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therabine · 5 months ago
In case you were wondering why wordbuilding for Ravka feels so random
After going down the rabbit hole in my search for answers I've stumbled across this conversation on goodreads dated back to the November of 2013, where Leigh Bardugo replied to some reasonable criticism about her 'cultural inspiration"- This conversation is quite long and miss Leigh gave about three replies to various questions from people that were deeply bothered by the very surface level research she did on the Russian cilture. Here are the major highlights, plus the other things I've found while goodling: 1) As far as I've understood - neither she nor her publishers expected the first book to blow up like this. So even though there was obvoiusy a lack of proper research and some mistakes variying from minor to insulting, now that she's an esteemed author Leigh claims all of it to be deliberate choices adding that "deliberate choices aren't necessarily good ones". She also tries to lift the responsibility off her shoulders, mentioning that her work "was reviewed not just by my editor, but by copy editors, proofreaders, multiple foreign editors, and foreign copy editors". Not a single word about actual Russian-speaking person/expert reviweing the text or helping her out with creating the Ravkan language though. The only person she's ever credited as the one who helped her out with creating Ravkan is Erdene Ukhaasai from Mongolia that she's been friends on Facebook at the time (source on this one - ). The Facebook page under this name currently doesn't exist and the only results that Google shows on this person are the mentions that Leigh Bardugo gave in her interview, so unfortunately I couldn't reach out for clarification on this topic. Still, it's highly unlikey that someone with zero publications under their name would be a proffesional linguist and therefore qualified for such a task. 2) Within your secondary world, unless you are writing satire, things should make internal sense. That world could not arize independently of its context. The problem with the Bardugo's Ravka is that it's based on Russian Empire alone, yet she claims that "it's only Russian inspired" without acknowledging that most people that are not familiar with the culture will take it in as authentic. She takes the words and objects out of the context, misgenders names and last names and creates new 'russian-sounding" words without understanding how the grammar works. Which is a shame, given how flexible Russian language is - the possibility for the word-building is endless and with the right guidance she truly could make some unique and meaningful terms specifically for the Ravka. Also on the alcoholic kvas issue - Leigh proudly claims this as a solution to be a vodka "substitute", because vodka would be too on the nose and too common (more on the matter here - What didn't cross her mind is that instead of turning a non-alcoholic drink into strong booze for "wordbuilding" it would be much better to use less known drinks whic do contain alcohol - braga, samogon, nalivka - just to name a few.
3) To elaborate on some of the specific issues with names and last names: Leigh doesn't seem to understand how gendered surnames work in Russian. That's why we get stuff like Alina Starkov (when it's supposed to be Starkova, because she's a woman) and Alexander Morozova (Morozov would be a correct form) etc. This system is never consistent - Mal Oretsev gets to have a male surname, but so does Genya Safin and Zoya Nazyalensky has a weird non-gendered kind of in between last name (very much in fashion of Natasha Romanoff, who would be called Natalia Romanova in Russian). Also must mention Ana Kuya - poor woman's name literally sounds like "why the f*ck" in Russian, that's about just as bad as naming your Asian character Whata Phuck. Again - none of this nonsense would happen if someone bothered to find a Russian-speaking person to read the text. Other Russian words she tries to throw in seem to be the result of a bad Google Translate, rather than a conscious choice: for example the word otkazats'ya that she uses to describe non-grishas is actually a verb that translates as "to refuse". The noun with the meaning of "the refused one" would be otkaznik or otkazniki for a plural form. Same with sobachka ("small dog") - the context from the book suggests this nickname to be an insulting one, so the word we're really looking for would be shchenok ("puppy") or shavka ("mongrel", "cur"). The list of those examples, honestly, goes on and on.
4) Leigh does mention that she "can acknowledge that the choices I made in building the language and culture of Ravka came from a place of insularity and a type of privilege". However she's more keen to talk about how she has "certainly encountered critics, but I've also had Russian fans"...Which to me sounds about just as bad as stating "I do have *insert a minority racial group* friends and they say that me doing *insert a dubious act* is fine". The problem is that Russian culture has been demonized and overlooked for so long that most people (myself included) tend to praise content creators for including even the most sterytypical "insprations". Just because some people are willing to excuse her voluntary ignorance, doesn't mean that it's okay.
5) No books on Russian culture that she's mentioned as part of the resarch were written by Russian authors. And while reading the SaB it becomes crystal clear that that the major 'cultural inspiration' Leigh got was not from those books, but from the monstrosity that is her tsapunk pinterest board - . About 80% of the stuff there doesn't even relate to Russian culture and the rest is a mash of modern knockoffs.
To summorize it: Leigh very much knew about the concerns surrounding her "Russian-inspired" Ravka which were respectfully brought to her consideration by her Russian speaking fans back in 2012-2013. She said "I've taken it to heart and it's something that I've tried to be conscious of as I move forward in the series and my other work", apologized and then she did nothing to do better. She marketed Shadow and Bone as "Tsarpunk", fetishisizing Russian culture and using it as a unique setting to uplift a generic "light vs. dark" fantasy plot supported by the bland narrative of the Chosen One. There was an effort and will to make a change for the better, not a single letter has been changed for us. When I think about, I can't really remember anything that would ring as a thoughtful and clever element adapted into the story from Russian culture. If everything is always altered or twisted, if there is nothing true or authentic then should you really call it Russian-inspired? Should you really make profit off it and call this aesthetic tsarpunk?
Leigh Bardugo could have fixed the most jarring problems with the material while doing the adaptation from book to screen, but she chose not to. There was no effort made to include more people of slavic descent as a major part of production team or as background actors. Almost nothing of the production design or clothing was inspired by Russian culture. To elaborate: I'm not even mad. I'm just deeply sad and hurt by the indifference.
Some might argue that this book series was not written for Russians, that it was written for the western audience. But don't they deserve respectfully researched and authentic stories too?
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Slightly Creepy Love Letter
Dear @lbardugo
You probably don’t understand literally how much I adore you. Not in a creepy way, I hope. Well, probably in a creepy way. It’s probably creepy having people obsess over you when you don’t even know them. But... not in a stalkerish way. 
Anyway. I just wanted to say, on the off chance that you actually read this because it doesn’t have funny quips or gorgeous fanart (both of which I am incapable of), that you are an amazing person. You brought so much joy and life to my sucky quarantine days, probably saved me from more dangerous pastimes, and gave me inspiration. The amount of original stories I’ve made based on your tsarpunk worlds are innumerable. 
You are incredible, and I hope you continue to create amazing works of fiction so I can get attached to them and then cry when they die. 
also..... just saying.... if you ever write a book about a Shu girl who was born in Ravka.... I’m the Earth equivalent of Shu.... and my name is from the Earth equivalent of Ravka..... soo..... *hint hint*. 
I’d probably cry if my name was in your books. No pressure. Or guilt. You know, just friendly suggestions. 
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alinaxstarkov · 4 months ago
I think people should talk more about the fact that in Shadow&Bone, russian-inspired-tsarpunk-tsar-culture-slavic-fantasy, there was no Russian actors. In all the cast that you can remember, only two people are Slavic in general (Alexei and Fedyor). There is not even a half-Russian. The show is full of roles that could be played by Russian actors and yet, noone was casted.
I checked it all on IMDB so maybe I'm wrong, correct me if you know something.
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serpenteve · 4 months ago
(Same anon as before)
Yeah 100% what you said about S&B's Russian influences. Deathless, while obviously not perfect, at least DOES something with Russian folklore. There's a reason it's set there beyond just aesthetics. You couldn't tell the same story if you set it somewhere else.
Very true.
I remember some readers were annoyed a few years back because Leigh was using the word "tsarpunk" to describe the vaguely-Russian-but-not-Russian aesthetic of the books and had like an entire Pinterest board that seemed to be a hodgepodge of ✨ aesthetic Russian imperialism✨, 18th century slavic fashion, and random Orthodox church architecture aka literally the three things most Americans think of when they think of "Russia" ☠️
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wherestoriescomefrom · 2 months ago
oooo I didn't know you read (watched?) shadow and bone you really do have good taste
yea i love both!!! differently of course. i have very many thoughts on the way they adapted some of the characters but i have very many thoughts about everything around the whole tsarpunk trend, the decisions in the show, ben barnes,,,,, that's just how it is in this brain babey. maybe i should read less fantasy fiction so i have less thoughts
ykw i ramble too much. tell me what y'all are reading i'll tell you if i have read/have thoughts
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If there’s a book series that deserves to be on pysanky, it’s @lbardugo‘s GrishaVerse! It fits so well with the Tsarpunk feel of the books and Jen Wang’s original cover art is perfect for it. Also I just really love these books!
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livresquare-writing · 2 years ago
I’ll probably get hate for this...
Essentially, after hearing a couple of people hyping up Six of Crows and the Grisha Trilogy, I checked it out and like the whole ‘tsarpunk’ thing made me super uncomfortable. Note I haven’t read all of the books through but from the experts I did read, I received a sense of unease and discomfort.
The discomfort didn’t even stem from the whole Western fetishisation of the despotism of Russian empire way, but like the weird manner in which the author fetishises and exotified Russian (and other slavic cultures, because a lot of the ‘genre’s elements can be more accurately described as broadly slavic rather than just Russian) while being almost completely inaccurate at representing them.
All of the Russian and broader Slavic terms were horribly misused and improperly conjugated when they were used more or less correctly. I would describe the whole thing as being akin to peak red scare Hollywood depiction of Russia. It isn’t negative like in those films, but god is it innacurate and stereotypical.
I am not saying that westerners can’t write anything about Russia and other Slavic countries period, I know many lovely people, including on here who are writing works either set there or in a fantasy/science-fiction equivalent of the georgraphical area. All of them are very respectful and dedicate a lot of time to research in order to create an accurate portrayal of the setting.
Furthermore based on some research I discovered that the author actually does posses some Ashkenazi roots, but it can be said that she is so far removed for them, that they are insignificant.I was in fact surprised to discover it, as I would have imagined that somebody with familial and cultural ties to an area can misrepresent it so badly. On semi relate note; Based on her interviews (that I’ve encountered) she seemed to solely consult Western writings about Russia.
(Aditionally, the way in which the series conflates Ex-USSR countries’ Jews’ diaspora experience with the Israeli and Western Jewish experience can be a part of a whole other rant)
More or less I am complaining about the fact that a book series is so popular despite completely misrepresenting a huge chunk of the globe. I am also complaining about the fact that a ‘genre’ that as the author describes is so tied to slavic traditions, particularly Russian ones, isn’t heralded by somebody actually raised in those traditions.
It is also frustrating as a writer/artist (do I just call myself a filmmaker? Graphic novel artist? Why are occupation titles so complicated?) because when I’ll be producing my works set in a fantasy equivalent of Russia (apologies for redundancy) they will now be judged against the merit of books that have inaccurately represented the setting and the culture, as well as (with advent of the Netflix series) cemented them in the public consciousness.
In the end I do hope that the series fixes those errors, because don’t get me wrong, I am interested in watching them and more slavic and Jewish representation is always nice.
I just hope that they hire someone who would be able to rectify the series’ narrative in a more accurate portrayal of the cultures in question.
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kitain · 5 years ago
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Drew a friend as a Grisha Tidemaker, kefta based on my interpretations.
You should totally commission me to draw you as a Grisha…
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ladytom · 7 years ago
Whoooooops I read Shadow and Bone in less than 24 hours. So much for taking my time
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