Leigh Bardugo thinks dragons make everything better.
“I can’t imagine writing something that doesn’t have a fantasy element in it, honestly because I don’t really care that much about the real world,” she said, laughing. “Everything is better with dragons.”
Bardugo is the author of the best-selling “Grisha” trilogy, a fantasy set in a world modeled after czarist Russia, where people are born with the ability to manipulate matter. The books follow Alina, a young woman who discovers she has a long latent Grisha ability that makes it possible to do great good, or great evil.
Her most recent book, “Six of Crows,” is set in the same world, but follows a team of six teens as they attempt a dangerous heist, led by the dark and enigmatic Kaz Brekker. The second book in series, “Crooked Kingdom,” will be released in September.
The Grisha trilogy “is very much a chosen-one story,” Bardugo said. “It follows a very classic hero’s journey, and I think when I wrote ‘Six of Crows’ I wanted to push away from that trope and get closer to the idea of what happens to the people who aren’t the kings and queens and princes and the people who know they have a grand destiny.”
Bardugo talked to The Post in a video chat about how annoying it is when fantasy worlds have no economy, dealing with disability and how to write about rape in a thoughtful way.
This interview is part of It’s Lit, a digital Q&A series about women who write books. It has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
What is your least favorite fantasy trope?
Something that drives me crazy in fantasy books is when there’s no commerce. There’s like a tavern and then a king, and everybody has a bag of gold coins they carry to the town. If you’re living in the freakin’ Middle Ages you don’t walk around with a bag of coins. It drives me nuts. You’ll read something that’s like, “He was but a poor farmer with three horses.” Yo, do you know how much a horse costs? When economics are absent it tends to sort of blow up my view of a fantasy world.
Given your own health struggles with osteonecrosis [a degenerative bone disease], was it cathartic to create a character who also has a disability?
When I started out writing Kaz, I didn’t actually make the connection to my own disability, which I know sounds absurd. But this was the year that I was coming to terms with the fact that I had this degenerative condition and that I was going to have to use a cane. I had this really awful day in London where I was on tour and I had the day off and I could go sightseeing. I stayed in the hotel because I knew I could only go so far without having to turn around because of the pain I was already in from traveling. I also realized that wouldn’t be true if I had a cane with me and the only reason I didn’t was because I was being a jacka-- about it and so I made a decision to just get over it and I’ve been so happy since. I think this book was my way of creating a character who had not only accepted the pain he was in and the injury that he had but he had used it to mark part of his legend. In “Crooked Kingdom” I was much more conscious of it.
In some books, rape can feel like a convenient plot device and it’s gratuitous. How did you manage to write so carefully about characters who’ve experienced rape?
It was one of the trickier things to do in the book in part because I’m writing YA. At the same time I didn’t want to trivialize it. I didn’t want it to be a convenient plot device.
I spoke to three girls who had been trafficked from various backgrounds and in different situations — it’s a real thing that happens and is still happening. The victims of it are often kids who are already at risk and I think this is the thing where I sometimes feel a little guilty because Inej [a character in “Crooked Kingdom”] has the advantage of having come from an intact family and many of the girls and boys, predominantly girls though, who are victims of trafficking or just labor exploitation come from unstable homes or from foster care.
I have these moments when talking in my book where I’m like, “Who am I that I am talking about those things?” I’m sitting here tearing up but it’s like, “What have I been through?” In some ways, fiction allow us an opportunity to talk about these things that is a step removed. But we need to make sure that if we take that step that we also engage with the real world as well.
Everdeen Mason is an audience editor at The Washington Post and a Book World contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @EvMason.
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