Authors Veronica Roth and Leigh Bardugo in conversation about 'Divergent', 'Siege & Storm', and badass YA heroines -- EXCLUSIVE

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Image Credit: Nelson Fitch; Kevin Rolly

Leigh Bardugo’s Siege & Storm, the highly anticipated sequel to the best-selling Shadow & Bone, hits shelves today. In honor of the new installment of the Grisha trilogy, Bardugo’s friend and fellow YA rockstar Veronica Roth, author of the enormously popular Divergent series, chatted about “badass heroines,” hot (and sensitive) heartthrobs, exciting film adaptations (for both series!), and generally gushed about each other. We don’t blame them! Read on for their conversation.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Leigh, what do you like best about Veronica’s books?

LEIGH BARDUGO: First of all, V, I hear you’re in Chicago for the start of production on the film adaptation of Divergent. Can I just say how excited I am about this? Deep breaths. Moving on…

I love your characters. I was pulling for Tris from moment one and I just found her so thoroughly believable. I’m glad we live in an age of badass heroines, and I think Tris’ toughness feels real to me because she never loses her humanity and because she truly has to grow into her strength.

I also like that you don’t let your characters off easy. I think in YA there’s sometimes a temptation to create heroines who are infinitely resilient and wise and confident because those are the behaviors we want to see teens embrace and maybe we want to see those things in ourselves. We aren’t always comfortable witnessing real frailty or vulnerability in our heroines, but I like characters who struggle, and doubt, and who don’t always do the wise thing.

VERONICA ROTH: Stop, you’re making me blush. (But no, really, that warms my little writer heart to hear.)

Veronica, what do you like best about Leigh’s books?

L: Yes, Veronica, tell me the ways in which I’m wonderful.

V: That shouldn’t be too difficult! I was originally drawn to your books because of the world — the whole notion of the small sciences and the Grisha and a fantasy world with muskets instead of just swords pulled me in. But if I came for the world, I really stayed for the characters. Alina is a great character — her humor is what really struck me, at first, because I don’t see that many leads in YA sci-fi/fantasy with a truly solid sense of humor. She’s also smart and strong, I would say, but she doesn’t suffer from what you’re describing above, that almost superhuman resilience. She’s a strong character who is also insecure a lot of the time, unsure of herself, and she makes big mistakes and errors in judgment throughout the books, and I find that really appealing, as a person who makes big mistakes and errors in judgment myself.

Also the “boys” — the Darkling and now Sturmhond, certainly, but especially Mal — are not just candy for your brain, but interesting, compelling characters with their own struggles and insecurities.

Although they face extraordinary circumstances, Alina and Tris remain relatable as teenage girls — how much of their character makeups are based on your own experiences growing up?

L: Alina is very much an outsider and I certainly felt that way growing up. She really grapples with her desire to belong and find a place in the world, and she makes some bad choices because of it. And… now that I think about it, I was raised by my grandparents in this sort of strange neighborhood where there were pretty much no other kids. Their house was up on a hill and I was left to my own devices a lot of the time. I wonder if some of that sense of isolation crept into the description of Keramzin (the orphanage where Mal and Alina grow up).

V: That sense of isolation is a huge part of why Alina is relatable, I think — how many teenagers, and heck, even adults, feel alone in this world? I certainly did, at that age.

Tris’s experience is very much the opposite of mine. I grew up in a very free environment in which I was always encouraged to follow my natural inclinations, and I grew into a very careful, somewhat neurotic adult, for whatever reason. Tris grew up in a controlled, restrictive environment and ultimately sought freedom above all else. I think that Tris’s arc expresses some of my internal longing to escape my anxious brain. The inside of my head is a little like an Abnegation house sometimes. I don’t think Tris has much to do with my experiences growing up, though she’s certainly informed by some of the things that have formed me as a person.

Both Alina and Tris are strong, brave characters. They’re characters that girls admire. What other heroines found in literature have you admired?

L: I’m so tempted to be like, “Bertha Rochester because she burns it all down!” Most of the female characters I admire come from science fiction and fantasy, maybe because there’s more permission to shake up gender roles in genre. Alanna is a favorite, definitely Hermione. And I really adore Brienne of Tarth. She’s sometimes presented as naive or almost dogmatic in her worldview, but I love her conviction.

V: Hermione! Yes! She is a wonderful character, and I love that JK Rowling made a nerdy book-loving girl into a Gryffindor. It’s funny you should mention Bertha Rochester, Leigh, because one of my other favorites is Jane Eyre. She has some pretty strong convictions, too, and is willing to leave the man she loves in order to stand by them, which I think is amazing. More recently I’ve loved some complicated, “unlikable” characters in particular — Sam from Before I Fall, Ruby from Imaginary Girls.

NEXT: Keep reading to get Roth and Bardugo’s takes on Tobias/Four and Mal.

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