We had the chance to chat in person with Leigh Bardugo, the author of the Shadow & Bone series and Six of Crows, which was JUST released a few weeks ago. Keep reading to get a little background on how Six of Crows came to be, a few details about the characters, and MORE!
A special thank you to Leigh for chatting with us! ENJOY!
A New Country
The Grishaverse is expanding. It’s the next phase. We’re leaving Alina and The Darkling behind…?
The events of Six of Crows happen two years after the events in the last chapter of Ruin and Rising, two years after the end of the Ravkan Civil War. Ravka is rebuilding, a certain somebody is on the throne. There are a lot of goodies built into Six of Crows for readers of the trilogy. You can read Six of Crows without having read the trilogy. We built it that way specifically.
You’re going to get a very different view of things. It’s a new set of characters, a new country. If you have any of the books, you can see the map and there is a little country called Kerch. It’s almost at the bottom there and if you remember, that’s where Nikolai Lantsov was supposed to go to university, where they are always going for loans. While the rest of the world has been fighting and squabbling, Kerch has stayed neutral and is thriving. It is this little, hypercapitalist trading superpower. It's ruled by a merchant council- they worship the God of industry and commerce. Their port is in their capital Ketterdam. Everything comes through there- so you’ve got coffee and cotton and silk, but you also have everything illegal, such as drugs and guns and slaves. There is actually a pleasure district in Ketterdam called The Barrel, where people come from all over the world to sample everything that Ketterdam has to offer.
Will we be seeing a lot of Ketterdam?
Yes, that’s where the action begins and that’s where my antiheroes come from. We pitched this as Ocean’s Eleven meets Game of Thrones because it’s a heist story. But its not totally apt because Danny Ocean (George Clooney)--Kaz Brekker isn’t like that. Kaz is the leader. He’s not smooth, he’s not suave, he’s not always calm. He’s just the toughest, smartest, most ruthless kid in the room. He’s this little barrel rat who has clawed his way out of the slums and has basically become a legend in the gangs of Ketterdam by the time he’s 17.
So you are not doing a central female protagonist for this book?
There are actually five POV's for this book - two of them are female and three of them are male. There is a girl named Inej, who is like Kaz’s right hand man. She is a refugee from the Kerch brothels and she is known as the Wraith. Because she is the secret gatherer, she rules the rooftops and alleys of Ketterdam. All of her knives are named after Saints. One of them may be named Saint Alina. There is a Grisha named Nina, who is a heartrender, who is living in self-imposed exile in Ketterdam. She is very dangerous and a lot of fun. Nina is one of my favorite characters to write.
You must’ve loved coming up with this new stable of badasses…?
It’s very much a Guardians of the Galaxy, Ocean's Eleven, Dirty Dozen, ragtag band of misfits story. That’s my favorite story basically. There is a lot of humor, a lot of violence, lot of romance, lot of revenge. That’s sort of one of the pleasures of getting to play with 5 POV is you got very, very different personalities to play with. And they all have their own motives. Coming out of the Grisha trilogy, I wanted to do something a little bit different from a "chosen’s one" story. These kids aren’t chosen ones. They don’t have grand destinies before them. They’re not kings or queens. They’re not looking to fight the man and overthrow the government. There is no revolution they are going to start. They are just looking to survive. They are all in pretty desperate situations-- sometimes because of circumstances that were beyond their control and sometimes because they made bad choices. They all have very different reasons for trying to pull off what is essentially a suicide mission.
They have to break into the Ice Court, which is this ancient military stronghold that has never been breached. They have to break out a scientist who has discovered a drug that basically changes Grisha power. It makes things possible with Grisha power that you’ve never seen before. So, for me, that was really fun because I created these rules and I wanted to find a way to make it exciting for myself and just kind of level them up. You are going to see crazy stuff.
Who are the bad guys?
It depends on what your point of view is. One of the POV's belongs to Matthias Helvar, who is a drüskelle. He is one of the people who hunts down Grisha and puts them on trial and has them sent to their deaths. He and Nina have to work together. Sparks fly! And of course he’s hot. It’s Y.A. Everybody’s hot.
There are a lot of dark forces at work here. The Fjerdan government is nothing to sniff at. There are a lot of different teams who are going after this scientist. If this secret gets out, if this drug gets out, it will mean a world war. Magical havoc will be unleashed and trade routes will crumble and all bets are off. The stakes are pretty high but they mean different things to the different characters. Some of them don’t care. Kaz doesn’t care, he just wants to get paid. He has his own motives for trying to make that payday. He is trying to get revenge on a crime boss, one of the biggest players in Ketterdam and who, he holds accountable for ruining his life.
Were these characters always lingering in the back of your brain?
It's interesting...I think of settings as additional characters because they play a major role in the world. The characters that arise become who they are because of where they’re from.
I remember being on a bus in Ireland and I was talking to Joe, my agent. We were at a Game of Thrones thing and we were talking and I said I really want to write...to tell the story from a POV of a witch hunter. I couldn’t help but feel that if you had grown up in a country where Grisha lived next door, who could do things like burst your heart in your chest or set fire to your village without weaponry, without ever laying a hand on you, you would probably be afraid of them too. I wanted to tell a love story between a Grisha and witch hunter but I was like- maybe it’s a novella, I don’t know. When I got the idea for Six of Crows, for this heist story...it was like...it was like I was waiting to assemble my Avengers, essentially.
So it started with the location?
It's hard to say because all those things were sort of cooking in the crockpot. Your imagination was stewing away on these things. You're not sure what to do with the story or a person. I had this character named Dirty Hands, because he’ll do anything for the right price (and that’s Kaz’s nickname). I had these ideas that I wanted to do, but you’re working on other things, so all of those things are cooking together.
I was driving down the street in L.A. and I saw a billboard for Monuments Men, with George Clooney and Matt Damon. Nobody saw it. It was a big bomb. I was like I don’t want to see that, but I would really like to rewatch Ocean’s 11. I was like SCREECH and I pulled over to the side of the road. Heist! I need to write a Heist story! Of course it takes place in Ketterdam! And I just picked up a phone and started talking into it: we need this and this...
The biggest challenge for me was that a lot of our expectations for heists come from film and television. They have a totally different game to play with the release of information, which was part of the reason why I wrote from multiple POV’s because then we get to know only what a particular character knows in that moment. For me, that was definitely a challenge but also part of why I wanted to do it. Most writers would come up to me saying, “Why did I think I could write a mystery? Why? Why?” And you don’t, until you do.
I think Six of Crows has two prison breaks in it, there’s a heist, there are cons, magic, slight of hand, all kinds of crazy stuff happening. I had many people I called upon for expertise in things. It was a lot of fun, but when it came down to revising the heist I had a white board, I had Scrivener, I had Word, I had notecards. At one point I put everything into a Google calendar, in fifteen minute increments, so that I knew where everyone was at every time...except I picked a random day to put it in the calendar.
It’s a puzzle. You move things around. Unlike other heists where they have communications where they can just put something in their ear and talk to each other. There was no way they could do that. So I was like okay, we have to put a clock on the island so they can hear it ringing. You find sort of solutions that are kind of part of the fun. Alright, I’m doing a heist but I’m doing it differently than other people have done.
Six of Crows Title & Character POV's
Did you feel like you were sick of writing from one of POV that you decided to do many?
I do think first person POV can be quite limiting, especially when you are writing epic fantasy. I think it was George R.R. Martin that said you have a lot of options: man on the ground, the general, or god’s eye view. When you’re writing in first person POV you really are constrained. I like how close I feel to a character when I write in first person and I love the immediacy of that. Sometimes I’ll switch to first person if I’m having trouble connecting with a character.
I also find it limiting in terms of language as well. There are things you can talk about and describe in the third with a little more flare. What I ended up doing was after I’d written and revised it and we were in the later stages of revision, I would go through and read only one character's POV at the time, which was a little bit challenging because of the release of information, but I just wanted to make sure that the voices were right. It was really important to me to try as hard as I could to keep them distinctive.
Can you tell us a little bit about the title?
The title was originally “The Dreggs” and there was some concern that people wouldn’t know what that was. But the real issue was that The Dreggs is the gang that Jesper, Inej, and Kaz belong to, but there are members of the team who are not part of that gang. It's really about these six kids, its not about Kaz’s gang. That gang is sort of a means to an end. Actually Morgan Fahey came up with the title “Six of Crows” because Kaz runs the Crow Club, he carries a Crow Head cane--that motif runs through the whole thing.
As far as the series title, we actually haven’t settled on it. There are only going to be two books in it. We were initially going to call it The Crow Duet, but we didn’t want to limit ourselves. We’ll figure it out. People have been calling it The Dreggs series, which is fine too.
So the six will sort of or at least some portion of the six will remain the central cast?
Who can say who might survive or might not survive?...I know who makes it out.
How far along are you on the sequel to Six of Crows?
Book number two is mapped out. I know where everyone ends up: living or dead. I’m working on that. I feel very close to these characters so its an interesting experience. They are a lot of fun.
After the Grisha series
Is there something outside of the Grishaverse for you?
I have some ideas that have been cooking in the crockpot for a while. When this book is done, the sequel to Six of Crows, I’m going to take a break from the Grishaverse for a while. Someday I'll write a book for Nikolai Lantsov. I have some other ideas that I want to put out there. I have a horror story that came out in Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, that’s set in our world. No Grisha in sight. I also have a short story in Stephanie Perkin’s new anthology Summer Days, Summer Nights, which will be coming out in 2016.