Y’all know I am all about the fantasy up in here (oh god did I really just say it like that?), especially high fantasy, so you can imagine my unbridled JOY when I got an ARC of Leigh Bardugo‘s upcoming Shadow and Bone a couple of months ago.
Let me just say right up front that it is everything I could have hoped for and more. Beautifully written and imaginative, with dark intrigues galore and a world rich and dangerous as Philip Pullman’s in His Dark Materials and Kristin Cashore’s Seven Kingdoms, Shadow and Bone is sure to become a modern fantasy classic.
Read on to find out more about Leigh, Shadow and Bone, and the world of the Grisha. And comment below to win an ARC of Shadow and Bone!*
First, a bit about Shadow and Bone (from Goodreads):
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.
Also, here is the trailer:
YEAH. I KNOW.
Okay, Leigh, let’s do this. You ready?
LET’S DO THIS THANG.
1. One of the things I love so about this book is the Russian-flavored setting and how original that feels. Tell us a little about the inspiration for the world of Shadow and Bone. What led you to craft a fantasy world like this?
Thank you! (And thanks for having me by to chat.) When I got into world building, all I knew was that I wanted the advent of modern warfare to be a part of the story. I went scrounging around the travel and history sections of a local used bookstore and I happened to pull an old Russian Imperial Atlas from the shelf. There was a picture on the cover of three men in coats and fur hats standing by a sledge in the snow. I started flipping through it, looking at trade routes, exports, military campaigns, and something just clicked. Now I don’t feel like the story could belong to any other world.
2. What kind of research did you do to give the setting of Ravka such authenticity? Did you do a lot of reading up on Russian culture and folklore? (Note: Leigh talks a bit about her research in her acknowledgments, but I wanted to give her a chance to elaborate further here for those who don’t have ARCs!)
Hmm, I think “authentic” may be a loaded word. Ravka isn’t Russia. It’s a fantasy world with Russia as its cultural touchstone, and my world building was based on what I felt best served the story and the reader’s experience– not on what was authentically Russian.
As for the process, I spent about two months researching Russian history and culture. I put a limit on it because I knew burying myself in folklore and history could be a very comfortable way to avoid getting back to the draft. My favorite find and one that I recommend to anyone interested in reading about the real Russia was Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes. It’s a thoughtful, richly detailed cultural history of Russia and also just a really good read. A few others are Land of the Firebird, the Beauty of Old Russia by Suzanne Massie, Russian Folk Belief by Linda J. Ivanits, and The Bathhouse at Midnight by W. F. Ryan. I bought up old atlases and art books, and acquired an absolutely obscene book of Russian slang. (Those people know how to swear like nobody’s business.) I was also inspired by the illustrations of Ivan Bilibin. So gorgeous. I definitely recommend checking out his work.
3. One of the things I find most challenging (and fun!) about writing fantasy is coming up with a language system that sounds exotic but also accessible. What kind of system did you develop for crafting the names of various characters and locations throughout Ravka?
This was a big challenge with Ravkan. Russian is an incredibly opaque language for non-speakers. Because we don’t share an alphabet, most of the words don’t have any resonance for us.
I took a few different approaches. For instance, when I named the town where Mal and Alina took their military training, I used the root “polis” for city (which also gives a nice echo of “police”) and added a Russian suffix. The result was Poliznaya. Or for the Darkling’s title, in Russian, “yes, sir” would be something like “da, moi gospodin.” Instead, I took the root word “sovereign” and his title became “soverennyi.” I don’t know if this is something a reader will pick up on or care about, but I think details like this can make a difference.
In a very few cases, I did use real Russian words. The Darkling’s personal guard are the oprichniki. This was the same name given to Ivan the Terrible’s brutal secret police. I chose the name Grisha for the magical elite because it is the Russian diminutive of Gregory which means “watchful” and derives from the biblical Grigori (which a lot of paranormal fans will recognize from fallen angel tales). Whenever I use a Russian word or a fragment of a Russian word, there’s a story behind it for anyone who wants to go looking.
Language can be a touchy thing and I know people may not like some of the choices I made, but I did agonize over every one of them– from choosing “Starkov” over “Starkova” to “Corporalki” over “Corporalniki.” (If you’re interested in seeing how it’s really done, check out conlang.org, home base of David Peterson. He built Dothraki for the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones and he’s so welcoming and generous with his time. The site is a great resource for writers and language lovers.)
4. Let’s talk about your main character, Alina. What was it like writing her? Was she a challenge? Did she come easily? What can readers expect from her that they might not find in other YA heroines?
There are so many amazing YA heroines out there these days. I will say that Alina isn’t someone who finds out that she’s the Chosen One and starts kicking ass and taking names. Don’t get me wrong, I love those heroines, but I wanted to write a story about a girl who struggles to be strong. Discovering her power is just the first step in Alina’s journey, and she needs more than a makeover to get right with herself.
Writing her was tough because, while I always liked Alina’s pragmatism and prickliness, I think I had to get comfortable with her vulnerability. She’s had a hard life and she’s hungry to find a place to belong. She makes some iffy choices because of this and sometimes it was difficult to let her.
5. Now, let’s talk the Darkling. I won’t say much about him because, believe me, y’all, you don’t want to be spoiled on anything in this book, but especially the Darkling. But let’s be honest here: He was super fun to write, yes? Why do you think those ambiguous characters are so fun, both for the writer and the reader?
Well, people who are wholly any one thing are awfully predictable. When a character has bad and good impulses, when he’s fighting against particular elements in his nature, you never know what might happen. And when you throw power like the Darkling’s into the mix, it starts to get really fun because that tension charges even the most innocent exchanges. It’s like there’s a secret conversation happening beneath the surface: “Hey, what did you have for breakfast?” You do realize I could cut you in half without raising a blade, right? “You had frittata? I love frittata.” Almost as much as I love the cries of my enemies.
6. Did you put together a soundtrack while writing Shadow and Bone? If so, can you share some of that music with us here?
When I write, if I listen to music, it’s something I can ignore like Ratatat or Four Tet, or I’ll cue up something classical. And yes, I do love a Slavic chorus.
But I had a few songs that I used as emotional prompts. Placebo’s cover of “Running Up that Hill” has this driving, cool intensity that I associated with the Darkling. “Winter Song” by Sarah Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson was Mal and Alina’s song and it rips my heart out every time. And… I hesitate to mention this last one because I think all YA writers feel like Florence + the Machine is scoring their stories, but I always felt like “Cosmic Love” belonged to Alina, Mal, and the Darkling. I only let myself listen to that one on occasion because I don’t want it to lose its impact.
7. What was the hardest thing about writing Shadow and Bone? Was it finishing that first draft? Revisions? Brainstorming at the very beginning? Did you ever experience moments of doubt?
I’m actually laughing out loud right now. Did I experience moments of doubt? Not at all. I fell into days-long, soul-wrenching chasms of self-doubt, then rolled around at the bottom of them like a piglet in a misery trough. For me, the biggest challenge is always shutting down those feelings and facing the page anyway.
8. Tell us about your writing experience. When did you first start writing? And have you always written fantasy?
I’ve been writing stories and poems and all manner of nonsense since I was a kid, but I think the dynamic changed when I went to junior high. That was when things got really rough for me at school and at home, and it was also when I discovered science fiction and fantasy. I read and wrote myself into those worlds and I think genre fiction kind of saved me. As I got older, I drifted more toward literary fiction and nonfiction. I worked as a journalist for a while and then writing scripts for movie trailers (“In a land without justice” and so on). These days, I write whatever suits my fancy and just hope that someone will read it.
9. Besides the Grisha trilogy, do you plan to continue writing more YA fantasy in the future? Can you give us any teasers regarding future planned works?
I’d love to write more YA fantasy. I have a few things in the works, but I won’t be free to tackle them until Book 3 of the Grisha Trilogy is finished. In the meantime, I’m working on a horror project set in our world and time. It’s so nice to just be able to say “peanut butter” instead of “ground nut paste from the Isle of Mermu.” (Just so you know, there is no Isle of Mermu, and if there were, they wouldn’t export their precious nut paste. We would have to acquire it through bloody conquest.)
10. What is the most important piece of advice you would give to writers who are seeking publication?
Just finish. Let that first draft be messy, stupid, obvious, ugly. If you don’t know how to deal with something, write the question into the draft and keep moving. Don’t get bogged down.
11. Besides being a writer of awesome books, you are also a makeup artist living in Hollywood. Tell us: Have you met any famous people? And what’s being a makeup artist like? Do you do freelance stuff? Do you work on movie sets? *fangirls, starry-eyed* I find this so interesting and it makes me want to kidnap you for a makeover party. Not to be creepy or anything.
What’s that? I can’t hear you because I’m drinking vegan smoothies with Victoria Beckham.
First of all, you can ALWAYS kidnap me for a makeover party. I looove to talk product and doll up my friends. That said, being a makeup artist is really hard work. It’s a lot of hours on your feet and early mornings. I’ve worked movie and TV sets, some commercial, and print. My favorite thing is runway, though I haven’t gotten to do as much as I would have liked. I would have loved to work NYFW, but I never got called up to the majors. I do have some stories about the fancy people, but you’ll have to be very nice to me and possibly buy me a few cocktails before I spill.
12. Are you reading any books right now? What upcoming books are you most looking forward to?
So many! Eager to dig into the last few books of THE LYMOND CHRONICLES, then WOOL by Hugh Howey. I just started TORN by my agent sister Erica O’Rourke and it’s so much fun. I have ARCs of STRUCK by Jennifer Bosworth, ALTERED by Jennifer Rush, and SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY by Susan Dennard. I’m also going to dip my toe into contemporary with Abby McDonald’s GETTING OVER GARRETT DELANEY. For high fantasy, I cannot wait for PROPHECY by Ellen Oh and THRONE OF GLASS by Sarah Maas. In middle grade, I’m looking forward to CHAINED by Lynne Kelley and THE WIG IN THE WINDOW by Kristen Kittscher. Honestly, there are just too many great books coming out to name. I’m also ready to be fitted for my Cavendish uniform.
13. The zombie apocalypse is upon us. You have time to grab only one book from your bookshelves before heading out with your gun-totin’ posse. Which would it be?
I Before Argh: Speak Fluent Zombie Fast!
14. This is our final and perhaps most important question, Leigh. Tell me: are you Team Zombie or Team Unicorn? *narrows eyes* Consider your answer carefully . . .
Girl, surely you’ve noted my rainbow mane and unwillingness to be tamed. Team Unicorn for life.
Thank you so much for stopping by today, Leigh! Be sure to check out more about Leigh and Shadow and Bone at the links below. And don’t forget! Shadow and Bone hits shelves on June 5th!
To win an ARC of Shadow and Bone, simply comment below! To score a SECOND entry, tweet about this interview/giveaway and copy/paste your tweet’s link in the comments below!
Contest ends Monday, April 23 at 12:00 p.m. EST and is INTERNATIONAL.
Have fun, and good luck!
*Please note: My ARC does NOT have the final cover, so it will not look like the image above. But the guts are all the same!
UPDATE (4/23): And the winner is . . .
Congratulations, Taryn! Please email me at clairelegrandbooks [at] gmail [dot] com with your complete mailing address!
Thank you so much to everyone who read the interview and participated in the giveaway! And of course thanks to Leigh for agreeing to this interview! I hope y’all are excited about Shadow and Bone as much as I am (WHICH IS A WHOLE HECK OF A LOT).