Leigh Bardugo's new Rule of Wolves opens with a little vignette of terror: A winged monster attacking a rural farm. But readers of her Grishaverse books will know this isn't just any monster — it's the king himself, Nikolai of Ravka.
In the previous book, King of Scars, Nikolai helped defeat a terrible darkness threatening Ravka, but he hasn't escaped unscathed; a little piece of that darkness now lives inside him, a demonic presence he can't really control. And on top of all that, he has to deal with the everyday struggles of ruling: Keeping the people on his side, the restive nobles happy, the treasury full and Ravka's vulturous neighbors from invading.
Luckily, Nikolai isn't alone. Beloved Grishaverse characters like General Zoya and Nina the magic user-turned-spy return with extensive POV chapters of their own, and there are even some surprising new perspectives.
"When I was outlining the novel, I considered just focusing on events within Ravka, but it really didn't feel right," Bardugo tells me in an email interview. "There was just too much at stake for the other characters and nations in this book. It also gave me a chance to touch on characters and story elements that had only existed as antagonists in previous Grishaverse books. I think I'm always interested in the people who aren't generals or master spies or royalty. The people caught in the crossfire.
And, of course, there's a new POV that was necessary to the plot but was also just a complete pleasure to write, pure drama."
Previous Grisha books had battles and conflicts galore ... but this truly feels like a war story. Was this your intent? And what was the writing/research process like?
I really didn't want to write a war book. I don't like writing grand battles and I find it tiresome to research weapons development and military strategy. Luckily I have friends who work in defense and who love nothing more than to take apart historic battles. In some ways, this is a book about trying to avoid war and its costs. But I guess I discovered, right alongside Nikolai, that sometimes the fire cannot be contained.
You upset expectations for several main characters — not to be too spoilery or anything, but tell me a little bit about what's going on with our heroes here.
"Upset" is an interesting word because I've known since the start where these characters are headed. I want to challenge them, force them to push past who they thought they were to who they really are. For Nikolai that means understanding what he really wants for himself and Ravka. For Zoya that means learning to distinguish between fear and vulnerability. And for Nina, that means letting go of the grief and hate she's been carrying for so long. I guess I want to challenge my readers too.
There's a recurring dark joke in the book — no matter how bad things are, there's always more, because it's Ravka. Why is Ravka so particularly beset?
Ravka has a very particular identity among the countries of the Grishaverse. It's surrounded by enemies. It has spent hundreds of years in near isolation because of the Shadow Fold. It is very much a garrison state so there's a tremendous desire to survive, but there's also a kind of soul-deep shrug that goes along with Ravkans knowing the odds. That's what Nikolai is up against. He's trying to convince a nation that has stopped hoping that it might be worth hoping again.
Another thing that comes up a lot is the question of what makes a monster, and what it means to be a monster — why did you want to explore that?
That's a question that's been at play since the first book. How far will you go? Who deserves to be redeemed? There's so much power in the idea of becoming monstrous. I think we see that in the way some women and girls choose to adorn themselves now. They don't care about being pretty or palatable. They paint their lips black, dye their hair green, file their nails into claws. Maybe the monster is free to make choices and take actions that the ordinary person is not.
What's next for the Grishaverse? (MOAR KAZ PLZ THANK YOU.)
I really don't know! With the show premiering on Netflix ... this seemed like the right moment to step back. There are so many stories I want to write and worlds I want to explore. I have every intention of returning to the Grishaverse; I just don't know when. So I wrote Rule of Wolves as a finale, a "farewell for now."