The summer of 2017 turned Bookish’s editor into a ride-or-die Diana fan, and Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer played a significant role in that transformation. The novel tells Wonder Woman’s origin story, introducing readers to a young girl eager to prove herself and earn her place on Themyscira. She’s given the opportunity to do just that when she encounters Alia, a teenage girl and the personification of the Warbringer, destined to bring the world to blood and ruin. We had the chance to catch up with Bardugo at BookExpo America to talk about female friendships, writing kindness, and why the world needs Wonder Woman now more than ever.
Bookish: Diana is a hero in every way, but a lot of the characters in your other novels exist in a gray area. What was it like to write a character who is so defined by her desire to always do good?
Leigh Bardugo: It was an absolute joy. I was really worried when I went in because it was so essential to me that Diana not seem false and not be presented as a paragon. Just because you’re good and kind doesn’t mean you don’t have flaws or weaknesses or fears or that sometimes you don’t make poor choices, which she does.
When I wrote Six of Crows, depending on what section I was working on, sometimes I’d come out of Kaz’s POV and I would just be exhausted and sad and worried about humanity. Then I would write Diana and I would think, “All right, maybe we’re all going to be okay.” There’s a level of optimism that goes along with her character, and kindness. To me, it’s more about her being kind and compassionate than just being good. That is actually much more wonderful to write than I expected.
Bookish: When writing Diana’s origin story, what was one element of her original tales that you were excited to play with and one element that you decided to get rid of?
LB: I loved writing about the Amazons and putting my own spin on the mythology of Themyscira. I’ll admit I didn’t have any interest in writing about Steve Trevor. I was really charmed by his portrayal in the film, but I wanted this story to focus on the women.
Bookish: Diana, Nim, and Alia are a fantastic trio. They not only celebrate the importance of female friendships, but they showcase that there are many ways to be strong. How did you go about crafting their dynamic?
LB: I’ve written a short story set in our world, but this was very different for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about the way those relationships would be forged and how they would function. In crafting these characters, I was trying to keep them as authentic as possible. I had some wonderful readers who really helped me to work through some of the trickier issues they were dealing with.
It was important to me that even though Diana is the hero of the story, that Alia was a hero too. I wanted all of them to have opportunities to show what they’re made of and to show that feminism doesn’t belong to one person. Feminism doesn’t belong to one kind of person and adventure doesn’t belong to one kind of person. Magic, superpowers, all of those stories don’t belong to one kind of person.
I’m honestly a little heartbroken that I’m never going to write about these characters again. I’m not used to that. I’m used to writing a series or at least being able to say, “Well, maybe I’ll make it a series later.” Leaving them behind is so hard. There are so many stories for that group of characters that I would love to tell.
Bookish: The novel is infused with a lot of humor, both wit and physical comedy—Diana tossing the Lasso of Truth in a Duane Reade bag really sticks out to me. As a writer, how do you find that balance between comedy and the chaos of the world ending?
LB: I think if you only give the reader angst and intensity, the negative emotions start to lose their impact. The reader becomes desensitized. But if I’ve made you laugh and gotten you to let down your guard, it’s going to hurt that much more when I break your heart. (That sound you hear is me cackling.) The balance is one that really emerges in revision, fine-tuning the emotional turns and language so that the funny and tragic moments all get their due.
Bookish: We’re in a moment when Wonder Woman, as a character, is going through a period of rebirth. For years the name seemed to evoke the idea of a woman who manages to juggle a lot of responsibilities, rather than the heroine herself. What do you think it is about her story or about this period in history that is bringing her back into focus?
LB: Maybe because we need her. Maybe because we need her and because this is a great time to see a woman in an action film. We’ve seen more and more of that, and I would love to see even more diverse women in those roles, not just white women. But I think we also need a story of a woman who comes from Themyscira, who comes from a place where peace is a value, who comes from a place where compassion and kindness are values and where being strong is awesome and kicking ass is a delight. I love writing it so much, but those fundamental principles matter so much more now. And we’re all much more aware of that. I don’t know why, because we’ve all been waiting so long.
I wrote an essay about this for Last Night, a Superhero Saved My Life. I loved Wonder Woman as a kid and I stopped loving her as I got older and began to understand who I was as a girl and as a woman in the world. It wasn’t until later that I came back to her. I feel like in some ways all of us are reclaiming her and saying “I don’t care if she’s wearing straps. I don’t care if she’s wearing heels. I just want to see her smash the patriarchy.”
Bookish: Mortal women have a chance to join the Amazons if they call out the name of a goddess in their last moments. Do you know who you’d cry out for?
LB: Hera, Athena, Demeter, Artemis, Hestia, and Aphrodite. They’re my pantheon. But I don’t belong on Themyscira. Too much cardio.
Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom, and the Shadow and Bone Trilogy. She is the first author in the DC Icons Series, where the DC Comics super hero icons are written by megastar young adult authors. Forthcoming books include Batman by Marie Lu, Catwoman by Sarah J. Maas, and Superman by Matt de la Peña.