Shadow and Bone author Leigh Bardugo: People sneer at the things women love


There is nothing like a good fantasy series with wizards, warlocks, witches and other magical beings. Especially when those magical beings are as dark and swoon-worthy as Ben Barnes in Shadow and Bone or Henry Cavill in The Witcher. I also love the badass women characters in these shows. Netflix has been delivering these last couple of years and their newest hit show, Shadow and Bone, is no exception. I watched the show in a day and was mad when it was over. The show is based on a seven book series by YA author Leigh Bardugo. Bardugo spoke with The Guardian about her childhood and how women’s interests are often derided by the men who control culture.

Like Twilight’s Bella or Katniss from The Hunger Games, Bardugo’s Alina is yanked from obscurity. She is an orphan conscripted to the First Army, a non-magical force in the kingdom of Ravka that serves as cannon fodder, when an accident reveals that she is actually a Grisha, one of the mysterious magical elite who are usually identified in childhood and form Ravka’s feared Second Army. But Alina is no ordinary Grisha. She is the Sun Summoner of prophecy with the power to destroy the Fold, a gigantic, shadowy zone filled with dark creatures that has split Ravka for centuries. So Alina is whisked away from her dishy childhood friend Mal to be trained by the equally dishy Darkling, a Ravkan general who wields the shadow to her sun, and holds a secret, vested interest in her power.

A special, magical girl with two boys fighting over her: so far, so YA. But Bardugo’s books are unique in a few ways: their rich, tsarist Russia-inspired setting; her ornate social hierarchies and magic systems; Alina’s prickliness. They are popular for the same reasons snobs may mock them: they’re nerdy, romantic and appealing to young women. “Teenage girls have so much sway over culture, yet people sneer at the things that women and girls love, and are contemptuous of the creators of that content, particularly if they are women,” Bardugo says. “To me, that contempt speaks to a deep fear. When you start dictating culture, money gets involved and people take notice. When I see someone deride things that women and girls find pleasure in, all I see is someone fearful that women will overtake the culture they’ve had dominion over for so long.”

With her dark lipstick and gothic clothing, often seen with a silver-headed cane (Bardugo has osteonecrosis), the 46-year-old is the antithesis of California beach culture. But though she was born in Jerusalem, Bardugo was raised in Los Angeles, a precocious reader, as lonely children often are. Bullied for her Jewish faith and relative lack of wealth by rich kids at school, she was also “very unhappy” at home. So she retreated into Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, Octavia Butler, Diana Wynne Jones and Stephen King. “Reading, like writing, was a survival strategy when I was young because these were ways of feeling that my world could be much larger than it actually was,” she says. “It was inevitable that I would end up writing sci-fi or fantasy.”

[From The Guardian]

Despite the YA fantasy genre being a money-making machine, hello Twilight and Hunger Games, the genre is often dismissed. I agree with Bardugo, girls and women create so much culture. We are the driving force behind change in society and yes capitalism. Boy bands became money makers because gaggles of girls deemed it so. Elvis and his gyrating hips became an international phenomena because of, you guessed, screaming throngs of teenage girls. It is funny how women and girls are the catalyst behind culture yet the things we love are often ridiculed even after they become popular.

I also found Leigh’s origin story quite fascinating. It’s wonderful when people can transform their pain into something magical. Bardugo was able to see her story come to life on Netflix and they allowed her some creative control as well. I look forward to reading the books. I have this feeling that the stories are a peek into Bardugo’s childhood. I am also looking forward to season two of Shadow and Bone. I can’t get enough of the Darkling, aka Ben Barnes.

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