The Shadow Hero – Severus Snape

At the beginning of this month, I had started a new series of posts about literary (and movie) characters I really liked and the reasons why I liked them. If you are interested, here is my first post about Doctor Who. I would like to continue this series with another famous character that I dearly love – Hogwards Potion Master and spy extraordinaire Severus Snape.

severus snape

I need to warn you now that this post will contain SPOILERS for all seven books, so if you haven’t read them yet for some reason, proceed at your own risk.

Alright, this warning out of the way, let me explain why I love this character so much. I think it’s because he is so complex and has such hidden depths that even the author didn’t suspect until she started writing him. I also think that Alan Rickman fit into this role perfectly in the movies, even though his Severus Snape is a lot older than the one in the books (who, after all, was only 38 in the first book).

Everything in the books is seen through Harry Potter’s eyes, and he takes an instant dislike to his taciturn Potion Master, so of course everything Snape does will be painted in negative light. Oh, don’t get me wrong, Severus Snape is a miserable bastard. He is bitter, angry and full of self-hatred as well as hatred at the world in general, and the way he treats Harry or Hermione is simply inexcusable.

But let’s set aside his horrible personality and consider his actions instead. In the first book, he does everything to try and protect the Sorcerer’s stone and he spends most of the quidditch match muttering counter spells to prevent Harry from falling off his broom. In second year, he is responsible for brewing the potion that would save all the kids that had been petrified by the basilisk, including Hermione.

I think that we see the true mettle of that man in book three though, when he rushes out of the castle and into the Shrieking Shack even though it’s the night of the full moon and he is about to confront a werewolf that almost killed him once already. He doesn’t hesitate though, because the lives of three children are in danger. The image bellow shows it perfectly well – even when faced with one of his worst nightmares, his reflex is to defend the children, even if that means die a horrible death himself.

Always protecting students, even those he hates.
Always protecting students, even those he hates.

I like Severus Snape because, even though he is a profoundly damaged man, he is also a man of honor and principles. He basically sacrificed his entire life to bring the downfall of a madman and thus to repent for a mistake he had made when he was barely out of his teens. He became a double agent, despised and distrusted by both sides, friendless and alone, with nobody to turn to for comfort. He was asked to do unspeakable things for that cause.

I can’t even imagine what the last year in Hogwards must have been like for him, when he had to play the role of the Death Eater Headmaster and bear the scorn and open hatred of his former colleagues and students. Yet, he made sure that none of the students were permanently harmed, even with two clearly unstable Death Eaters on the premises. Not to mention that Harry would never have gotten the horcruxes destroyed without his timely help. No, I am certain that without Severus Snape and all the sacrifices he had to make, Lord Voldemort would have won and Harry Potter would have been the boy-who-died… along with many others.

And even though I don’t buy into the idea of Snape’s undying love for Lily Potter as the driving force behind everything he had done, I can’t help but admire his extraordinary force of character. He truly is the greatest shadow hero of this book.

Outpost and Horde by Ann Aguirre


Outpost – 3 out 5 stars              Horde – 2 out of 5 stars

I loved Enclave, the first book in the Razorland series, because it was an interesting and fresh take at the post-apocalyptic world with a very strong female protagonist and interesting supporting characters (you can find my review here). So I really wanted to like the next two books in the series, I really did. Unfortunately, those books proved to be a huge disappointment, at least for me.
Oh, the world-building is excellent. Ann Aguirre does a wonderful job describing the different settlements and the different ways people chose to survive after the world we knew suddenly ended. The problem is that, at least in my opinion, she stopped listening to her characters somewhere along the way. While they still behave somewhat in character in the beginning of Outpost, most of them are blatantly out of character during Horde. It’s like the author decided to stick to the plan she had formulated way at the beginning of the series and didn’t take into account that her characters changed in the process. She just clobbered them into submission and made them dance to her tune. Well, they danced poorly, that’s all I can say.


My biggest disappointment is the evolution of Fade. He was such a strong character in Enclave! I can’t believe that someone who managed to survive in the tunnels on his own for a few months when he was eight years old, and someone who was the best hunter in the Enclave, would just break and fall into pieces after he gets captured. Yes, what he went through was horrible. Yes, he was beaten. Yes, he saw horrible things. But he got out, he survived. Hell, he even managed to walk out of there on his own steam, so he wasn’t beaten that hard. Yet he suddenly transforms into a brooding, self-hating weakling. Even worse, he lashes out on people closest to him because of what happened. Excuse me? This is not the Fade described in such loving details in the previous book and a half. It almost feels like the real Fade died in the Freak camp, and Deuce freed a doppelganger.
My second problem is Deuce’s reaction to Fade’s change. The Deuce I got to know through the first book would not have stood for his endless brooding and would not have excused his constant hostility and lashing out. She would have giving him a good trashing and told him to get his act together. What does this new Deuce do instead? Blame herself and excuse his downright nasty attitude by “Oh poor baby, he got caught, they broke his spirit.”

The whole love story between Deuce and Fade is mishandled in my opinion. Any time Deuce thinks about Fade, she transforms from a tough, rational woman into a doe-eyed simpleton. I get it that she loves him, but fawning over his every move and acting like her brain gets short-circuited every time he is around is so very out of character that it’s not even funny. More than that, this love story turns into a typical YA cliché. This is sad, because it could have been so much more intense and interesting, had Ann Aguirre just listened to her characters instead of imposing her own vision on them.
Thirdly, I am getting really tired of the whole love triangle theme in YA books. It’s been done and overdone. And this love triangle serves to illustrate my point about the author imposing her will on characters. Stalker changes a lot through the books, and for the better. He is still as ruthless, but his develops a conscience, he becomes a decent strong man. In other words, exactly the kind of man that Deuce would fall for if she was acting in character, especially considering the way Fade is behaving… But that doesn’t happen.

My final complaint about this series is that Deuce basically becomes a Mary Sue in Horde. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that a 17 year old girl would be better suited to lead a whole army than a seasoned warrior. No matter how much she had seen and how many Freaks she had killed before. She is a good fighter yes, a good leader of men she is not. Yet, somehow that’s what happens in book three. A young girl leads them all to victory. Sorry, I don’t believe it.

And that’s how a series that showed so much promised ended up in such disappointment.

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Prince of thorns

2 out of 5 stars.

I must admit that my mind is rather divided about this book. Usually I either like the book and finish it, or I don’t like the book and I abandon it. I finished Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence… but I am not sure I liked it.

The world-building is interesting. It is a medieval fantasy world in some aspects, but there are hints that this world survived on the ruins of our modern world. The castles the new kings and barons live in are built on the stumps of buildings that were made of reinforced concrete. There is a whole vault full of chemical weapons guarded by an artificial intelligence that has gone half-mad in the thousand or so so years of solitude. There are also hints that some horrible cataclysm took the life of so many people at once, that it tore the veil between life and death wide open, and now all kinds of undead stuff is bleeding back into our world. So all in all, the world is interesting, and I would have loved to discover more of it, but not enough to pick up the next book in the series. And the fault for my lack of enthusiasm lies square at the feet of the protagonist.

Prince Jorg is a psychopath, pure and simple. He is also a rapist, a torturer and a ruthless killer. And he doesn’t regret any of the horrible things he has done. Worse, he seems to enjoy them. And he is only 14 years old.  Yes, he has had to go through the horrible experience of watching his mother and younger brother getting slaughtered while he hung helpless and almost crucified in the hooks of a hook-briar bush. Yes, he survives only to see his father do nothing to avenge the murders. The author and the reader could find plenty of excuses for Jorg to have turned up the way he did. But do I want to follow the adventures of a murderous psychopath? Not really, no.

I would have stuck with the series if there had been any other characters to follow, even secondary ones. Unfortunately, all of them are unremarkable. They are only there to play second fiddle to Jorg. I mean, I still don’t understand why the captain of the Palace Guard sent to find the young prince would stick with him for four years and watch him and his merry band of bandits pillage, rape, murder, and burn his way up and down the highroad. Why would he still be loyal to the twisted monster his prince turned into? If you consider what little we see of this character’s believes, that makes no sense at all. The only logic for this is – the author wanted it this way.

So my conclusion is – this is an intriguing world, but I have no desire to watch young Jorg continue his glorious march from King to Emperor, probably leaving death and devastation in his wake, just because he felt like it.

Character-driven narrative

I admit that I am not a seasoned writer. Heck I started writing seriously only since mid-October, and all I have to show is one finished first draft of a novel and one short story. But I have already started planning my next novel, and I have ideas for several other short stories. So I guess the person who encouraged me to start writing was right – the more you write, the more ideas come to you.

But the point of today’s post is not about my writing experience or lack of thereof, well not entirely. I have read somewhere that writing is the never-ending path of self-discovery, and I agree with that statement. Even with my very limited experience, I have already discovered one fundamental thing about my writing – it is character-driven first and foremost.

As far as I can see all my stories, even the gazillion unfinished drafts, started with one or two characters. Usually, I see them in very vivid details, sometimes even with background stories, and then I have to try and build a story around them. One of my good friends once told me, “Think about where you want your characters to get, both physically and emotionally, and then build a story to accomplish that.” That’s the best piece of advice I have ever been given.

For example, Of Broken Things was born when one of the characters literally barged into my sleep, sat down and said “Listen, you are going to write this…” The initial idea was very simple: what would happen, if a super-soldier fell in love? And if the person he cared the most about was taken from him?

So in the beginning I only had one character with his set of problems and priorities. But then I had to think about what kind of woman would a man like that fall for? She would need to be truly exceptional… And that’s how Cassie came into the picture and took the spotlight. Then I started writing my outline, and all of a sudden private investigator Aiden Stappleton came out of nowhere and highjacked the whole of Act 1. But even with all that, ultimately the story was still about the super-soldier and the consequences of his actions.

Working on Of Broken Things showed me that I like writing about characters. I like putting them in difficult situation and watching them change in order to overcome obstacles. Story and setting are important, but only as a catalyst for character change.

This realization made me take a good look at the books, movies and TV shows I like. Just as I thought, they are all character-driven. The author could have created the most beautiful world with the most complex society, thought about how the magic works and what Gods his people worship, but if the characters walking this world fail to interest me, I will probably put the book down before I reach the end. Setting and world building doesn’t interest me if they don’t influence the protagonist and make him or her evolve in some way.

I think discovering this particularity about my writing is a big help against writer’s block, because now when I feel stuck in my writing, I know that it’s probably because I lost sight of my character’s development somewhere along the way and made them do something very out of character.

Doctor Who – a superhero who makes us remember our humanity.

Now that I spent much more time creating my own characters and writing stories, I noticed that I tend to have a much more critical approach when I read books or watch TV shows. I pay a lot more attention to the characters in the shows and books I like. I try to analyze how the authors portray those characters, what motivates them to do what they do, what moral compass guides their actions. So I am planning a series of posts about fictional characters that touched me in one way or another. Characters who taught me some invaluable lessons, or helped me get through tough times, or just became a friend when I desperately needed a hand to hold.

Today I want to talk about Doctor Who – the longest running science-fiction show in the world, which had just celebrated its 50th anniversary. In our era when Gods and heroes, wizards and vampires of all shape and color invade our TV screens and bookshelves, the Doctor seems like an unlikely superhero. After all, he doesn’t possess super strength or x-ray vision. He can’t fly or call up storms. He doesn’t wield powers capable of destroying entire armies and he doesn’t run around carrying big cool weapons. In fact, all the Doctor has is a sonic screwdriver, a blue box that can travel through time and space and two hearts. But to me, he is the best superhero in the world.

The Doctor, the TARDIS and a sonic screwdriver.
The Doctor, the TARDIS and a sonic screwdriver.

Let me explain. The Doctor is not human. He is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. He is over 1300 years old by now. He is the eternal traveler, hurling through time and space in his TARDIS, because his planet had been destroyed in a horrible war, and he is the last of his kind. Yet, he is also the most human person I know. He has seen so many things in his travels, yet he still greats everything new with open arms and open hearts. He still gets ecstatic about discovering a new culture, or trying a new ice cream flavor. And he treats everyone he meets like they are the most important person in the world.

I love the Doctor also for the fact that he never professes violence. As a survivor of the last Time War, he had to watch first hand his people and the Daleks annihilating each other, and he still bears psychological scars of this carnage. So whenever he is faced with a conflict, he always tries to find a peaceful resolution. But he is no coward either – he never runs from danger, but to it. After all, he lives by the following motto: “Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up. Never give in.”

the doctor

I think that sums him up perfectly – he is fearless, fiercely loyal and, most of all, extremely compassionate. Even the name he chose for himself – The Doctor – is extremely fitting. He will always try to help those who need him and he will always try to “heal” whatever evil he encounters, even if that means putting himself in harm’s way.

And I think we need more heroes like the Doctor in our lives to remind us that violence isn’t the answer to everything. That most of the time words have a lot more power than guns. That we are all different, but we all are just as important, no matter the color of our skin, the gods we worship or the people we chose to love.

That’s why I hope that 50 years from now, there will still be new Doctor Who episodes, and the Doctor would still strut out of his TARDIS with his new companion, ready to save the world. Because even 50 years from now, we will still need the Doctor to bring the best out of us.

All of time and space; everywhere and anywhere; every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?
All of time and space; everywhere and anywhere; every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?