Marissa Meyer is one of my favorite YA authors, so naturally I drove to Barnes & Noble to purchase her latest book, Renegades, the day it released. My expectations for Meyer’s books are always high, but she most definitely met them. Although Renegades took me a little time to fully get into, by the end, I couldn’t put it down. Beyond its interesting premise and dynamic scenes, the character complexity featured in Renegades struck me as primary proof of Marissa Meyer’s skill with storytelling.
Renegades is a play on the typical superhero story. The book takes place in Gatlon City, where a council of prodigies—people with special abilities—run the government. These prodigies are known as the Renegades, and the people of Gatlon see them as heroes that saved the city from the clutches of the Anarchists, and other villainous prodigies. Renegades features two POV characters: Nova, a member of the Anarchists, and Adrian, a member of the Renegades. When Nova infiltrates the Renegades for insight on how to destroy them, she and Adrian must work together despite their aliases being fierce enemies.
From its base concept, the characters of Renegades appear divided in a clearly black and white way: the Renegades are the “good guys” and the Anarchists are the “bad guys”. In reality, the primary characters and their corresponding groups are complex and marked by areas of gray, which makes for a very interesting story without a clear group to root for or against.
Using dual POV helps establish this gray area from the start of the story, because Meyer gives us both an Anarchist and a Renegade to follow and care for. However, this gray area does not only exist due to the reader's ability to see both sides of the situation; it is fueled by the complexity of neither side being all wrong or all right. Both the Renegades and the Anarchists have vices and virtues, and that makes them delightfully complex.
Nova’s tragic backstory quickly establishes reason for her dislike of the Renegades. Although most of the world views the Renegades as great heroes, Nova blames them for not saving her family from the hitman that murdered them. Due to this, a dichotomy between the popular view of the Renegades and Nova’s view arises from the beginning of the story. Through Nova’s opinions on the Renegades in particular, but also from Adrian’s analysis of his own people, the picture of the Renegades as do-no-wrong heroes becomes a lot grayer.
A primary weakness created by the Renegades’ control of government is its impact on the motivations of non-prodigies, which Nova brings up on more than one occasion.
“If people wanted to stand up for themselves or protect their loved ones or do what they believe in their hearts is the right thing to do, then they would do it. If they wanted to be heroic, they would find ways to be heroic, even without supernatural powers. It’s easy to say you want to be a hero, but the truth is most people are lazy and complacent. They have the Renegades to do all the rescuing and saving, so why should they bother?”--Marissa Meyer, Renegades
Nova’s opinion highlights a major flaw in the perfect picture of the Renegades. Their complete control of Gatlon City leaves people without special abilities feeling less inclined to be helpful or heroic, because they have prodigies to do that for them. In fact, from Nova’s perspective, non-prodigies consistently suffer from the conflict between prodigies.
“As it is, it’s always going to be this way. Prodigies will always be at odds with one another, always fighting for power and dominance, and normal people will always suffer for it.”--Marissa Meyer, Renegades
These points create complexity for the Renegades as a whole and for its individual members. Clearly, they do good deeds and most have good intentions of protecting the people around them, but their actions also have lasting impacts on those people, and not always in the best way.
Arguably more interestingly, Meyer weaves complexity into the Anarchists as well. It often seems easier for a story to find a weakness or flaw in the “good” side than a strength in the “bad” side, but Meyer does exactly this. Nova’s perspective allows for a more varied view of her fellow Anarchists, whom most Renegades view solely as villains.
“As long as anarchy is synonymous with chaos and despair, the Anarchists will always be synonymous with villains.”--Marissa Meyer, Renegades
The concept of anarchy as a whole is questioned through Nova's perspective. Must anarchy always be connected to ideas of chaos? If it's not, what does that say about the Anarchists themselves?
“I think a lot of horrible things happened during the Age of Anarchy, a lot of things that shouldn’t have happened. But I also think that if Ace Anarchy hadn’t done what he did . . . then this wouldn’t be possible. Prodigies would still be in hiding. People would still hate us.” --Marissa Meyer, Renegades
Nova recognizes the complexity of the Anarchists and their leader, Ace Anarchy, when she discusses the subject with Adrian. She admits that mistakes were made during the Age of Anarchy, but she sees the other side that most Renegades refuse to acknowledge. Before the Age of Anarchy, prodigies lived in hiding, fearful of the harm normal people might inflict upon them. Ace Anarchy, although he is later associated with mayhem and villainy, opened the way for prodigies to not only be visible, but respected.
Marissa Meyer took a concept that could easily be black and white, and she riddled it with gray. The complexity of her characters and the groups they represent make Renegades a very interesting read, as well as a role model for other writers. Static, one-sided characters do not fill the pages in the same way dynamic, multi-faceted characters do. If you are a writer, make sure your protagonists and antagonists have good and bad, strengths and weakness, vices and virtues.
If you have yet to read Renegades, head over to your local bookstore or library, or find it online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or other booksellers. Also, check out Marissa Meyer's website for more information on Renegades as well as her other books, including Heartless and The Lunar Chronicles series.
What are your thoughts? Do you have recommendations of books with similarly dynamic characters?
Have you ever finished a great book with a difficult ending and found yourself both praising and condemning the author’s skill with storytelling? Maybe that author killed off a character, or turned a character into an antagonist, or otherwise went completely off track from the happy ending you might have expected. If you’re anything like me, you might have felt distressed—but simultaneously impressed.
I’ve certainly read books that only made me feel the former, but there are great authors out there with the gall to not only upset you, but make you see the beauty in that upset. Plot twists such as these often disrupt the status quo and separate the story from others like it. When done correctly, it makes for very interesting storytelling.
But I still feel bitter a lot of the time. I find myself trapped between a desire for unique storytelling and a desire for happy escapism. On one hand, I like to see an author take risks and do something new. On the other, I’m still a sucker for a happy ending—and a hopeless romantic whose quickest path to distress is a permanently foiled love match.
Often times, once I move past the original distress, I see how a less-than-happy plot twist shifts the narrative in an interesting way. In many cases, it pushes the protagonist on a new path, or breaks open room for fresh characterization. Sometimes I don’t appreciate the choice, especially if it feels out of place with the mood of the overall story—but other times, I acknowledge the skill involved in an author altering the status quo and forcing me, the reader, to feel something unexpected.
As I gain experience as a writer, these decisions in storytelling make more sense and become more intriguing. It works as a cycle. When I consider the impact of killing off a character or damaging a romance in my own stories, I gain new insight and a greater appreciation for reading. When I read books featuring these distressing plot twists, it forces me to reconsider my own writing and the risks I am willing to take with my characters.
What are your thoughts? Has a book ever left you with these conflicting feelings? If so, which books?
I recently found the time to read Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens, which has been on my reading wish list since before its release. It doesn’t take much convincing for me to read a book about fey, and if you add in gorgeous cover art by the amazing Charlie Bowater, I’m sold. More than any other aspect of the story, I found Rogerson's theme of the value of mortality over immortality as both unique and thought-provoking.
An Enchantment of Ravens follows Isobel, a talented portrait artist who exchanges her Craft for the enchantments of the fair folk. These immortal faeries crave Craft—painting, sewing, cooking, etc.—because if they attempt any form of it, they crumble to dust. When Isobel accidentally paints mortal sorrow into the eyes of Rook, the autumn prince, he whisks her away into the faerie courts to stand trial. While in the courts, Isobel and Rook face the threats of the Wild Hunt, the Alder King, and their own blossoming love, which breaks a major law among the faeries and forces Isobel into a choice between her love of painting and her love for Rook.
The first few pages of Rogerson’s novel struck me with its lovely language and quirky society. Rogerson quickly establishes Isobel’s cautious and resolute personality, and Isobel’s journey to reevaluate these traits is an interesting one. An Enchantment of Ravens has an incredibly unique concept, and Rogerson does a good job of developing the relationships and feelings surrounding Craft. I personally thought the overall pacing fell flat, and lack of development for the antagonist left me less invested in the stakes. However, Rogerson’s themes of mortality vs. immortality struck me and seemed worthy of further discussion.
It’s not unusual for a book about faeries to lead to a protagonist finding a place among the immortal fey, who often live in some form of beautiful splendor, whether it be in palaces half-formed with nature or cities more similar to human reality.
Rogerson flips these tropes completely. Throughout An Enchantment of Ravens, Isobel’s view of the immortality of faeries remains negative, and only grows worse as she sees the ways it corrupts and deteriorates them. Without their glamours, Rook and the other faeries are gaunt and sharp-teethed, and nothing close to the beautiful images they obsessively project to humans and to each other. A particularly visual moment in the story is when Isobel joins the spring court for a feast, only to find that all of their human Craft has rotted behind faerie glamours.
“I wiped off my fingers, but it wasn’t the mold or maggots making my stomach revolt . . . No, it was the knowledge that all around me sat empty people in rotting clothes, nibbling on flyblown trifles while they spoke of nothing of consequence with fixed smiles on their false faces.”--Margaret Rogerson, An Enchantment of Ravens
Rogerson skillfully paints a picture of these empty fair folk, who expend so much energy to present fake images of themselves. Not only can they not create human Craft, but it rots and crumbles around them during their immortality. These images do not glorify immortality, but instead present it as a stagnant, undesirable existence.
Isobel’s humanity and mortality is beautiful in comparison.
“You are like a living rose among wax flowers. We may last forever, but you bloom brighter and smell sweeter, and draw blood with your thorns.”--Margaret Rogerson, An Enchantment of Ravens
Unlike other stories, Isobel’s mortality does not make her weak. Instead, it surrounds her with a sense of life, while the fair folk might as well be walking corpses. Aster’s view of Isobel presents a clear image of Isobel’s beauty and vitality contrasted with the corruption of the fair folk. Although they live forever, it is a less satisfying existence.
“We prefer to pretend otherwise, but truly, we have never been the immortal ones. We may live long enough to see the world change, but we’re never the ones who changed it. When we finally reach the end, we are unloved and alone, and leave nothing behind, not even our names chiseled on a stone slab. And yet—mortals, through their works, their Craft, are remembered forever."--Margaret Rogerson, An Enchantment of Ravens
These themes of mortality vs. immortality eventually connect directly to Craft and the ability of humans to leave aspects of themselves behind to be remembered by. Unlike the fair folk, humans can alter their world forever, even if they live only a fraction of the time fair folk do.
This quote struck me the most, and I believe it remains valid in our real lives, even without the fair folk to compare ourselves to. As much as immortality pops up time and time again in fiction, it is important to remember and value the ways in which mortality can be beautiful, and also the ways in which humans do have a form of immortality—through our creations, our Craft.
“But that was the problem with the old me, I was coming to realize. She’d accepted that behaving correctly meant not being happy, because that was the way the world worked. She hadn’t asked enough—of life, of herself."--Margaret Rogerson, An Enchantment of Ravens
Isobel’s experiences in the faerie courts force her to reevaluate the way she moves through life. These themes of mortality and immortality remind her of the brevity of her life, and she realizes she must go after what she wants in life rather than remain safely in an enchanted house, waiting for life to pass her by. This realization is an important reminder for any of us. Our time is limited, and so we must make the most of the time we do have.
Overall, Rogerson’s beautiful depiction of mortality and condemnation of immortality struck me the most while reading An Enchantment of Ravens. Although the corruption of the fair folk is sad and disconcerting, humanity’s mortality seems meaningful and full of life in comparison. The story did not fully enchant me with its primary plot or antagonist, but it is worth the read for a unique take on the value of mortality.
What are your thoughts? If you have yet to read An Enchantment of Ravens, make sure to check out your local library or bookstore, or find it online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or other sellers. Also take a look at Margaret Rogerson’s website for further information.
Happy New Year! As I posted a couple weeks back, I took a holiday break from my blog in order to spend time with family and finish a draft of my senior thesis. I managed to finish that draft yesterday, so I am happy to have that pressure off my shoulders for the moment. If you happen to have particular interest in the ways old Japanese literature reflects the historical realities of a woman's status and lifestyle in Heian and Kamakura Japan, let me know. Otherwise, let's talk about the coming year.
I’m sure the internet is packed with reflections on 2017 and resolutions for 2018. It’s hard to resist thinking back to where you were a year ago, and wondering where you might be a year from now. After all, so much can change in those twelve months.
I hadn’t fully realized how much happened to me in 2017 until I really took the time to think it through. A lot has happened personally, both good and bad, but I want to focus this post on the steps I have made towards my writing goals in the past year, and the plans I have to continue on in this next year.
Participating in the online writing world is a blessing and a curse sometimes. I love being involved in a community of writers, readers, agents, and editors. They are wonderful and funny people. However, it also means a near constant flood of news about writers receiving representation and publishing opportunities. When you spend so much time and energy working towards the same goals, it can be difficult to feel congratulatory.
I didn’t receive an offer of representation from a literary agent this past year, but that’s okay. I have plenty of other achievements to be proud of from 2017, now that I take a moment to look back. I wrote two new manuscripts, pitched agents for the first time, started writing short stories again, won fifty pages of feedback as a runner up in Shanna Hughes's contest, and started this blog. I would not have foreseen the majority of that a year ago. Six months ago, I didn’t even think I could be a blogger, but here I am.
I am proud of these achievements, and I will not let the temptation of a future goal detract from them. Instead, I will continue working towards that goal in 2018. I hope to revise and polish my most recent manuscript in preparation for future queries. I look forward to being involved in the Florida Writers Association. I hope to make reading a priority in my life once again, and I look forward to getting my hands on many wonderful books in the coming months. Maybe I will even apply to agent internships after graduation--who knows?
There is so much possibility in a new year, and I don’t wish to hold myself to specific goals. Overall, my goal for 2018 is to keep working towards my dreams, and not let those dreams hold me back from congratulating others. The writing world requires immense patience and effort, and I am so proud of anyone who had accomplishments in 2017, and so hopeful for people going into 2018. Whether your goals are writing-related or not, keep working towards them.
I write YA fantasy and contemporary fiction. This blog is dedicated to thoughts and advice on writing and publishing, as well as various interests related to the world of Young Adult.