Today we’re talking with Leigh Bardugo, author of the bestselling Six of Crows series, the Grisha series, and the upcoming novels, Wonder Woman: Warbringer and The Language of Thorns. And for fans of Leigh’s books, read through to the end for a really amazing giveaway!
Hi Leigh, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today!
Since we’re an LGBTQ+ site, I’m just going to dive right in… let’s talk about Jesper and Wylan! I know I’m not the only one who fangirled so hard over these boys!
Was it organic including Jesper and Wylan as a couple in Six of Crows, because you’d already paired up everyone else in the book? Or when you were outlining the book, did you know from the start they would end up together?
LB: I made a deliberate decision that I did not want to only have straight couples in the book. Shadow and Bone is a very straight, very white book, but the series becomes less so as it progresses. I don’t have a white, straight, peer group, so there’s no reason that my fantasy world should look that way, because my world doesn’t look that way. I didn’t want [straight romance] to be the only kind of love I was talking about in my stories. It was a choice early on.
The word “organic” always throws me a little, because [including non-straight relationships] feels very organic to me. It’s a choice, obviously it’s a plot choice, but there’s nothing inorganic about it. One of the things that bugs me is when people talk about “forced diversity” or “this isn’t organic,” or even when people are being positive, like, “look how amazing this diversity is!”
Look outside your window. And if you look outside your window and you only see white people, move.
It’s so true! When you were building the world for the Grishaverse and for Ketterdam, did you set out to create background a socio-political/economic history and structure for your cities?
LB: Ketterdam and Kerch started coming to life for me in the Shadow and Bone trilogy. Ravka, where that series is set, is sort of a world out of time. They’ve failed to industrialize, they’re economically depressed, there is not much of a merchant class. I’d already started creating Kerch as an antithesis of Ravka. This is a country where they are at the forefront of technology, the forefront of trade. It’s very much influenced by the Dutch Republic of the 1700s, of Venice, and even a little bit of London – these tiny trading superpowers. I wanted to explore a world where capitalism was so deeply ingrained in the culture that it was a religion, and what the repercussions of that are.
Did you factor in how that cultural background influences how the characters view each other?
LB: Yes – Kaz is a perfect example of this, as somebody who has been deeply damaged by this culture, but he has also absorbed the rules of this culture in a fundamental way. There’s still a better nature buried inside of him, but there’s a reason he refers to people as investments. And when he goes toe to toe with Jan Van Eck and with Pekka Rollins, the reason he’s able to do that is because he thinks like a mercher. He knows how to think like a merchant and he knows how to think like a thief. You have to know the system before you can beat it.
Each of the characters has a different view of a person as a commodity, and it impacts each of them in different ways. Again, Inej is the strongest example of this. So is someone like Wylan. He comes from a place of tremendous privilege, and compared to someone like Inej, he had an easy time of it, right? Except that he is someone who has been told in no uncertain terms from an early age exactly what his value is, and that is incredibly damaging.
That’s a good place to tangent— You get into Wylan’s point of view a lot more in Crooked Kingdom. Was that something you were really looking forward to writing?
LB: I was looking forward to writing it, but I didn’t realize how much I needed it. I loved writing Wylan, because he has so much hope inside of him, and because despite the things he’s been through, there’s still a naivete, and in some ways he’s the most “teen” of any of the characters.
That’s exactly what I was thinking. It’s a YA book where teenagers are… not adults, but they live in a world where they’re forced to grow up a little faster.
LB: Yes, like what would Arya Stark have been like at 17. Wylan is much more like a modern teen. The idea of adolescence is very modern, but Wylan has had the kind of life that preserved his childhood in the way that most of us are used to in the modern world. I loved writing his point of view, and the way he was trying to understand the world, and I loved writing him falling in love with Jesper.
With the ending of Six of Crows, was that cliffhanger a good stopping point for you, or were you wanting to tease?
LB: For those characters, there has to be upheaval. The stakes cannot be the same going into the second book as they were in the first book. The idea that “the only thing they’re interested in is money” was not interesting to me. The characters lose the core that keeps them together, and it’s a realization for them of what they’ve been through together. Because at the beginning of the book, the response of what happens at the end would have been very different. But because they’ve been through all this, they’ve tested their mettle and proved themselves to each other, what happens at the end just destroys their whole world.
One of the my favorite things about all your books, and especially Six of Crows, is the idea of found family. Bringing together a group of people who don’t have family— or who don’t like their family— and showing them that family is more than blood. Could you talk a little more about that?
LB: Sure – to be honest, I thought I might be a sociopath until I went to college. I’m going to be real with you! I had friends, but I always felt disconnected. And I thought, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I am not able to connect with people. I don’t know if I would describe it as a rough home life, but it wasn’t a safe or welcoming place for me a long time. It wasn’t until I went to college that I found the people who became my support, and my strength, who allowed me to be who I was. To not be ashamed, and to feel good about things that I thought were maybe weird, or quirky, or wrong. These are people I’m still close with. Two of the first readers of Shadow and Bone were people I went to school with. When I needed help coming up with a holiday for one of my new short stories, they were the first people I called. These are people who I have been close to for a very long time, and I know the strength they have given me.
In many ways, I feel those relationships are so much more important sometimes than romantic relationships. We give a lot primacy to romance – I love romance, it’s compelling to read. I ship everything with everything, and it’s hard to lock me into a new show without a ship. I’ll ship that chair with that table if you give me long enough! But for me, showing the primacy of all of these relationships, these friendships, and even these antagonistic relationships is one of the most interesting and important things I can do in a story.
You wrote a Wonder Woman book!
Wonder Woman is canonically bisexual, and I was wondering if you wrote any of that into the book, and if that background knowledge influenced how you were writing the book?
LB: At the time I was writing the book, she was not canonically bi. [Greg] Rucka’s run had not come out yet.
However, I did as much as I could to make clear that every kind of relationship was welcomed on this island, and that every kind of sexuality was welcome on this island. Bi, straight, asexual, everything. Because that to me was fundamental to the very spirit of what it is to be an Amazon. I did my best, since it was something I was keenly aware of.
Super quick lightning round:
What is the last book, or TV show, or movie you read or saw that had queer content in it?
LB: I’m watching the second season of Sens8.
The first season destroyed me, but I just started Season 2. I’m amazed it got the traction it did, because of its pace, but spectacular, not only in terms of diversity, but and in plot and worldbuilding. It’s some of the most exquisite worldbuilding I’ve ever seen. And they shot on location, and you can tell. You can tell you’re in lower class London, or in middle class Iceland.
What’s the last book you read that blew your mind?
Last but not least, can you talk quickly about Language of Thorns (out Sept. 26, 2017) and what it is?
LB: It is a collection of illustrated original fairytales set in the countries of the Grishaverse. They’re going to give you insight into why the characters are the way they are, because I show the different cultures and the different ideas of heroism they have. But also, they’re just about witches, and demons, and mermaids, and monsters. I’m really excited about them, and such a joy to write more stories in the Grishaverse.
Thank you so much for talking with me today! I can’t wait to read anything and everything you write!!
Wonder Woman: Warbringer is out August 29.
The Language of Thorns is out September 26.
And for all of you Leigh Barudgo fans out there, we have an AWESOME set of giveaways for you! There are prize opportunities for U.S. and international, so keep reading (and make sure to enter the appropriate contest)!
Grand Prize (US Only):
An ARC copy of Wonder Woman: Warbringer signed by Leigh Bardugo… PLUS a prize pack including awesome swag from Six of Crows and The Language of Thorns!!
Runner-up Prize (US Only):
An ARC copy of Wonder Woman: Warbringer.
We know how much it sucks for our international readers to be limited on giveaways… so I want to give away a paperback copy of Wonder Woman: Warbringer from The Book Depository upon release (or any paperback Leigh Barudgo book of your choice) to a non-U.S. reader! If B.D. ships to your country, you’re qualified to win!
Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom and the Grisha Trilogy: Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising. She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, graduated from Yale University, and has worked in advertising, journalism, and most recently, makeup and special effects. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.
Find her online at http://www.leighbardugo.com/