'Shadow and Bone': Author Leigh Bardugo talks her debut novel
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.
How The CW Could Still Turn its Hunger Games Copycat Into a Good Series
The Selection by Kiera Cass was already being called "the next Hunger Games" when The CW decided to turn it into a TV show. But then The CW put the project on hold, and has started reshooting the trouble pilot. And now that we've read the book, we can see why this is going to be a tough project to adapt for television — because there are some serious problems with this dystopian take on The Bachelor crossed with The Royal Wedding.
Here are some things The CW absolutely must change, if they want The Selection to be our choice for prime-time viewing. Spoilers ahead!
The Selection follows a young girl, America Singer, as she joins a semi-televised competition where the prize is marrying Maxon, the Crown Prince of Illea. Illea is a kingdom in North America that arose from the ashes of the United States of America / World War III / The United States of China.
Illea has an eight-tiered caste system (ones are in the royal family, eights are homeless) with vaguely meritocratic undertones. The vast majority of people are poor — but you can buy your way up into higher castes. Military service moves young men up to level two automatically, and yet they still have to have a draft (perhaps if it was a volunteer army they would be overwhelmed with volunteers?). And women, but not men, can marry into higher castes. And Illea has some fairly onerous gender and sex laws: premarital sex will land you in jail, the castle has a Women's Room where only women are allowed, and birth control is only available to the rich.
The royal family has two traditions for marrying off their offspring: girls are wed into strategic alliances, while boys find their wives via "The Selection." One girl from each province, a "True Daughter of Illea," travels to the castle to meet and date the prince. Yes, just like Hunger Games crossed with Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?.
America is a lowly five (the caste reserved for artists and musicians) who's secretly in love with an even lowlier six (the caste for servants). Her mother bribes her into applying for The Selection and her boyfriend, terrified of condemning her to a life of drudgery, dumps her. So even though she's not interested in marrying the prince, she gladly goes to the palace to nurse her broken heart. Also, because she goes to the palace, her family receives compensation which will keep them all from starving next winter.
So what should the CW to make this work better as a story, not to mention as a piece of television?
1) Codifying the Competition
You can imagine that the CW picked up the book for its tagline alone: "35 Girls. 1 Crown. The Competition of a Lifetime." It sounds like The Bachelor on steroids. Imagine if you offered the Mob Wives women the chance at a crown? They'd call it There Will Be Blood, From Where I Ripped Out Her Tacky Earrings.
But The Selection isn't invested in the drama or heavy symbolism that most viewers have come to expect from reality television. Many of the moments that producers pack dating shows with are missing. For instance, the television crew can be dismissed by Prince Maxon with a wave of his hand, making private conversations actually private. Also, when girls are sent home, it's done privately and with no fanfare. This makes the book more humane to its characters, sure — but without televised dismissals, cat fights and head-to-head competition what makes it reality television? The girls being interviewed on the Illea version of CSPAN? Not what teenagers want to see.
The first season will need to have something between fourteen and twenty episodes, and each and every one needs an exciting plot with a solid arc. They will probably at least televise the dismissals, just to amp up the tension. And I'm guessing the in-show producers or whoever will be given much more power. Camera confessionals will probably be out, since secrets seem very important to the plot and also saying mean things about the Prince is treason.
2) Adding Some Conflict
The lack of a clear antagonist — or really any clear conflict — hinders the book quite a bit, but it would be especially deadly on television. The vaguely bitchy girl Celeste causes minimal trouble for America, throughout most of the story, but never really poses much of a direct challenge. By making Celeste more of a direct antagonist, the CW could provide the opportunity for Celia Kate Massingham (left), who has been cast in the role, to learn the fine art of villainous scenery-chewing. Not to mention give America something to fight against every episode.
The other possible source of conflict could come from the groups of rebels who regularly attack the palace — but that part of the story needs a lot of punching up. Right now, the rebels are faceless, and their goals are unclear. Creating a particular rebel character will help sell the overall dystopian arc of the story and make the stakes beyond "marrying a prince" clear.
3) Upping the Makeover / Clothing Quotient
Surprisingly for a book about a woman competing to become a princess, there's not a lot of stuff about clothes or makeovers in the book. Do you really think that will fly on the channel behind Gossip Girl? Expect to see way more focus on makeovers, plus fancy dresses, fancy shoes, fancy hair, fancy hats and fancy jewelry. There will be veritable explosions of taffeta, silk and rhinestones. There will be so much glitter!
4) Explaining the Dystopia Better
America spends a lot of time explaining the caste system to the reader — but it still feels like a painted backdrop, more than a believable dystopia. There are no history books in this world and the rebels are looking for something — suggesting there's a dark secret at the heart of the whole society. Knowing why the rebels are so pissed off, and what they're looking for (especially since the royal family they'd like to overthrow seem awfully nice) would probably make the nature of this dystopia a lot clearer.
For instance, the rich have cell phones, but no one seems to have computers. There's a suggestion that they have some sort of super-soldier serum, but maybe this just refers to vaccinations? Is the country small, or are future planes really fast? Some of these questions will have to be answered, probably by showing the world outside of America's view.
There's also a lack of clarity regarding how some jobs or industries have been changed by the caste system. For instance, magazines, movies and television all still exist, but it's not clear what that means. If factory workers are fours and servants are sixes, what would a magazine's production assistant be? Or a writer or director? There also seems to be weird overlaps — there is a two who is a model, but models historically are lower status than the designers who dress them or the artists who paint them. The Prince is into photography, but wouldn't that be a five activity? Teachers are threes, but America's mom homeschooled her, effectively becoming a teacher.
In other words, the world-building is really unclear, and the caste system doesn't quite hold up to close examination. You can skate over a lot of stuff in a book, but when there's an actual actor standing on set holding an actual camera in a world where caste is the most important thing, somebody's going to have to decide what caste he's in.
5) Getting America Out of Her Shell
America is a professional performer and has been since she was young. She sings and plays the piano and violin. This is great for The CW and Aimee Teegarden, the actress who will play America. They can add a little Glee vibe, and she can release a CD when the whole thing is done. Too bad America only performs once in the book and it's just a casual for a friend's party sort of thing, where the Prince happens to stop by. The CW is going to make this a much bigger deal and probably work her performing into the competition somehow. They will probably build suspense by changing up her audience too: first the other girls, then the Prince, then the Royal Family, then national television! It could be very exciting, and potentially add another arc to the show.
The book version of America is also an introvert who seldom takes the initiative. She mostly wants to hang out with her maids and play cards. Maybe chat with the prince. This does not a TV show make. A TV show needs someone who will fight the antagonist, maybe go snooping around, be caught in humorous embarrassing situations and cause trouble. The main character has to drive the plot, rather than sit around waiting for the plot to happen to her. For the show to work, America is going to have to quit being a wallflower and start being a go-getter.
6) Opening Up the World
TV shows are usually about ensembles, because you can get multiple plots and lots of different pairings from a group of people. The Selection, like a lot of YA books, is written in first person. If the bad guy is plotting, we don't see it. If someone else is on a date with the Prince, we don't see it. And in general, the book's supporting cast is kept at the level of one-dimensional ciphers, while only America feels fleshed out.
That means The CW is going to have to figure out which of the characters in the book are worth turning into regulars and expanding them. America's maids, Nancy, Anne and Mary, might be a good place to start — but we don't know a whole lot about them (except Nancy, who has PTSD symptoms and a sad backstory). Following the Prince is an option too, but we really don't know what he does all day beyond the vague "running the country."
But they may just invent some new characters. Since it seems likely that the reality show aspect will be increased in the screen version, we'll probably have people like producers and announcers to follow. Increasing the clothing and makeup craziness would help too — maybe America will end up with a team of stylists like Katniss has in The Hunger Games. The CW will also probably follow at least one of American's competitors more closely.
7) Raising the Stakes
And finally, there's the crux of the problem — America's not risking a whole lot here. The first check she receives for joining The Selection is enough to feed her family for a year. As soon as she's selected, she's turned into a three in the caste system. All the girls who go home from The Selection get marriage proposals on the spot. The book makes it clear that America's staying to wait out her broken heart, but that's not necessarily enough stakes to drive a story forward for an entire season.
Which means the CW is probably looking for all sorts of ways to raise the stakes of the competition. It'll make the country of Illea seem less pleasant than in the book, but that's dystopias for you. One easy way to raise the stake would be to… Major Spoiler Alert!
8) Get to the Love Triangle Sooner
It's a YA novel, of course there's a love triangle! Let's be blunt, in a world where people go to jail for pre-marital sex, there isn't the opportunity for lots of steamy make-outs. And steamy make-outs are a basic building block of angsty teen television. America and the Prince are not up to the level of steamy make-outs in their relationship. But America and her ex are. And if a girl cheats on the Prince, she can be executed for treason.
By getting America's ex Aspen on the scene before the final couple of chapters of the book, the CW can automatically raise the stakes, and exponentially increase the number of steamy make-outs. While America wears awesome dresses.
At this point, we can only speculate about what The CW can do to turn The Selection into a story that can fly on television — but it's clear there's going to have to be some punching up of the conflict, a more proactive heroine, and some better world-building. Not to mention more makeovers, and better outfits.
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Univ. of Minnesota Press Moves into YA Fiction
An author’s error in sending a manuscript to the University of Minnesota Press, instead of to its intended recipient – Minnesota Historical Society Press – has resulted in a first for a publisher best known for publishing scholarly books on current events and regional nonfiction for adult readers. This fall, the University of Minnesota Press will release a hardcover YA novel, Frozen by Mary Casanova. According to the press’s director, Douglas Armato, the press has reissued “a couple” of YA novels in the past, just to keep them from going out of print, but has never before published original YA fiction. The initial print run for Frozen will be 7,500 copies; it will also be available simultaneously as an e-book.
“[Casanova] came to us,” Armato recalls. “She made us reconsider our policy not to publish original fiction or poetry. What won us over was how well researched Frozen is. We couldn’t believe an author like Mary Casanova would approach us with a book like this.”
According to Armato, Frozen actually fulfills the mission of the press of publishing books about the people, history, and natural environment of Minnesota – even though the press rarely acquires fiction or YA, much less YA fiction. “We were all impressed with how deeply Casanova dug into the state’s history,” Armato says. “We got this manuscript, and we asked ourselves how could we not publish this book. It’s what we were already doing – just in a different way.”
Frozen, which is set in a small town along the Minnesota-Canadian border, is the tale of a girl who hasn’t spoken a word in the 11 years since, as a five-year-old, she was found almost frozen in a snow bank the same night her mother, a prostitute, died under strange circumstances. The story is based on an actual incident that happened in northern Minnesota in the early 20th century.
Casanova says the story has percolated for the past 20 years, since she read of the incident in Koochiching by regional historian Hiram Drache, in which he relates a story about the body of a prostitute found dead in the snow in Koochiching County being propped up in a town council room before a meeting.
“I could not let it go,” she says. “Even in death, her life was treated with such little value. A friend of mine finally told me to write the damn thing. I’ve worked on it for the past 10 years.”
Frozen represents a first for Casanova herself: this is the first time she has published a YA novel, and it’s also the first time she’s gone with a regional publisher. Casanova is the author of 30 picture books and middle-grade chapter books, and novels, all published by major houses. Most recently Casanova wrote McKenna and McKenna, Ready to Fly, published by American Girl in January (a TV movie adaptation of McKenna will air on NBC on July 14).
At this point in her professional career, Casanova says she’s more concerned that her books find their audiences rather than worrying about sales numbers. After approaching commercial houses, where editors expressed their concerns that Frozen does not fit into any of the genres most popular with YA readers – paranormal romances or dystopian novels – Casanova decided to submit a query to regional publishers. Thinking she was sending the manuscript to MHSP, which has previously published regional fiction under its Borealis Press imprint, upon her instruction, Casanova’s agent sent Frozen to Todd Orjala, the acquisitions editor at the University of Minnesota Press – who happens to be an expert on Minnesota history, including the history of the Rainy Lake region in the early 20th century, the time and place in which Frozen is set.
Casanova explained that MHSP had also published Keeper of the Wild by Joe Paddock in 2001, a biography about Ernest “Ober” Oberholtzer, a Minnesota activist who was prominent in the American conservation movement in the early 20th century. A fictional Oberholtzer is one of the characters in Frozen – another factor in her decision to submit a query to MHSP.
“Despite my mistake,” she said with a laugh, “It turned out to be a perfect match. It was serendipity. I didn’t know [Orjala] knew as much about my topic as he did. He was the perfect editor, who asked probing questions no editor in New York would have thought to ask.”
Armato says that working with Casanova on Frozen has been such a positive experience that the press is considering branching out into publishing more fiction with regional appeal and a national audience. Next spring, Vacationland, an adult novel by Sarah Stonich (These Granite Islands), also set in northern Minnesota, is scheduled for publication by the University of Minnesota Press.
“We won’t do a lot of it, but we’re definitely open to it now,” Orjala said. “Booksellers know the quality of our list. It’s not that big of a leap for booksellers to buy fiction from us.”
Frozen will launch on September 27 in Duluth, Minn., with a party at Norway Hall for both Frozen and for Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus (Abrams/Amulet), a YA novel about the Norwegian resistance movement during World War II.
Jamie Campbell Bower bulks up for Mortal Instruments
The British actor has been cast as Jace Wayland, a half-man, half-angel who romances Lily Collins in the forthcoming adaptation of the best-selling young adult novel.
And the 23 year old reveals he has embarked on a tough new exercise regime to ensure he is as fit as possible when shooting kicks off.
He tells Britain's Daily Telegraph, ""I'm in physical training. I'm drinking lots of protein shakes. I go to the gym and do weights in the morning, in the afternoon I do Krav Maga, a martial art. If you live in a dodgy area like I do (in London), then it could be a handy thing to have.""
anyone else have any news (your own or just in general) feel free to share!