We know that Marissa Meyer and Leigh Bardugo’s YA novels usually get pigeonholed as fantasy, but that catch-all doesn’t really convey the essence of the fictional worlds they’ve created and filled with males and females who are equally swashbuckling as heroic characters. Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, as well as her standalone novel, Heartless, which will be published in November, and Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy and new two-book series—which launched last fall with Six of Crows, and its sequel, Crooked Kingdom, coming in September—are like fractured fairy tales for the Generation Z readers who grew up reading Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, appreciate smart and strong protagonists kicking butt, and expect fantasy reads served up with a heaping dose of darkness.
Meyer admits that she has always been “obsessed” with fairy tales, since she was a young child and saw Disney’s film adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. After her grandmother gave her a book of fairy tales, Meyer says, she was stunned to realize that the story Andersen had written was “nothing like the movie” she had loved so much. “There was a little bit of devastation, too,” she confesses.
“What else is Disney not telling me?” she says she asked herself at the time.
As Meyer entered her teens, another family member also influenced her future career as a writer: her uncle Bob. When he was a teen, Bob, like Meyer, was not popular, an outcast who was a “huge Trekkie” who would attend Renaissance Fairs and science fiction conventions. But he became “a really cool guy,” says Meyer, and was an important role model for her when she began writing, beginning with a short story set in a magical kingdom on the moon that featured Puss in Boots, robots, and spaceships.
After finishing the Lunar Chronicles quartet of retellings of favorite fairy tales with futuristic and feminist twists, Meyer continues to tweak the classics with Heartless, a retelling of Alice in Wonderland. The infamous Queen of Hearts is revealed to be a girl who just wants to fall in love, but ends up becoming the terror of Wonderland, with an unhealthy desire to decapitate those who cross her.
“Heartless is much more whimsical and fantastical than the Lunar Chronicles,” Meyer says. “I really tried to stay true to Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland and inject it with as much nonsense and magic as I could.”
While Bardugo also read and loved fairy tales as a child, and says she enjoys “broadswords and mead,” she decided not to set her tales in medieval Europe but, rather, in more exotic locales. The Grisha trilogy is set in a world that is evocative of 18th-century czarist Russia, while the Six of Crows series is set in a city reminiscent of 18th-century Amsterdam. Bardugo wanted to construct a fantastical world that will resonate with readers, as well as incorporate the advent of modern warfare as an overarching theme in her novels. While the Grisha trilogy features the badass Alina and her supporters battling the Darkling for supremacy over the kingdom, the Six of Crows series is more “Ocean’s 11 meets Game of Thrones.”
Six of Crows focuses on characters who aren’t destined for greatness, but are just trying to survive. “There are no kings, no queens, no secret princesses” in Six of Crows or its sequel, Bardugo says, disclosing that in The Crooked Kingdom all the major world powers have descended upon Ketterdam to hunt for the hostage that Kaz, the criminal prodigy, and his crew absconded with in Six of Crows. “You’re going to meet new allies, new enemies, and see some old scores settled, so expect plenty of twists and trouble,” Bardugo says, while Meyer, who seems to be a little too obsessed with hearts and heartbreak, predicts that Bardugo “is going to break our hearts by killing off one of the main characters.”
Today, on the Downtown Stage, 2:15–3 p.m., Bardugo and Meyer will reprise their popular “Truth or Dare” session that had people buzzing afterward at last year’s BookCon.
This article appeared in the May 14, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.