Leigh Bardugo and Marie Rutkoski are two of my recent favorites authors of YA fiction. Rutkoski's first book of her new trilogy, The Winner's Curse was a Best Book of the Month in March, and I'm trying to be patient waiting for the next one... On Tuesday (6/17), Bardugo wrapped up her Grisha trilogy (I loved the first two books, Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm) with the finale Ruin and Rising. And, just so you know, it's fantastic.
Both authors have written brilliant heroines and created big, satisfying worlds for their readers. Below, you'll see what they have to say about both, and the soundtrack they would pair with their books. We also find out the book they couldn't live without (both hedge their bets, which I can totally relate to...).
Q: What qualities in your heroines do you most admire? What do you most relate to?
Leigh Bardugo: That's a tough question. I guess I admire Alina's courage and resilience a great deal, but I think I respect her honesty the most. She is very much herself even when she doesn't think that's the person people want to see. I suppose I relate most to her sense of humor. Even when things are at their worst, Alina can still laugh at herself. Marie, I loved Kestrel's intelligence, but also that it wasn't a kind of singular intelligence—it was only part of who she was and what she valued.
Marie Rutkoski: For my part, Leigh, I loved that Alina never forgot where she came from. She’s presented with some very seductive things—power, luxury, attractive young men—but to me she’s always the girl who rubs a scar on her hand and knows exactly where she got it, and how.
Kestrel is very smart, even cunning. Sometimes she’s capable of manipulation. But what I admire most is her kindness. She means well. She senses other people’s limits and respects them. And she’s kind in a very old sense of the word (“kind” means “alike”; it has the same origin as the word “kin”—i.e., “family”). She tries to understand other people’s perspective. In other words, Kestrel is empathetic. I try to be, too.
Q: World-building is a huge part of what makes both of your books so great. What would you like/dislike about living in the worlds you created?
Leigh Bardugo: Dislike? The looming threat of imminent death comes to mind. I'm also not sure how I'd feel about eating roasted lynx or cuckoo. Ravka is a tough place to live if you're not of a particular class, but even if you are, it's a country in the midst of tremendous upheaval. So it's hard for me to imagine sleeping well at night. But I would love to attend the Winter Fete at the Grand Palace, or see the Grisha in their workshops, or spend an afternoon aboard one of Sturmhond's ships.
Marie Rutkoski: Um, can I spend an evening aboard Sturmhond’s ship? I would like that very much, thanks.
I wouldn’t mind living in Herran well before the invasion. It was a place that revered the arts. I confess: I’m kind of arty.
But living in Kestrel’s time and place would be very difficult. Her people are constantly at war, are very good at it, and enslave the populations they conquer. Living in a society that practices slavery would be abhorrent. And even if I weren’t a soldier, I would find it hard to live in such a militaristic society.
Q: If your book/series had a soundtrack, what songs would be on it?
Leigh Bardugo: Placebo's cover of "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush is basically the Darkling's theme song as far as I'm concerned. "Cosmic Love" by Florence + the Machine, "I Will Come" by Alpha Rev, "Mountain Sound" by Of Monsters and Men, "Stubborn Love" by the Lumineers, "Sorcerer" by Stevie Nicks, and "Polegnala e Todora (Love Song)" from Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. Also, nothing would ever get written without Ludovico Einaudi.
Marie Rutkoski: “Sigh No More” by Mumford & Sons, “Bloodbuzz Ohio” by The National, “Half Light II (No Celebration)” by Arcade Fire, “Dancing on My Own” by Robyn, “A+E” by Goldfrapp, “Limit to Your Love” by James Blake, “If It’s True” by Anaïs Mitchell featuring Justin Vernon and Greg Brown, “Green” by Brendan James (but a live, acoustic version a friend gave me that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. I suspect it’s bootlegged. I don’t care for the original recorded version).
The song I listened to a lot while writing the sequel to The Winner’s Curse is Florence + the Machine’s cover of “Take Care.”
Q: What book do you own that you couldn’t live without, and why?
Marie Rutkoski: This question makes me wish I had a precious first edition or a book passed down through generations of my family. The book I most enjoy rereading is Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; I tend to read it when I’m sick. Makes me feel lots better. But if we’re talking about one book that I’m going to be reading over and over again for the rest of my life, I’d have to go with the collected works of Shakespeare, since he’s a big reason why I’m a writer, and because I know I can reread anything of his and never get bored. But that’s a cheating sort of answer.
Leigh Bardugo: It's a strategic sort of answer. Pride and Prejudice is a big comfort read for me too. (Weirdly, when I was a kid, my comfort read was Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King. Maybe because high school was basically prison.) I think I'm going to waffle and go with either Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles (in which case I also need a great dictionary and maybe an OED) or the complete Harry Potter.
Q: What was the best piece of advice you ever got? And from whom?
Marie Rutkoski: A friend of mine, Jeremiah, who died much too young, said that it’s best to accept people at face value. Believe what they say. A former adviser in graduate school, James Shapiro, when I was working on my dissertation, said, “People just want to hear a good story. What’s your story?” That’s true for writing--even academic stuff, which I sometimes do--but also for life. If you listen and look, you’ll see that people are telling stories all the time: through gossip, memories, images, songs. And Matthew Arnold, in a poem, said, “Ah, love, let us be true / To one another!” That might be the best advice.
Leigh Bardugo: That answer makes me so sad that we're not touring again together. (Anyone reading this should know that Marie Rutkoski is a lovely person to be stuck in an airport with.) The best life advice I ever got was probably from Frank Herbert's Dune. That book is all about adapting and preparation. Also, vengeance. But the words that come to me most often, particularly with respect to writing, is by Yeats: "Be secret and exult, / Because of all things known / That is most difficult."