We here at Cuddlebuggery have been huge, huge fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. From the moment we reach the first plot twist in Shadow and Bone, we knew this was going to be one hell of a series. With each book, Leigh has raised the stakes and we’re just waiting for Ruin and Rising to blow our socks right off. As fans, we’ve always been excited to see the success of the series and have always been honored to have Leigh stop by. I mean, we’ve had some great times together. Like that time Leigh saved us from ninjas with her mind bullets. Or the time were Kat drew minion versions of Leigh’s characters. Or the time when Kat and I wrote that totally awkward fan fiction and had Leigh critique it. Really, really great times, guys.
But then we realized we’ve been spoiling Leigh. Like, super hard and stuff! It was time to break out the big guns and grill her on the women of the Grisha series. Have you been having burning questions about Alina, Genya, Tamar, Zoya and Baghra? Have you been wondering what Leigh’s process was for creating these complex relationships? Good news! We corned Leigh in a dark alley and she shared these answers. Read on and then enter to win yourself the entire series!
As a whole, The Grisha series is about an unlikely heroine, finding her inner strength to overcome an evil power and save the world. However, in that story, there is no shortage of menfolk to swoon over. Did you always plan for there to be such a strong focus on who Alina would have to choose in the end? Or did that come later as the story progressed?
In my mind, the tension in the trilogy is less about the person she will choose, than the path. Alina isn’t choosing who gets the first dance, or the big kiss, or the wedding with a bad DJ. She’s deciding the fate of a nation. She isn’t just a girl who gets to be in love anymore—she’s an ally, an asset, a potential weapon. That’s painful, but I hope it also mirrors some of the conflicts most of us face in our own lives. I mean, we don’t usually have to worry about world destruction before our morning coffee, but even without stakes that high, romance still gets tangled up with ego, ambition, and conflict. Sometimes it can’t just be about what we want.
Alina seems to rely heavily on Mal, the Darkling and, later, Sturmhond in the beginning. How does the relationships of the various men in Alina’s life ultimately help shape her as a character? More importantly, what kind of character do you think would she be without their influence?
It’s funny, in Ruin and Rising, Alina speculates on who she would have been if her powers had been discovered when she was a child and she’d grown up at the Little Palace. It’s an AU that I’ll never get to write, but it’s also something she wonders about personally because she knows how fundamentally she was shaped by the experience of being an orphan and a refugee, “underfoot and unwanted.”
At the start of the story, Alina is someone with very little sense of her own worth as a person. She’s hungry for love and approval, and she makes some very iffy decisions because of it. As she grows into her role as a leader, she’s understandably wary of that impulse and becomes increasingly isolated. There’s a balance to be struck, but I’m not sure that Sturmhond, Mal, or the Darkling are particularly great role models when it comes to being well-adjusted leaders and communicators—Sturmhond lies, Mal broods, the Darkling attacks. Alina’s just going to have to find her own way.
One thing that is slightly less bountiful in your series are female to female relationships. For example, the woman who ran the orphanage was often unkind to Alina. Genya, who first makes an appearance as a confidant to Alina, later betrays her. Zoya, the Resident Mean Girl, was a constant antagonist.
There aren’t many people–let alone other women–for Alina to trust. Was that deliberate? Were you ever concerned about the subtle message that might send since almost all of her relationships with female characters seem to end in tears?
I’m going to agree to disagree on that first point. There are a lot of female secondary characters and a lot of different kinds of friendship shown between them. But I think you said it yourself: There really isn’t a single person—male or female—who Alina can trust completely in the first two books, or at least that’s how she feels. I tried to make Alina’s relationships with women as complex as her relationships with men. So yes, Baghra is a tough teacher, but she guides Alina to greater strength. And yes, Zoya is a Mean Girl but she still chooses to ally herself with Alina in Siege and Storm. And yes, Genya and Tamar aren’t wholly honest with Alina, but that doesn’t devalue the entirety of those friendships—a truth that Alina acknowledges and lets impact the way she relates to them.
That said, I think you’re going to see a lot of growth for Alina and the women around her in Ruin and Rising. The need to connect and the desire to belong are big themes in the trilogy, and Alina is left vulnerable by her lack of strong personal alliances. I have a remarkable crew of female friends and it was important to me to show the strength that can be drawn from that.
What is your number one thing you hope readers will take away from Alina’s story, particularly female readers?
I’d like them to remember that there are many different ways to be strong, and that it isn’t beauty or magic or a talent for combat that make you powerful, but the way you choose to face challenge regardless of your gifts.
Hypothetical scenario: Alina ends up as the undisputed ruler of Ravka. What is her first order of business?
She orders a state-sponsored week of napping and snacking for Leigh Bardugo.
Ruin & Rising by Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Published: June 17th 2014 (Tomorrow!)
The capital has fallen. The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.
Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.
Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.
Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.
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Macmillian is giving away the entire series to one lucky winner on Cuddlebuggery today! You’ll get Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising!
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