With her debut book, “Shadow and Bone,” author Leigh Bardugo introduced readers to a fantastic world of magic with a dash of danger that came to be known as the Grishaverse.
Following her initial trilogy, Bardugo continued to explore this world in a bestselling two-book series that recently concluded with the “Crooked Kingdom.” But that is not the last readers will see of the author’s world.
Fans of Bardugo can continue to visit the dark fantasy universe in the writer’s next work, “The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic.” And yes, it’s set in the world of Grisha.
“It’s a collection of stories,” Bardugo said. “The kind of stories that the characters in the books might have heard growing up. They’re basically the fairy tales and folk tales of the Grisha world.”
The book features six stories, including three brand new tales. Each story will come with “lavishly illustrated” companion art (according to the Macmillan Publishers’ announcement) that combines into “six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.”
Bardugo promised that the collection would be friendly to both readers new to the Grishaverse, as well as those who have been with the series since the start.
“The story collection has been brewing for a long time, and they’re a little bit different than writing the Grisha novels,” added Bardugo. “I’m pretty excited to actually be taking the time to go back into those specifically.”
When discussing whether “The Language of Thorns” would be the last readers would see from the Grishaverse, Bardugo insisted that it definitely was not the end.
“There is a grand plan, and we’re going to have some news later in the year about something else that readers might be excited about,” said Bardugo. “There’s more to come in the Grishaverse. I’m just not free to say exactly what yet.
“I know that this [book] is a little bit different than what readers are used to getting, so I’m hoping that they will go along for the ride, but we’ll also have something a little more in the traditional line of things coming down the road soon.”
However, according to Macmillan Publishers’ official copy on the new set of stories, readers can expect to “travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid's voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy's bidding but only for a terrible price.”
Bardugo discussed “The Language of Thorns,” the Grishaverse, the appeal of fantasy fiction and her other upcoming projects, including “Wonder Woman,” in a phone call from New Haven, Conn.
What was it about short stories that appealed to you?
I had written a few of the short stories in years past. They were part of the promotion that we did for the Grisha trilogy, but as my publication schedule ramped up, they kind of fell by the wayside and I stopped doing them.
I had a bunch of ideas for stories that I wanted to do and they’ve always been compelling to me because I think you learn a lot about a world by the kind of stories that become entrenched as folk tales and fairy tales and legends.
I think they tell you things about the characters and the places they come from that almost exist on another layer of story than the narratives we’re used to in the novels.
Were these stories part of your initial world building? Or did they come to you as you were writing your novels?
Some of them existed in my head before I started writing the books. Others, like “The Too-Clever Fox,” really arose from the dialogue that I wrote and the story.
I remember writing, referring to a story Alina [a main character from the Grisha trilogy] had heard as a kid about a too-clever fox who keeps escaping so many traps that he thinks he’ll always get out of them. And I thought, “Oh, I’m going to write that.” Eventually I did, and it became a part of the way I thought about Nikolai’s character.
Having written these short stories, is there something you like about the format more than novels?
I think they’re much harder to write, honestly. I’m not totally sure why I thought it would be a good idea to write more. They’re incredibly challenging for me.
I think you have to spend a lot more time with every word, the format really demands a lot of the author. But maybe that’s just me. I’m almost surprised to hear myself say that, but in some ways, the prospect of writing a 5,000-word short story is a lot more daunting than a 120,000-word novel.
The funny thing is, I don’t tend to cut a lot as it is. I tend to add when I revise. I write a very lean draft and then I build from there.
When it comes to the novels, I outline fairly rigorously. With the short stories, less so. I don’t really outline them. I really let myself tell the story to myself as I’m working on them.
In fact, one of the ways I work on them is to sit in my bathtub and just speak the words aloud and tell them as if I was telling the story to somebody listening. Sometimes that works and I come away from that waterlogged but with new ideas. Other times you leave those bad ideas in the bath hopefully.
How new reader friendly is “The Language of Thorns?”
Very new reader friendly. All of the short stories are perfectly suited for people who haven’t read any of my books.
There’s a possibility that there will be a cameo from an existing character, but I’m not promising because I haven’t finished the story yet. I’m not going to make any promises until the final draft is in. You also never know when an editor will tell you that what you thought was a great idea was actually just you having sat in the bath too long.
They’re very new reader friendly. They are stories that work if you like fairy tales. Stories to read late at night maybe to give yourself the chills, in some cases.
Sometimes you can really tell which Western fairy tales they’re based on and other times you have to dig a little deeper. But they’re perfectly suited to anybody who’s interested in something like that.
Hopefully, they’re good for people who love the Grishaverse. Or like it. Or are on a friendly basis with it. And want to come back to it and get a bigger sense of the world.
At what point when you’re writing a series do you get ideas of other things you want to pursue in the world?
All the time. Really, all the time. There are so many possible stories to tell. And the more you write, the more characters you meet, the more you dig into countries. Some places have existed only kind of in distant focus and then all of a sudden you’re approaching them at rapid pace and seeing all these fantastic details. You think, “Oh, I want to go over there; no, I want to go over there!”
That’s sort of the wonderful thing, and the horrible thing, of creating a world like this.
The fun part about writing the short stories is that because they’re myths and legends, I get to play with magic in a way that I don’t get to play as loosely in the novels because there is a pretty rigid magic system.
It gets bent and twisted in various points in the novels, but in the short stories, all the kinds of magic that we find in those folk and fairy tale stories are not bound by the same rules as the rest of my universe.
I think that sometimes in some cases, these speak to our fears about people and about transgression and about places. What does it mean to go into the woods and what does it mean to be a witch? The way that people talk about those things matters a lot in these stories.
Did you go back and read some of your favorite folk tales to prepare for this?
I have always read a lot of folk and fairy tales, and they’ve always been a part of my research when I’m building a world. I think they sort of help me become interested.
I also read a lot of Angela Carter, who I love. And I read some favorite short horror stories because I think they’re structured so brilliantly. I do try to read a lot of short stories because I think they tend to be these little jewels of craft and I feel like I have a lot to learn from them.
What do you think the appeal of fantasy is during a time when there’s so much uncertainty in the world?
That’s such a complicated question. I can only speak to how I feel when I read fantasy and what I get from it and what I ask from it. And it really varies.
There are times when I want to read stories of underdogs and revolution and great corrupt powers being overthrown. Hypothetically. But there are also times I want to simply be transported and I want to escape and I want to believe that magic is real. And I think there is a certain gentleness we look for even in fantasy stories sometimes. A kind of wish fulfillment that’s really satisfying and comforting.
I often find myself rereading the first few books of the "Harry Potter" series because it’s such a comforting world. And I think that it’s OK to indulge in that.
It can be different in young adult fiction because I think that there’s less a sense that you’re absolutely going to get a happy ending or everything is going to get tied up neatly in a bow. But in general, when it comes to books for younger readers, you do get the chance to see evil vanquished and to see the good guys win. And I think that that could be a very compelling thing.
I think it’s also one of the reasons people like to write off books for younger readers being read by adults, but I think adults are perfectly capable of parsing the difference between fantasy and reality. And of taking the experience of reading those stories and using them for whatever they need in their lives.
You also have an upcoming Wonder Woman novel coming out?
It comes out in August. I’m very excited about it. I’m very nervous about it.
How different is it to approach something like Wonder Woman, compared to your Grishaverse books?
I think the real difference was that I’ve never written somebody who is so clearly a hero before. And I expected that that might be boring, I was a little worried about what that would be like, but as it turned out, it’s really fun to write good people.
And I really adored writing her. She’s got so much compassion and so much strength that she deploys with such grace so often.
In my story, she’s 17, so she’s also trying to figure out exactly what kind of person she wants to be. And her ideas of what a hero is change quite a bit over the course of the story, because she’s led a very isolated life to begin with.
It’s definitely different, but it was a lot of fun.
You will see her on Themyscira. I have put my own stamp on Amazon mythology, which was for me one of the most gratifying parts of it, and I hope people like what I’ve done with it. And you will also see her off the island. I can tell you that it is a totally separate story from the film. They’re not related. They really let me do something entirely separate.
The short story collection of “The Language of Thorns” will hit bookstores on Sept. 26.