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?
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.