If you’re suffering from angel withdrawals now that the Unearthly series has ended, might I suggest the Mercy series by Australian author Rebecca Lim? It’s definitely among the more thoughtful angel books that I’ve read, and has a most unusual premise: Mercy has no memory of her life before, and wakes up in different human bodies that she must help.
One of the things I find unusual and fascinating about this series is the way Mercy hands out punishment to the wicked with such terrible justice. With the U.S. release of the second book Exile releasing this month, we’ve invited the author to share her experience in writing about divine beings who aren’t necessarily perfect.
Embracing the Flawed Heroine
by Rebecca Lim
It’s been tricky, writing about angels.
Questions of faith and religion are intensely personal and when your heroine is a fallen angel, you need to step delicately or risk treading on someone’s beliefs because angels crop up in so many faiths and cultures across the globe.
As a species, I think we want to believe that there is something more out there than this concrete reality we experience day in, day out. For some, it may be science that fills that void, for others it may be faith, or a constantly shifting amalgam of the two. But many of us want there to be that “something more.” And maybe that’s why paranormal fiction has exploded. Because it’s all about possibility, and the existence – in some kind of tangible form – of that “something more.”
It seems these days you can’t turn around without falling over an angel book, but when I was pitching Mercy, Random House actually turned me down on the basis that they’d just signed a book called … Fallen (!) Why all the angel books? Well, I think authors like Phillip Pullman began a trend of “secularising” angels – making their fictional portrayal less of a taboo subject – but I also think that the very lack of source material about angels meant they were ripe to be made over, the way other supernatural beings like vampires and werewolves have been. It’s interesting, too, how instantly recognisable angels are. They are part of our global, collective “dreaming,” if you like.
We live in a dark, complex, densely-layered world. Every person harbours secrets and dreams and flaws. Writing gives me a way of trying to make sense of things in this world that have no answers: like why bad things happen to good people, and vice versa.
When I’m creating fictional worlds and people, I subscribe to that Japanese way of looking at things known as wabi-sabi. Paraphrasing badly, it means something like “beauty from imperfection.” To me, a character is more complete, more beautiful, more memorable and interesting, if they are flawed. And the world they inhabit – especially if it looks like ours – has to be as wide and amazing and conflicted as ours is if it’s going to approach the “authentic” or the “real.”
Mercy is different from the exiled angel protagonists I know of because she’s female and not especially “hot.” She’s bad-tempered and not especially likeable either, because she keeps “waking” to find herself inhabiting a stranger’s body with no memory of how she got there. And then she just has to survive, and live that person’s life for a while, and right wrongs and fight demons, before she’s pulled out again and plonked into someone else.
In Mercy, I consciously set out to create a female heroine who can, literally, do anything if she puts her mind to it. I wanted to show that it’s okay to be a smart-mouthed, think-on-your-feet, strong and abrasive, yet empathetic character, who also happens to be female. Mercy’s life – and the life of the girl she’s collided with – may be in utter chaos, but despite everything that is thrown at her, she may be forced to bend, but she will never, ever break.
I wanted to create a female heroine who looks outwardly very weak, but who could actually dish out vengeance to her persecutors. The Mercy books are a kind of empowering revenge fantasy, I guess. For once, I wanted some small measure of justice to be meted out in the name of wronged women; because so often in the real world, the perpetrators of crimes against women get away with it, or get off far too lightly.
When I was shaping the character of Mercy, I posed myself a set of questions:
What if, over time, she began to regain her supernatural powers but she felt less and less like an angel, and more and more like a human? How can a supernatural being even fathom, let alone come to appreciate, the kind of humanity that is antithetical to her own nature? I thought it would make for an interesting character, a different kind of fictional female character. And I thought it might also be interesting for the reader to walk in the shoes of a damaged, amnesiac being who is literally thrown into a stranger’s life and forced to live it.
Mercy’s story is the imaginary history of a being of pure spirit who finds herself inexplicably entrapped in the physical, sensory world. And it’s also a self-contained YA mystery/crime novel that just happens to feature a hint of romance, Latin, choral music and a whole lot of choir nerds (I used to be one, so I can say that). I wanted to layer my angel series so that it wasn’t just the typical “high school” scenario where you have mean girls and jocks etc. I wanted to shake it up a bit.
The series is also a fictional response to some terrible abduction and imprisonment stories involving young women that were emerging around the time I was writing the novels. The news is a potent trigger for book ideas. The stuff people do to each other in real life is staggering. With the Mercy books I was hoping to reach YA readers and female readers generally because of some of the themes I cover. It isn’t a fair world for women by a long stretch. Many of us are daily discriminated against, enslaved, abused, ill-treated, purely on the basis of our gender.
Diversity and Female Heroines
When I was younger, no one on TV or in the books I read seemed to look like me or inhabit the world I did. So when I finally started getting things published, I was granted the ability to adjust the “real” world my characters lived in to include Chinese kids and Columbian kids, people who spoke Spanish or Russian, Italian or Latin, or who were forced to work as strippers or waitresses just to make ends meet. I’ve tried to fill my books with the kinds of people we live side-by-side with, the kinds of people we are. And that’s not to push any kind of wheelbarrow, I just do it because it adds to the “reality” of the story and the characters. I’m all for letting your freak flag fly
As a female reader, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to identify with the fictional female heroine, but as a female writer, I start getting enraged when what I’m reading doesn’t begin to reflect the gains and diversity that is life in today’s world. It’s 2013. Women can save themselves. Women are not defined by the romantic love triangle they might happen to find themselves entangled in. It’s fantastic that YA literature is increasingly being populated by strong female role models, but there need to be a lot more.
It’s my personal belief that writers have a duty to put positive reflections of the sisterhood out there. Enough horrific stuff happens to women in the real world. Women writers, in particular, should be empowering women readers to not accept traditional stereotypes; even in fictional portrayals of women. We should be counteracting – with all the tools we have available to us as writers – the darkest aspects of human nature.
So Mercy is a female hero who isn’t defined by who her boyfriend is, or how her hair looks, or whether she’s hanging with the cool kids at school. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea that she seems rude, cold, bad-tempered and not particularly girly, but I’m happy that she’s different.
And if you are along for her journey and embrace Mercy’s manifold flaws the way I have? I thank you, I really do.
About the Author
Rebecca Lim is a writer and illustrator based in Melbourne, Australia. She worked as a commercial lawyer for several years before leaving to write full time. Rebecca is the author of fourteen books for children & young adult readers, & her novels have been translated into German, French, Turkish and Portuguese.
The second book in the Mercy series, Exile, will be out in the United States from Disney Hyperion on April 23, 2013. It will be available through Amazon, The Book Depository, Fishpond, and other retailers. Rebecca’s next standalone YA novel is due to be published in the first half of 2014 by Text Publishing; US release date to follow.
Win an Exile ARC!
Thanks to our friends at Disney Hyperion, we have a lovely advance readers copy of the US edition of Exile to give away. All you need to do is leave a comment below telling us why you’re excited to read this book, and to fill out the Rafflecopter form with your details.
Open internationally to readers aged 18 and older, or 13 and older with parental permission; complete rules are on the entry form. Good luck!