Debut author Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone hit shelves earlier this month. In its first week of publication, the YA novel hit the New York Times Chapter Books Bestseller list. And after tearing through book one in The Grisha Trilogy, it’s no surprise why readers are getting sucked in to the elaborate, Russian-inspired fantasy world that Bardugo has created.
Shadow and Bone follows heroine, Alina Starkov, an orphan girl who has been drafted into the army of her war-torn homeland, Ravka. Joining Alina is her best friend—and quintessential YA crush—Mal. When their convoy is attacked, Alina discovers a dormant power she didn’t know even existed. And down the rabbit hole she goes, as Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite.
The second book in The Grisha Trilogy, Siege and Storm, is scheduled for 2013. The final book, Ruin and Rising, will be released the following year. Here, Bardugo reveals the inspiration for Shadow and Bone, and drops a few hints about what’s to come. Warning: Mild spoilers ahead!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did you come up with the idea for Shadow and Bone?
LEIGH BARDUGO: In most fantasy, darkness is metaphorical; it’s just a way of talking about evil (darkness falls across the land, a dark age is coming, etc.). I wanted to take something figurative and make it literal. So the question became, “What if darkness was a place?” What if the monsters lurking there were real and more horrible than anything you’d ever imagined beneath your bed or behind the closet door? What if you had to fight them on their own territory, blind and helpless in the dark? These ideas eventually became the Shadow Fold.
What the reaction to Shadow and Bone been so far?
There’s been so much hunger for dystopian in the YA world, I really wasn’t sure how Shadow and Bone would be received. I’m grateful that readers have been willing to take a chance on this type of fantasy. Making the New York Times list is the kind of thing you don’t even let yourself imagine because it seems so unlikely, so it was incredible to actually see my name there. Then there are all kinds of other beautiful surprises—getting fan mail for the first time, people showing up in costume at events. I’m still not totally convinced that I haven’t hallucinated the whole thing.
There’s a lot of Russian influence in the book, where does that come from?
I think there’s tremendous power in the images we associate with Russian culture and history, these extremes of beauty and brutality that lend themselves to fantasy. And honestly, as much as I love broadswords and flagons of ale—and believe me, I do—I wanted to take readers someplace a little different. Tsarist Russia gave me a different point of departure.
What time period is the book set in? There seem to be some old-world aspects, but I think some things are also a little futuristic.
If the story were set in our world, the time period would be closest to the early 1800s. In terms of military technology, you see sabers, muskets, and most importantly, the advent of the repeating rifle. But because Grisha power—the Small Science—is essentially a magical version of molecular chemistry, you’ll also find things like corecloth (a precursor to modern body armor). In the sequel, Siege and Storm, the technology will deviate more sharply from our world as people find new ways to combine traditional engineering and Grisha power.
And maybe I just missed this, but was there ever any explanation for where these Grisha powers come from?
I get deeper into the origins and strictures of Grisha power as the trilogy progresses. Taboos will be broken! Rules violated! (Insert dire warning here.)
I know you probably won’t reveal too much about book two, but what can you say? I imagine Alina and Mal can only run as fugitives for so long before things catch up with them.
You imagine rightly. There will be no vacation home or trips to Ikea. The story picks up just a few months after the end of Shadow and Bone, and things get very rough, very fast. But for all of the darkness in Siege and Storm, it was also pretty fun to write. I get to take readers outside of Ravka’s borders and introduce my favorite character of the whole series.
What would you say to someone to convince them to give your book a try?
Shadow and Bone brings to life a world of saints and samovars, assassins and superstition, dark magic, court intrigue, and romance. Plus a guy gets cut in half. Always a hoot.
What’s on your personal Must List right now?
I’m pretty sure Magic Mike is the best funded gender studies thesis ever so I’m going to have to see that.
What other YA books are you loving right now?
Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard comes out later this summer, and I’m loving her heroine Eleanor. I’m a huge fan of Holly Black’s Curse Workers series, and I always like to put in a word for the classic Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.