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.