Leigh Bardugo is one of my favorite new teen authors and her Grisha Trilogy is not to be missed. The second book, Siege and Storm, is one of our Best Teen Books of June and if you thought you were eager for book two after Shadow and Bone (and if you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for!?) just wait until you get to the end of this one!
Margaret Stohl, author of another of our favorites, the Beautiful Creatures series (with Kami Garcia) and the recentlyhttp://www.amazon.com/dp/0316205184/ref=blogs_omni_link_YA released Icons, sat down with Leigh Bardugo to discuss Siege and Storm, and the Grisha Trilogy.
Margaret: Let's talk about the Darkling. You've written arguably the greatest villain-as-love-interest we've seen in YA. It's as unlikely as if you'd written a version of Heart of Darkness where Kurtz is the hottie. Did you have an inspiration for the Darkling in your own mind?
Leigh: First of all, thank you, and second, I may require "Kurtz is the hottie" on a T-shirt. But I'm always wary of the term "villain." The Darkling believes he's doing the right thing for his people and his country, and I think you could make a case for most of the choices he makes, even the despicable ones. He was inspired by every really bad badboy I ever fell for in fiction. I'm not talking about the wounded, pouty guy who's just looking for the right girl to give him an excuse to be a hero, but the truly dangerous guys with an agenda—Flagg (who appears in various guises in several Stephen King books), Raistlin (Dragonlance), the Hound (George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire), and…okay, I'll admit it, Jareth the Goblin King from Labyrinth. (I don't know what his agenda was but it involved very tight pants.)
Margaret: Is it a risk, allowing a character so dark and powerful to be desirable? Do you see any strange responses to the Darkling from your readers?
Leigh: I'm sometimes surprised by how easily my readers let him off the hook. They seem to hold Mal and Alina to a higher moral standard. But honestly, I think the Darkling's appeal is realistic in its own way. Charm is a powerful weapon, so is beauty. I think it's worth asking why we respond so strongly to those lures.
Margaret: Is it a truth? Does it speak to another darkly honest aspect of real relationships?
Leigh: Maybe. It's always easier, at least in the short term, to give up authority to another person. We see this play out between Alina and the Darkling, and in a bigger way across Ravka. We want heroes, we want saviors, we want great leaders, but it's always dangerous to put yourself or your future so fully in someone else's hands—whether it's a love interest or a ruler.
Margaret: Is it a trend?
Leigh: Antagonists as love interests? I don't know. Maybe it's that we're getting more characters who don't strictly adhere to archetype. Personally, I like heroes who struggle and make mistakes, who have to work at being good. And I like villains who don't just walk around twirling their mustaches. That kind of makes it sound like all villains are hipsters. Watch out, Portland.
Margaret: The other great love of Alina's life, Mal, is the opposite, loyal and true and supportive. In real life, would you fall for the bad or the good guy? Darkling or Mal?
Leigh: Girrrl, you know the falling is easy. It's everything that comes after that's hard. And that's part of the struggle at the heart of Siege and Storm. Mal is loyal and true and he would do anything for Alina, but he has his own demons to fight and his own journey to make. I'm not interested in characters who only exist for each other.
Margaret: Your books are so clearly about power—supernatural, political and emotional. I find myself writing about these same issues compulsively, both in the Beautiful Creatures novels and Icons. Are these core issues for you personally, or is this part of a larger teen narrative for you?
Leigh: Both, I suppose. We point to coming of age stories and say that they're about finding your place in the world, discovering who you are and how you relate to authority, but it's not like that's a finite process. We still have to question what kind of power we give up and be sensitive to the kind of power we wield. We still keep learning and trying to get more comfortable in our skin. Maybe there's some magic moment when you wake up and say, "I have arrived. I am an adult and a badass and I'm going to go brew some tea and dispense wisdom." But I haven't gotten there yet.
Margaret: Can you send your trusty Grisha wizard beautician over to my house to live in my closet and fix me up every day?
Leigh: If only the Tailor made house calls. Genya would be in high demand.Margaret: Do you have one? Does that explain your own radiant good looks?
Leigh: Ha! You should see me right now. I haven't had a full night's sleep in a week and there may well be corn in my hair.
Margaret: Will you sing a little something for us?
Leigh: Always. I'm like Jane Krakowski's character on 30 Rock. "Who me? Sing? I couldn't poss—GIVE ME THAT MIC." But seriously, if you'd like to, listen to the Shadow and Bone-inspired song, Winter Prayer. Also, I take requests.