I suppose the term “Monster Girls” covers quite a few characters who are already present in the YA Fantasy genre–Lady Fire, Skybright, and Kira off the top of my head– but in this post, I want to talk about the ones that blur the lines between heroism and villainy, girls who (for better or for worse) allow the darkness within themselves to fuel their actions.
Of course, they would also have to be, like my examples were, partly inhuman / monstrous / demonic / otherworldly / fey–take your pick; doesn’t matter what you picked, I probably already like them. I can’t help it. I like them so much, I pushed for March’s theme to be all about Monster Girls. And since I am an impatient child, I am going go ahead and talk about them now. Basically, I’m going to talk about these particular characters now, so that in March next year, I can bring a whole new collection of characters for your reading pleasure. And hopefully, I can explain along the way, why these particular characters interest me so:
Okiku from The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
- Let me set this up for you: “For a long moment we stare at each other; he, another girl’s murderer and I, another man’s victim.” That’s right. She is a ghost. That haunts and kills child murderers.
- She uses the tragedy of her past life and the trauma of her death to give herself a purpose: “I am where dead children go.”
- In life, Okiku was betrayed by her society, her lover, and look, ghosts don’t get therapy, and even if they did, god knows if she’d be able to afford it. Life didn’t so much hand her lemons but a bag of dynamite and she’s doing the best she can with it, okay?
- And sure, she may have been from a different time and okay, maybe things were harder for girls back then, but what makes you think that society is any less traitorous these days? I may not have gone through what Okiku went through, but it is not hard to understand her anger, to empathize with her … to a frightening degree. (Perhaps, this is the thing that really scares me about the book.)
- Women rarely get to be characterized this way in fiction. If they look like and act like Okiku, they most likely are put firmly in the “Evil, To Be Exorcised” categories and that’s that. Okiku gets to stick around, she gets to have a character, a personality, and depths of humanity.
Adelina Amouteru from The Young Elites by Marie Lu
- Adelina may be my favourite character of all time. She is like lightening and thunder wrapped in a mortal body. You can’t look away, even if you wanted to.
- As a child, Adelina was infected by a blood disease that left her disfigured, missing an eye, and with remarkable powers … powers that were awoken when faced with her father’s abuse. As we learn more of her condition, we find that she is a contradiction in herself: a malfetto (hated by society) and an elite (valued for her power).
- There are many things that make Adelina who she is: her father who is at once neglectful as well as emotionally and physically abusive, her own powers, the other elites, and (surprisingly) her sister. When she moves from her father’s house (to prison, briefly) to the elites’ place of operation, she moves from having status but no agency to having no status and some agency. She moves from being used by her father to being used by her peers. There is barely any time for her to be herself for herself and the novel very clearly explores the consequences of that failing.
- While honing her powers with the elites, Adelina tries to be better than the gaping wound she feels she has become. A feat in itself, given that her powers–her only line of defence against a world that wants to use her up–is derived from raw anger. Thing is, one cannot begrudge her these feelings. People have an affinity for characters who are “likeable” and “relatable” in the way that they have an affinity for women who are “nice”. (Kelly Jensen talks a little about that here.) Adelina is not nice, she is not likeable, she is, however, as real as it gets: “Be true to yourself. But that’s something everyone says and no one means. No one wants you to be yourself. They want you to be the version of yourself that they like.”
- Like Okiku, Adelina makes use of her past to give herself a future. Unlike Okiku, though, Adelina’s actions have far-reaching consequences. It is just that because so many of the things that happened to/with/because of Adelina are caused by a combination of bad luck and bad timing, you wonder if Adelina is still in the right. She is a difficult character to read, not because of her fantastical powers, but because that hurt she feels is so honestly portrayed that you can’t help but feel it too.
Nimona from Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
- Aw, the Monster Girl that started it all. (For me, I mean.) She is just so fascinating … (WATCH OUT FOR SPOILERS BELOW!)
- … mainly because even though the whole book is about her, we know so little about her. We know a little about her past, assuming she was telling the truth, but here’s the thing: maybe her past isn’t important at all. So what if she lied and had, in fact, merely run away from a perfectly happy family? Why does how we look at Nimona and her future have to be dependent on a tragic past? If anything, Nimona’s vague past makes her only more interesting.
- Here is what we do know about her: Nimona is funny, loyal, and adorable. She is also blood-thirsty, impulsive, and likes turning into a shark sometimes. Like most people, she is a mass of contradictions. Unlike most people, she enjoys working for the local villain, Lord Blackheart.
- Blackheart is interesting too, mainly because of his paternal relationship with Nimona. I see now that he and the readers look at Nimona as someone she is not. I may always cry about the Gay Dads AU, but I admit that it would have been a mistake for the novel to have ended with Nimona becoming some sort of daughter-pet hybrid for Blackheart.
- Ultimately, to me, the thing that makes Nimona “monstrous” is that she does not fit into our domestic fluff AUs. She may need a friend and may someday choose who constitutes a family to her, but she is not something that can be broken or tamed. I do so love that about her.
And I will stop here with my rambling. Essentially, Monster Girls = YA fantasy’s rebel girls. (And when I say, rebel, I clearly mean it like … *points to the post*) Here’s hoping I get to read more complicated female characters like these in 2016! Let me know in the comments if there are any Monster Girls you loved reading!