I feel the need to talk about this because…well, I keep going over and over things in my mind (I tend to obsess over things), and I just need to get it out. So, what is it that’s been plaguing my mind lately? One of my favorite topics, of course: the archetypal “sexy bad boy” of paranormal romance.
I’ve talked about it before on this blog, but I’m going to talk about it again. Because it’s my blog. And, in all honesty…sexy, arrogant bad boys who have a hard exterior but are, you know, so vulnerable and angst-ridden inside is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. I realize it’s ridiculous, and I make fun of myself a lot for it. He doesn’t even have to be someone’s object of romantic feelings to get me interested…it’s all about the suggested complexity of the character. (Take Loki from the Thor franchise, for instance. He isn’t anybody’s boyfriend. He’s Thor’s dark, sullen, angst-ridden adopted brother. And one of my all-time favorite characters. What I really might have is a thing for the underdogs.)
I promise I’ll get to Jasper, in a minute.
Anyway, I’ve been reading A LOT of blog posts about the darkness and bad romances of YA literature, mostly because I’m in the midst of reading the Hush, Hush series by Becca Fitzpatrick. I hope to get around to reviewing them on here, but in a nutshell, for me they weren’t as bad as the critiques I’ve read made them sound. But, then again, I’m a twenty-something woman who has a healthy outlook about relationships and can separate dark fantasy from reality. We should be paying attention to how our young heroines and their romantic partnerships are portrayed in YA because its primary audience is still at an impressionable age. I can totally see that. I’m just trying to give you an idea of why I’ve been thinking about this lately.
Now, I think a lot of my readers have picked up on what I’m trying to do with Jasper’s character. I’ve only known of one person who said he was “creepy,” and I don’t think she finished the book. Some other readers have loved the book but have said they either didn’t like or weren’t sure how they felt about Jasper. And I’m here to tell you that this is absolutely fine, and probably a good thing, because Jasper does a lot of really shitty things in Reborn.
Jasper is, in my mind, the ultimate bad boy fantasy. I’m not saying “fantasy” to imply that he’s any sort of ideal. He’s not. He’s the Greek paragon of love (well, lust might be a better word) and desire. He’s physically strong, powerful and sexy. From the back story of Reborn, you get the feeling that he may have, in the past, been a more loving, respectable person. But even when Siobhan encountered him in the woods back in high school, he had already become the darkest version of himself.
Okay, I’m going to stray a bit off topic again, but not really. If I could sum up the vision I have for this series in one word, it would be: control. At the highest level, there’s the idea of fate. Of there being a guiding force in the universe pushing you toward a certain point (or person) no matter what you do. This isn’t necessarily a reflection of any personal belief I hold, but it’s a part of this fictional universe I’m creating.
At the level underneath that, I’ve created my version of the Greek gods and goddesses. We know they’re not really divine, but just a super advanced civilization we can’t really comprehend. So advanced, that they’re really, really bored. How do they entertain themselves? By meddling in the lives of lesser beings. Control and manipulation are their forte. They’re always striving for the upper hand, even amongst themselves. And when that happens, who gets caught in the crossfire? The humans and halflings. This is the species Jasper is a part of.
Reborn starts off with Siobhan running into Jasper everywhere. He’s the TA of her class…he’s at the bar she randomly goes to with her friends…he’s at a mixer her sorority has with the Sigma Iota fraternity. It creeps her out…and it should. Is he intentionally running into her? Or is it fate trying to push these two together again? I’m leaving that up for the reader to decide.
Anyway, Jasper tries the whole I-should-get-to-know-Siobhan-as-she-is-in-this-life thing. He could have probably tried a bit harder, given her more of a chance, but he’s impatient and selfish. Siobhan may not remember their past life together–but he does, and it’s torture for him that she has very little recollection of something that was so important to him. I’m not defending him…but as a character, this is where his motivation is coming from. He grows desperate. He realizes he’ll do anything to get her back. This includes turning her against a few people she really cares about (Jimmy and Victoria) and the other thing she realizes he’s doing (I’m trying not to make this too laden with spoilers). Jasper–and really this goes for most of the other Olympians–hates not being in control of a situation.
Siobhan is a control freak in her own way. In Reborn, this is shown primarily through her role as social chair for Gamma Lambda Phi. She has a hard time trusting other people, even her own sisters, to get things done. This may be why Jasper is really her own personal, ultimate dark fantasy. He’s literally a sex god, but he’s also her enemy. He is her temptation (it wouldn’t be called temptation if it was good for you). With Jasper, she gets to relinquish all of that control she exerts over her own life.
Reborn is also about love versus lust. What Siobhan feels for Jasper in Reborn really boils down to lust. And she realizes this toward the end. Yes, I’ve pegged it as a “paranormal romance,” but that’s a matter of having to market it as a certain genre. It’s a sexy book, but I wouldn’t call it romantic. It’s dark and a little sinister at times. Perhaps “dark fantasy” is a better term for it, but what the hell does that even mean, anyway? Ha! (Honestly, having to fit your book into a predefined nook is annoying at times.) Not that I have a problem with formula fiction (I love dirty paper back romance novels!), but Reborn was never meant to follow a certain formula. It’s about temptation and all-consuming lust. It’s about fantasy versus reality.
Another tangent: Have you ever read The Forbidden Game trilogy by L.J. Smith? She is, in my book, the original queen of YA paranormal romance. (If you haven’t read it and I’ve piqued your interest, don’t read this because there are spoilers.) The first book is about a teenager named Jenny who gets trapped (along with her friends) in a game orchestrated by Julian, this platinum blonde Shadow Man who has fallen in love with her. I remember thinking, as a teenager reading this series, that Julian was totally hot. I reread it a few years ago and still loved the book. It (along with Smith’s other work) has definitely inspired my own writing, including Reborn.
I think what was especially neat about it is that it allowed its presumably YA readers to enjoy a dark-ish fantasy while keeping the fantasy part in its place. Jenny is drawn to Julian because…well, he’s hot, mysterious, and powerful. But he’s also, you know, kind of putting her and her friends through this horrible ordeal…this twisted game. As the trilogy moves forward, he is painted as a rather vulnerable, misunderstood character. But at the end, Jenny doesn’t end up with him. She acknowledges the impact he’s had in her life…he’s helped her discover her sensuality…and, although the idea of being his Shadow Princess or whatever does tempt her, she chooses “reality” in the end. Julian is her fantasy, and there’s a place for him…but real life and love is so much more rewarding. (I can’t lie though. There was that small part of me screaming GO TO THE DARKNESS JENNY. STAY WITH THE COMPLICATED, SEXY SHADOW MAN.)
I don’t think every work of art or writing or whatever has to have a message. A lot of it doesn’t…at least not an intentional one. In Reborn, I’m exploring certain themes and characters that I find interesting. It’s not Moby Dick or something. But a few of those themes are lust versus love, fantasy versus reality. Jasper is like Julian…he’s dark, mysterious, maybe a little complicated, sexy…but a fantasy. And there’s nothing wrong with a little fantasy; we just have to remember that it is exactly that.
I should bring this back around. What was the point of this post again? Oh, yes, the previous paragraph…and that, if you don’t like Jasper, that was intentional. You can think he sounds sexy, but not agree with his actions. Not every character has to be likeable or redeemable. (That being said…Jasper will have a few redeeming qualities that show up in Relapse. Only because I’m trying to blur the lines between good and evil. He’ll do some good things, and some of my “good” characters will behave very, very badly. But this doesn’t mean the good he does gets to cancel out or make you forget all of the bad things he’s done.)
Do I like Jasper? Well, as he is one of my creations, I love Jasper like one might love a child even though he does bad things. ;-)
“Ours is a dark, delicious fantasy, but nothing more. It’s like grasping at the tendrils of a dream upon waking—one moment you’re on the cusp of something incredible, but when the fog of sleep clears you can barely recall what that incredible something was—and if you do, it’s not the same.”