Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo has been on my radar for awhile; it's been getting buzz since before it came out in early June (so I can't even remember where I first heard about it). Since my local public library is part of a large system it often gets books right after publication. I recently discovered that you can put holds on books that are still in the process of being cataloged. That's how I got my hands on Shadow and Bone pretty quickly. And I'm so glad I did -- I know this book (and the entire Grisha trilogy) is going to gain in popularity as word spreads about it.
I was hoping to see Leigh at ALA Annual last weekend but wasn't able to make it to her signing. I was pleased when I saw on twitter that she was going to be at Mysterious Galaxy Redondo Beach. And I was also glad that I had finished reading the book before tonight; I couldn't wait to tell her how much I liked it. (Seriously, go out and buy/borrow the book right now!)
[Leigh reading from Shadow and Bone]
The evening began with Leigh explaining why the book takes place in a Russia-inspired country called Ravka. As one might expect, it's the question she gets asked the most (it was the first thing I wondered as well). As a fan of fantasy herself, she's read (and loved) many stories that take place in medieval England and Europe. She wanted a different setting and was inspired by an atlas she found in a used bookstore that had a picture of men in Russian fur hats standing in the snow. At first she wanted to use the "cosmetic details" of Russia -- the architecture, the clothes, etc. But as her research delved deeper into Russian history, she found that the real life details of Russian serfs and nobles worked in her storyline.
From there she created a fantasy world of three countries at war: Ravka (where Shadow and Bone takes place), Fjerda to the north, and Shu Han to the south (I'm guessing Fjerda was inspired by Norway (or another Scandinavian country) and Shu Han is Leigh's fantasy world equivalent of China). On the book's website there's a helpful section about Ravka and Leigh's world building. I could be wrong because I'm not super knowledgeable about fantasy (although it's my favorite genre), but I haven't read any fantasy books originally written in English that take place in world's inspired by Russia, so I felt this was a really unique setting. It's also a world that uses mechanical technology. There are guns and a whole group of Grisha called the Order of Fabrikators who are good at building/making things. Consequently, her books have been dubbed Tsarpunk. It's the kind of classification that, if you're coming to this book not knowing anything, gives you a pretty good idea of the kind of world you're about to enter.
My question to her was about whether she reads a lot of YA and if she set out to intentionally write YA. Her answer was no. When she was growing up there really weren't books marketed as YA (true for me too); fantasy was fantasy. She wanted to write a book that would reach readers who might not usually read fantasy, and hopefully be inspired to read more. I think she totally accomplished that, although I may be a bit biased since my reading habits often lean toward fantasy.
The second book in the series, Siege and Storm, doesn't come out until 2013. I'm not happy about that because that's a long time from now! (To hold me over (for just a wee bit) until it comes out, I'm going to read a companion piece Leigh wrote, The Witch of Duva: A Ravkan Folk Tale.) The second book is already written but Leigh is sworn to secrecy about its contents. The two things she did divulge were that 1) the Apparat doesn't have a huge part in the second book but is pulling strings throughout the story arc, and 2) she didn't kill a character in the second book that she thought she was going to, making it a bit more difficult for herself when she writes the third book!
Although I already read my copy of the book from the library, I bought a personal copy to have autographed. She was lovely in person and was kind enough to give me one of the last remaining bottles of Shadow and Bone nail polish. I know this was a coveted item (lots of people wanted it at ALA) so I'm happy to receive it, especially since nail polish is the only kind of make-up I use.
[Minor spoilers ahead so skip down after the photo if you don't want to know some stuff that happens in the book.]
After I walked away I had to double-back because I actually forgot to tell her I liked the book! I also admitted that I wanted Alina to kiss the Darkling and then felt bad afterward for feeling that way. That's exactly what Leigh wants you to feel; the Darkling has had hundreds of years to perfect the art of manipulating his power to attract people to his cause. (During my conversation with Leigh I made a mistake by saying the Darkling was 120 years old; that's what he told Alina but it's a lie -- it's all a lie!) I wonder if he's still capable of love, or if he ever was. Perhaps this is something that will come up in subsequent books.
[Leigh signing my copy of Shadow and Bone]
During her talk, Leigh pointed out a Sarah in the audience. Afterwards, she had this Sarah sign a book she pulled out of her purse, and some other attendees crowded around her. I realized that Sarah was Sarah Maas, author of Throne of Glass (publication date: August 7, 2012). Her book was one of the few I actually wanted to get at ALA and wasn't able to. What luck! I approached her and she was sweet enough to sign my author/illustrator book. She and her husband even chatted with me for a few minutes about movies and independent bookstores. I can't wait to get my hands on her book (again, through placing a hold at my library). In the meantime, I'm going to go read the four e-novella prequels of Throne of Glass (more information about them here).
It was another great YA author signing at MGRB! I enjoy the smaller setting of these author visits at independent bookstores. You can actually talk to the authors for a bit instead of being rushed through a line (I'm just speaking of my recent experience at ALA). I hope Leigh comes back to MGRB when Siege and Storm comes out.