina a sense of joy and even pride, but also a great deal of ambivalence, guilt and self-doubt. Can you talk a little about this?
Leigh: One of the questions at the heart of Shadow and Bone is what we give up, what we’re willing to sacrifice to belong to someone or something. I think we often make those concessions—women in particular—without even realizing it, so I wanted to explore that. But I also think Alina’s struggle with power is as much about class as it is about gender. At the beginning of the series, she’s a girl without status or prospects or any kind of real say in her life. So while using her power is a joyful thing, the repercussions of actually wielding influence are much harder for her to contend with.
Jen: Dealing with those repercussions is certainly a huge part of Alina’s story in Siege and Storm.Transformation is another theme in your books. Besides being a writer, you’ve worked as a “glamour and ghouls” make-up artist. Do life and art intersect in this area for you?
Leigh: I worked primarily in beauty as opposed to effects, so most of the time, my job was to make someone look “natural” (now there’s an illusion) or perfect a smoky eye. But my favorite shoots were the ones that combined the beautiful and the bizarre, where I got to bring a little bit of fantasy to life. With both makeup and writing, the goal is to hide the craft, so that the viewer or the reader never has cause to question the illusion. Hopefully, they just get to experience something magical.
Jen: I would definitely call your books magical! And yet, Alina also feels like a real girl. She can be prickly and sarcastic — and funny! In an interview last year with author Claire Legrand, you described Alina as someone who “struggles to be strong.” Would you still describe her that way in Siege and Storm?
Leigh: I think that may depend on your definition of strength. Alina is far more powerful, more confident, and simply more dangerous in Siege and Storm. Now she has to struggle to maintain her humanity. Being merciful, kind, and just, and balancing those traits with the authority to rule requires a different kind of strength.
Jen: You’ve also written a trio of swoonworthy yet complicated male characters: Mal, the hunky guy next door with a chip on his shoulder, the Darkling – the tortured bad boy – and then, in Siege and Storm, the swashbuckling, wisecracking Sturmhond, who is creating quite a buzz around the blogosphere. They’ve inspired fan art and fanfic. Are you amazed by how invested people have become in your characters?
Leigh: It’s the craziest, most wonderful thing. I am so blown away by the things that people create, by their talent, by the fact that they care enough about the characters and the story to find all of these wonderful ways to bring them to life. I just don’t think there’s any higher compliment. But one of the reasons I like tumblr so much is that we’re all fans of something. I love finding out that I share fandoms with my readers, because then we get to geek out over Legend of Korra or The Mortal Instruments or Game of Thrones together.
Jen: I love your Game of Thrones posts! I can tell that you’re an avid fantasy fan, but I also think about history and historical figures when reading your books. After finishing Siege and Storm, I began to wonder if Alina might surprise us all and stay single, like Queen Elizabeth I. Then last month I saw an intriguing little tidbit that you posted on tumblr:
Is this wedding you speak of a love match? A marriage of convenience? Is it reminiscent of the plots of any of these Hollywood wedding movies: The Runaway Bride, My Best Friend’s Wedding or What Happens In Vegas?
Leigh: Ha! Well, I didn’t say it would be Alina’s wedding, did I? Elizabeth is an interesting parallel.
Jen: Well, no, you didn’t say that. But… hmmm… I’m going to have to think more about this.
Leigh Bardugo, author of Shadow and Bone and the upcoming Siege and Storm, is now on a blog tour every day until the release of said book, and on this second stop, she answers some questions about Siege and Storm, so be warned, there might be slight spoilers in this Q&A.
Alina finds herself in the rather unique position of having to design an original kefta to wear so as to set her apart from the other Grisha. If you were in her shoes, what might the kefta you design for yourself look like?
Oh wow. I love this question, but I’m so torn. I’d either go Heartrender red or just take my chances and dare to wear black.
We get to meet a new and magnificent mythical creature in this second installment. Is there any one magical or mythological creature that has always fascinated you most?
I desperately want a direwolf, but I would gladly settle for a baby dragon. I think the gorgon always fascinated me. There’s something very poignant about that myth and the way she’s defeated.
Let’s say you arrive at the Little Palace and petition Alina to let you aid her. What type of position do you think would best suit you and what skills would you bring to the table to assist her with her many and varied problems?
Alina would probably send me packing. I have no skills! Maybe I could tell her stories and sing her songs? I can whip up a pretty good apple and apricot tart. Beyond that, I’ve always thought I’d make an excellent fool what with the capering and falling down. I’m certainly willing to wear bells, but I can’t juggle or play an instrument so I may be out of luck.
Alina’s life gets significantly more complicated and dangerous in Siege and Storm. If she were to stand in front of a mirror and admit to her own face one of her greatest fears knowing speaking it aloud would ease some of her burden, what might she say?
In Shadow and Bone, I think Alina most fears that she will never find her place in the world, that she will always be an outsider, that the one person who truly knows her will leave her behind. Those fears are still there in Siege and Storm, but she’s also contending with terrible guilt and the burden of tremendous power. I don’t know that it would be as simple as articulating a single fear.
Mal and Alina have known each other almost their entire lives. What would Mal say is one of his fondest memories of them together growing up?
This question made me really think about the memories that come up for both of them over the course of the series. So often they seem like stolen things—sneaking away to play in the meadow, or the brief moments in the dom cart. Keramzin wasn’t a joyful place, so the happiness they found they had to make together.
The Darkling continuously haunts Alina throughout this story, trying to get her to see things his way through both veiled and obvious threats as well as soothing words. If he was to stand before her to try and convince her of his cause one final time but had to do so in the form of a single question, what would he ask her?
I’m not sure he’d ask anything at all. The Darkling isn’t big on requests.