In celebration of SeptBender’s YA Day, best-selling author Leigh Bardugo (The Grisha Trilogy) discusses why minor characters help make The Legend of Korra great.
Choose Your Seconds!
by Leigh Bardugo
When I fell for Korra, I fell for her friends, too. And her enemies. One of the great strengths of the Avatar universe lies in the charm and believability of its secondary characters—and in the fact that you can’t always tell who’s a lead player and who’s just a member of the chorus.
Consider Asami: She first appeared as a love interest for Mako and could have been swept off screen after her father was bested. Instead, she’s back in Book 2 with her own goals and challenges. Bolin entered the narrative as a kind of jester, but has taken on the roll of the wise fool. Tenzin is a classic mentor character—patient, tenacious, wise. But through his flashes of frustration and temper, his dry humor, and his complicated relationship with the spectacularly badass Lin Beifong, the writers keep him human, fallible, and truly fun to watch. Even his children, who usually appear briefly and for comic relief, have distinct personalities. (I’m not going to touch on Naga and Pabu here because cuteness unfairly tips the scales.)
Book 1 of The Legend of Korra was packed with characters who had fabulous backstories (like Amon and Tarrlock) and those who simply hinted at fabulous backstories (like Tahno and his Wolfbat entourage). I would gladly watch a Tahno spin-off. In fact, I think Tahno’s hair may require its own show, too.
The power in these characters rests not just in their complexity, but also in the economy with which the writers and artists present the dynamics operating between them. Think about how few scenes we saw with Amon and his Lieutenant, but how deeply we felt both the Lieutenant’s loyalty and Amon’s betrayal. Even in the first episode of Book 2 we got a sense of the tangled personal and political forces at play in the Water Tribe. Eska and Desna are already fan favorites and I suspect they have a lot more to offer the season than delicious snark.
When we talk about great worldbuilding in the Avatar universe, we’re usually referencing the detail with which each environment is rendered and the deft ways in which power functions—spiritual, magical, and political. But what makes that beautifully imagined world of The Legend of Korra so compelling is that it is fully inhabited by characters who could each be heroes in their own right. Especially Tahno’s hair.
About Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo is the author of the best-selling young adult fantasy series The Grisha Trilogy. The first two novels in the series, Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, tell the story of an unexpected and unconventional magician (or “grisha”) named Alina Starkov. Set in a Russian-inspired empire split in half by darkness, Alina is the only grisha who can summon light at will. Her skill sets her directly in the path of the Darkling, the most powerful and dangerous magician in her world. The final installment, Ruin and Rising, will arrive next year.
Leigh Bardugo was born in Jerusalem and now lives in Los Angeles. A makeup artist and a singer, Leigh is also a a huge fan of Game of Thrones and was once knighted by George RR Martin. Find out more about Leigh on her website, LeighBardugo.com, check out her Tumblr, and connect with her on Twitter as @LBardugo.