In all my spare time this week (which has mostly been the 5 minutes or so before I go to bed), I’ve been continuing to think about secondary characters, what makes them tick, and why they’re so vital to novels.
Since I’m reading Karen Marie Moning’s newest, Burned, this week as well, I thought I’d look at her remarkable secondary characters and how they fit into the arc of her series.
We’re first introduced to Mac – MacKayla Lane – and Jericho Barrons in the first novel, Darkfever. Mac is in Dublin to find out who killed her sister Alina, and avenge her death if she can. That’s it. Then she’s going back home to her rainbow life in Georgia. Barrons, on the other hand, is the suave, urbane, predatory owner of the bookstore Mac happens to end up in on her first night in Dublin. What’s his end game? We aren’t sure. But we’re pretty sure it involves Mac.
Then, we meet V’lane, a Seelie prince with almost limitless power and a vested interest in Mac, for two reason: one, he needs to keep her alive and on his side in his search for a powerful magical object; and two, he really likes to needle Barrons.
Dani O’Malley, we met last week. A 14-year old spitfire, she – like Mac – can see the Fae. She and Mac become like sisters. Dani, however, lives with a conclave of sidhe-seers, who seek to control her via many, many rules — and other methods. This tends to backfire quite badly where Dani is concerned.
Rowena is the Grand Mistress of the sidhe-seers. She hates challenges to her authority. She craves more power than she already has. She sees herself as the seers’ only chance of survival. And she particularly hates Mac, because Mac is a major threat to her control.
Then there’s Christian MacKeltar, a college student and Druid, whose powers are going to get him into MAJOR trouble a few books down the road.
And of course, I can’t forget Barrons’ buddies — eight ruthless, gorgeous, powerful . . . well . . . men, for lack of a better word. 🙂 His right-hand man is Ryodan, whose job it is, we learn later, to watch over Mac when Barrons isn’t around. It’s an odd thing for him to have to do, considering he doesn’t like Mac and vice-versa. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’d like nothing more than to eat her for breakfast. And not in a good way. He’s smart, a businessman who ends up running the hottest club in Dublin after the walls come down between humanity and Fae, and almost completely without humanity himself. One of Moning’s brilliant maneuvers is to make him more human, through his actions.
There are literally dozens more characters who influence and shape the plots of these novels. But what Moning does best is give each character a background, a reason for being who they are. And then she lets them run free across her pages, creating and destroying their own worlds.
For example: much of Dani’s early life is influenced by her hyperspeed. Her mother hides her away, unable to control her; when her mother dies, Dani is actually left to starve in a metal cage. It’s Rowena who finds her and brings her to the abbey, where the other seers try to care for her. Dani is caught between two oppositional desires: on one hand, she desperately wants a family, to belong and to be accepted; on the other, she finds it difficult to trust anyone and prefers to live life on her terms, regardless of what anyone else thinks of her. Survival above all is her motto. No matter what.
V’lane is the ultimate bad boy. You know you shouldn’t trust him. You KNOW he only wants Mac for his own ends. But he’s so darn good at convincing us otherwise! Not only is he bad to the bone, but he’s a con artist to boot. What woman can resist? So because of this – and because he saves Mac on at least two occasions – we trust him despite the great big yellow caution flags at every corner. One of the things she does to great effect here, though, is to capitalize on his otherness. If he makes a misstep, we can put it down to his not being human. She doesn’t make the mistake of letting him be too like the humans. She reminds us every step of the way that he is Fae, and not just Fae, but one of the more powerful ones.
in Moning’s world, secondary characters help and hinder. They clash and collide. They step up to become something more than secondary characters, in fact. Not quite main characters — we always know, and never forget, that this is Mac’s story. But they live in her world. They’re just as affected by the walls collapsing as she is. How they react to it is due to their own backgrounds, their own personalities. Dani fights. Ryodan loots banks and creates his own sphere of influence. Mac tries to find a way to put the walls back up. Rowena sees a chance to regain the power and control Mac has cracked. Their choices, and their decisions, influence Mac. Ryodan wants a favor? Hmm. Let’s see how far we can push him, what ‘I owe you’ we can extort from him, first. Dani needs a big sister? Mac’s hesitant at first, but she realizes that Dani could help fill the void that Alina’s death left in her soul. Barrons wants the object of immense power – but is that really the extent of his interest in Mac? She isn’t sure, and isn’t sure she wants to find out, either. Not at first.
Over the course of these (so far) seven books, each of these characters has grown, changed, adapted. Some have died. Some have shown their true colors. Some have sacrificed themselves so that the others can live. Moning isn’t afraid to let her secondary characters shine through and take control. In fact, the world she’s created demands it.